Carson Wentz is not a household name at this point, but thanks to a Senior Bowl invite and athleticism that’s likely to light up the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine in February, you’re likely to be scouring the internet for any and all information you can find. A two year starter for the FCS powerhouse North Dakota State Bison, Wentz went 20-3 as a starter en route to two FCS National Championships, including a final victory over Jacksonville State after being sidelined for 12 weeks with a wrist injury.
The 2016 NFL Draft isn’t particularly heavy with top tier quarterback talent, however, there are a few signal callers out there that look like they could really make a difference with the right team. Wentz looks to follow in the footsteps of guys like Tony Romo, Joe Flacco and Josh Norman to prove that the talent of the player matters most, not so much the level of competition faced. The Bison were victorious against Iowa State, their only FBS competition under Wentz’s leadership and his first career start, in which he led the team to 34 unanswered points. But does that make him a pro prospect worth plucking off the board as early as the first round? Let’s find out:
College: North Dakota State
Class: RS Senior
Projection: Top 15
Comparison: Ben Roethlisberger
- Overall arm strength/big hands (10 inches)
- Exceptional size/athleticism combo
- Pocket poise/awareness
- Eyesight stays downfield, goes through progressions
- Highly competitive
- Exceptional intangibles
- Footwork needs refined
- Tries to do too much at times
- Tends to force throws
- Just 23 collegiate starts
The initial review on Wentz suggests that he’s an exceptionally gifted kid from an athletic standpoint. Physically, he has everything you want in your quarterback. He’s simply a highly competitive physical specimen with a laser-rocket arm. Some see Wentz as a scrambler, but I see a pocket quarterback who can move very well when needed, similar to Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. He can move the ball on designed runs and isn’t shy from trickery as well.
Wentz is a bit of a cliche in terms of strong armed quarterbacks in that he will force throws thanks to heavy confidence in his arm. His throws aren’t always safe resulting in several passes that end up ricocheting off bodies in the middle of the field. Still, his ball placement is quite impressive in short windows given the velocity of his passes. Also, I’m not sure that there was another NCAA quarterback that could pinpoint their receiver in stride down toward the pylon 30+ yards down field.
Where Wentz fits the strong armed cliche, he also makes exceptions. A lot of fans will question his footwork and technique, as well as football IQ, intangibles and leadership. His footwork will need refined, as most college quarterbacks do, but his delivery and technique aren’t too bad overall. He has a nice high release and throws a tight spiral. From an intangibles perspective he was a 4.0 student throughout his senior season and an Academic All-American multiple times. If we’re being realistic, he’s just a kid from Bismarck, North Dakota, a city that’s crime rate is laughable. He’s just about as homegrown as you can get also having a father who played collegiate football and a younger cousin, Connor, that plays tight end for the Bison as well.
Worries about the offense that Wentz ran with the Bison are of minimal concern. Wentz successfully led the offense from under center and in the shotgun formation, running several formations with two receiver and a tight end, ace backfield, but also pulling out several formations which made for an impressive playbook. They played a vertical game that featured play-action passes and outlets underneath, while also playing to Wentz’s strength with bootlegs and movement in the backfield. Wentz showed the ability to go through his progressions, but his pass protection was often very solid. Granted, it’s not that there were never signs of pressure, and there were times in which Wentz’s quick decision making under duress showed opportunity. Overall, however, he’s been able to get rid of the ball safely, even showing maturity to throw the ball safely out of bounds or within the vicinity of the receiver.
I’m not going to hype Carson Wentz up to be the next perennial All-Pro quarterback, because these are still NFL prospects. What I will say is that Wentz is extremely impressive. I’d love to have watched him play for Power 5 conference in the FBS, but what I’ve seen from his starts at North Dakota State is still very intriguing. NFL scouts will have a lot of trouble passing this kid up because he’s not just a physical specimen with an arm that can make all the throws. He’s shown improvement on a weekly basis and his ability to perform in the classroom gives me confidence that he can put his brain to work in the film room. His intangibles seem off the charts, unlike that of a guy like Cam Newton, who also lacked experience and but proved to be a strong armed, mobile play maker, who still ended up being drafted first overall, although Newton did face SEC competition.
The fact of the matter is that Wentz has all the physical tools combined with brain of an NFL-level quarterback and has yet to tap into his potential. His competitive nature is something that you simply cannot teach, although it’s likely a big cause for small injuries in high school and as a senior at NDSU, which will need evaluated. The biggest question is whether he can immediately lead a team coming out as a top five or 10 selection in April. I honestly don’t know what this kid cannot do, but playing this position in the NFL for a team that likely won less than seven games in 2015 will likely be the biggest challenge he’s faced.
Compare Carson Wentz to prospects such as Blake Bortles, Joe Flacco, Derek Carr and even Teddy Bridgewater. All of these guys played for lower end FBS schools, outside of Flacco coming out of FCS Delaware. These guys all had big question marks coming out of their respective drafts on top of their competition faced and all have had success after being drafted in the first 40 selections. Wentz could afford 5-7 pounds of muscle to fill out physically and get in the film room. He’s in a position to become one of the next great quarterbacks with his physical and mental gifts and I would not be surprised to see Wentz shoot up to a Top 10, if not Top 5 selection come April’s draft outside of new information gained in off-season research.