Flying Under the Radar: Three Reasons to Buy Carson Wentz Early in 2017
Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Joe Paeno. You can find him on Twitter @Paeno.
The 2016 NFL season is over, but best ball leagues and dynasty debates are in full swing. A true fantasy football degenerate is always trying to gain an edge over the competition by identifying pieces of the 2017 fantasy football puzzle. At TwoQBs, we want to find you value at the quarterback position, and I think I have found a late-round quarterback who can provide significant equity on your investment.
At first glance, TwoQBs’ Redraft Rankings are fairly straightforward at the top of the board. Sure, you could debate the order, but there are no real surprises. After the first half, however, things get a little dicey when looking for a QB2 with QB1 upside. Every year, I like to identify players who might be overlooked or under-projected because of recency bias. This year, I believe Carson Wentz is one of those players.
If you are already intrigued by Wentz, I think you will be even more optimistic after reading this article. However, if you are undecided or a Wentz critic, I hope I can convince you to consider him a significant value. In order to do that, I need to start from the foundation.
1. Hiding in Dak’s Shadow: Carson Wentz’s Rookie Season Was Better Than You Thought
It’s important to put everything in context when talking about the Eagles and Wentz in 2016. Remember, the Chip Kelly debacle was finally over, and Doug Pederson and co. were brought in to stabilize the Eagles once again. Pederson was an understudy of Andy Reid in Kansas City and widely respected as a quarterback guru. From the beginning of his tenure, it was clear Pederson held the QB position in high regard. Although he inherited Sam Bradford (whom Philadelphia had just extended with a two-year/$35 million dollar deal), he immediately signed Chase Daniel to almost-starter money, a quarterback he coached in Kansas City, and then surprisingly traded up to the second overall pick to land their signal caller of the future in Carson Wentz. Keep in mind Wentz was third on the depth chart when he was drafted, and Pederson seemed to be content with redshirting him in his first season. After reassuring Bradford he was still their starter, Pederson shipped him off to Minnesota, thus leaving Daniel atop the depth chart. The Eagles brass announced shortly afterwards that Wentz would start Week 1.
Wentz had few reps with the first-team offense last off-season and was thrust into a starting role as a rookie with little preparation. Wentz couldn’t have asked for a better start to his rookie season, as he led the Eagles to a 3-0 start. The NFL media were singing his praises and heralding him as the next rising star. His success didn’t last very long though, as the Eagles only won four games over the rest of the year and racked up nine losses. During that 13-week span, Wentz threw an abysmal 14 interceptions. Speculation quickly arose suggesting NFL teams figured out Wentz as the season progressed, and some even questioned if he was as good a prospect as it originally seemed. Although Wentz’s rookie season was a bit of a roller coaster, it was better than most give him credit for.
Rookie QB grades
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 14, 2017
As highlighted by the great Scott Barrett, Dak Prescott put up the best season of any rookie passer in NFL history. If it weren’t for Scott, I would have never have realized Wentz had the tenth-best rookie QB season of all time.
Congratulations to Dak Prescott on putting together the all-time best statistical season by a rookie quarterback. pic.twitter.com/VsEeJy6js7
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) January 2, 2017
However, Wentz was the second pick in the 2016 draft. The Cowboys selected Prescott 133 picks later and made it to the playoffs with a 13-3 record, while Wentz and co. finished with a losing record, watching the playoffs at home on their couches. It’s fair to assume Wentz might have benefited from Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Jason Witten, and the best offensive line in the NFL. The Eagles offensive skill players have some talent, but not like the Cowboys. Which leads me to my next point…
2. Eagles Skill Positions: Started From the Bottom
What does stand out about Wentz’s supporting cast is how they are inconsistently consistent. Ryan Mathews is talented, but his career has been muddled by injuries, fumble issues, and inconsistency. Jordan Matthews has prototypical WR1 size at 6’3″, 212 pounds, but he’s limited to the slot and has struggled with drops and mental lapses. Nelson Agholor, the Eagles’ 2015 first-rounder, has graded out as the worst wide receiver in the NFL for two seasons in a row. His struggles were a major reason why the Eagles traded for another inconsistent but talented wideout in 6’5″, 235-pounder, Dorial Green-Beckham. DGB showed flashes, per usual, but failed to make any impact, finishing the season with 36 catches, 392 yards, and two TDs. At tight end, Zach Ertz is arguably their best receiving threat, but he once again got off to a sluggish start. Hampered early by a displaced rib, Ertz finished the season strong with 78 catches for 816 yards and four touchdowns.
The good news for Wentz and the Eagles is that although they lack a dominant WR or TE, they have good complementary pieces. I expect the Eagles to be aggressive in free agency, especially at receiver to take pressure off of Wentz. A top tier guy like Alshon Jeffery or a dynamic field stretcher such as former Eagle DeSean Jackson would be home run moves, but even snagging a veteran and division rival like Pierre Garcon would do wonders for Wentz. Another option would be to target a WR early in the draft like Corey Davis or Mike Williams. I also expect the Eagles to try to add another running back or two, because an improved running game would make Wentz’s job all the more easier. Lastly, if Matthews, Agholor, or Green-Beckham make a noticeable leap in production, that would be a boon to Wentz’s overall production. According to SportingCharts.com, 24 of Wentz’s pass attempts were dropped in 2016, the fourth-most in the league.
Upgrading the receiving corps and backfield would be a major step forward for the Eagles offense and play a part in Wentz’s evolution. I expect the Eagles to make such upgrades their top priorities this off-season. Though this is a pivotal point for Wentz’s fantasy success in 2017, my next point is arguably the most important…
3. Lane Johnson Returns: Fewer PEDs = More Fantasy Points
The foundation for any quarterback’s success, especially a rookie quarterback, is a dominant offensive line. When all of the Eagles starters are on the field, their line is one of the best in the league. The strengths of their unit are their elite bookend tackles, Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, both ranked in the top-ten of Bleacher Report’s “NFL1000” series. In today’s passing league, defensive coordinators are loading up with pass rushers on both sides. Teams like Denver have created a defensive blueprint for winning, with multiple pass rushers coming from both sides of the field.
Additionally, good defensive coordinators will move around pass rushers to exploit weaknesses in their opponent’s offensive line. Offensive coordinators often do this with receivers to exploit mismatches in the secondary. It is now essential for offenses to have two capable pass protectors on the outside to protect the quarterback. The Eagles were in great shape with arguably the best tackle tandem in the league. That all changed when Johnson was suspended ten games for PEDs, thus weakening a strength, exposing their lack of depth at tackle, and giving opposing defenses a soft spot to attack.
Prior to Lane Johnson’s suspension, Wentz got off to an impressive start, completing 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,007 yards, seven touchdowns, and just one interception, while recording a 103.5 passer rating. The Eagles were 3-1 with their only loss coming the week prior in a 24-23 comeback by the Lions. Johnson began serving his suspension in Week 6 and was replaced by fifth-round rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
The Eagles faced Washington in Vaitai’s debut and he struggled mightily, giving up a sack on the very first drive. The Eagles allowed five sacks in total against Washington. They had allowed seven in their previous four games. Wentz finished the game completing only 11-of-22 attempts for 179 yards, and the Eagles failed to score an offensive touchdown all game. Unfortunately for Wentz and the Eagles, the next nine weeks would not get any better and the nightmare continued. You can see just how important Johnson was to the Eagles and Wentz by the splits below:
|Wentz With Lane Johnson||6||64.9||6.94||10||2||9||19.28||0.45|
|Wentz Without Lane Johnson||10||61.2||5.87||6||12||23||15.11||0.26|
To give you some context of how putrid Wentz’s 0.26 PPDB number was, only Bryce Petty had a lower pass per drop-back (PPDB, a metric by PFF) during that span.
His 0.45 PPDB when Johnson was in the lineup, would have tied Wentz with Derek Carr, just slightly below Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins, who were tied for ninth-best with 0.48 PPDB.
In the graphic below, you can see how those splits impacted Wentz’s season-long outlook, as he finished with a 0.32 PPDB (27th in the league).
Although it is a somewhat small sample size, the correlation is obvious and relevant. The more protection Wentz had, the more fantasy points he produced. Also, it is fair to assume his PPDB will increase if the Eagles acquire some additional offensive firepower this off-season.
What it All Means
Hidden in Dak’s shadow, Wentz had a better rookie season than most realize and will offer significant hidden equity at what will likely be a cheap draft day cost. He should also make for an intriguing and cost-effective MFL10 QB2 to target. With both bookend tackles in place, and a couple upgrades at the skill positions, Wentz should be considered a dark horse candidate to finish as a top-12 fantasy QB in 2017. Even if he doesn’t end up a league-winner, Wentz should be a valuable piece to the puzzle and should provide you with a significant return on your investment. Value isn’t always hard to find; sometimes it’s hiding in plain sight.
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