When the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, many folks believed it was a foolish decision. We, on the other hand, admired the moxie it took to pull the trigger on the deal. Like most of the teams in the National Football League, the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t have a franchise-caliber starting quarterback. By rolling the dice and going all in on this particular move, the franchise was convinced this was all about to change. Fortunately for them, the Cleveland Browns were happy to oblige.
More than anyone in football, the Browns understand that without a legitimate starting quarterback, a team is destined to fail. After trying (unsuccessfully) on so many occasions to land the guy with the golden arm, the Cleveland brass (as outlined by Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta during a conversation with the team’s radio partner WKNR 850-AM at the start of training camp) opted to go in a different direction in 2016:
In a given year, there may be two or three NFL-ready quarterbacks at the college level. In another year, there literally may be zero. There just may be not be anybody in that year who’s good enough to be a top 20 quarterback in the NFL.
Even though you have a desperate need for one, you have to resist the temptation of taking that guy just because you have a need if you don’t believe he’s one of those 20 guys at the end of the day. That’s the hardest part, just maintaining your discipline because you have the need. That’s what we did this year.
This was DePodesta’s polite way of saying that, with the way the draft was destined to play out following the Los Angeles Rams’ ascent to the No. 1 overall spot, there wasn’t a quarterback left in the draft who fell into the “top 20” category. But you know what they say, “One person’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It’s just hard to believe that, after watching him light up the stage in his NFL debut, anyone could’ve ever viewed rookie quarterback Carson Wentz as anything but the latter.
From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, the 6-foot-5, 237-pound quarterback out of North Dakota State looked anything but a rookie. Wentz completed 22 of 37 passes for 278 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions, finishing the game with a quarterback rating of 101. But it’s not just the numbers that made his debut impressive, it’s the undeniable poise and confidence he displayed on the field.
Wentz showed traits we usually associate with seasoned veterans. He took charge of the huddle, he had total command of the offense, and he wasn’t afraid to change the play at the line of scrimmage. He recognized coverages, stood tall in the pocket, and took chances down the field. He believed in his teammates, he believed in himself, and believed he was ready for the moment. Simply put, he was fearless. If you want to win over the fans in Philadelphia, that’s a good place to start.
It’s not uncommon for Philadelphia fans to get overly excited about their sports teams, especially before there’s any real reason why they should. This time, however, it’s different. This time, the fans aren’t the only ones who feel like they have something special in their new signal caller — the Eagles players do as well. After Wentz carved up the lowly Cleveland Browns (oh, the irony) in his debut, Philadelphia’s All-Pro tackle Jason Peters wasn’t shy about singing the kid’s praise:
I said he can throw it just as good as [Aaron] Rodgers on the run, on the move. He’s got good release, he’s real accurate on the run. That’s who he reminds me of, is Rodgers when he gets to moving, the way he darts the ball on the run.
He has it. All we’ve got to do is keep the pocket clean, and he’s going to throw it to the open guy. Point blank. He’s going to eat ’em up.
It’s one thing to win a game, it’s a whole other thing to win over a locker room. Wentz shows he has what it takes to accomplish both. Now that’s something special.
Since pulling off a W — in convincing fashion — in his first NFL game, Wentz has experienced quite the whirlwind in the last week. His No. 11 jersey is flying off the shelves, he’s the talk of the town, and even the President of the United States felt the need to drop his name. If ever there was a time for Wentz to let the pressure of success get to him, now would be it. Interestingly enough, the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t worried about that. When pressed on how his new rookie quarterback is adapting to his recent rise in popularity, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson had this to say:
He’s handled it fine. I’ll tell you that he and I have had conversations the last couple days. Just wanted him to be aware of, just limit the noise on the outside. Let’s just focus on football. And that’s the one thing about him and his maturity level is how well he does balance work with some of the outside influences.
Wentz looked great in the season opener. There’s no disputing that. Yet, it’s important to remember that he was far from perfect; he’s still just a kid, and he’s bound to make plenty of mistakes. As a result, it’s a bit too early to anoint him the next Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. But if there’s one area that’s impressed us the most, it is Wentz’s work ethic. The guy has a relentless desire to get better. In Philadelphia, a city that demands genuine effort from its athletes, this is the fastest way into the people’s hearts.
Carson Wentz is a winner. He’s won in college, and now he’s ready to do the same at the professional level. This wagon — the “Wentz wagon” — is ready to take you on the ride of a lifetime. Better act now; you don’t want to miss it.