Earliest among the cacophony of debates arriving during draft season is the conversation circling around who is the best quarterback. One of the strongest cases comes from an unexpected place: North Dakota State University. Stunted by a mid-season wrist injury that kept him out for eight games before the FCS National Title game against Jacksonville State, the Bison's Carson Wentz finished his senior season throwing for 1,651 yards, 17 touchdowns and four interceptions in just seven games.
Despite playing in the lower-level FCS (Football Championship Subdivision, or Division 1-AA), Wentz has caught the eyes of many media scouts and is often seen in the top half of the first round in preliminary mock drafts. The whirlwind of intrigue surrounding Wentz has a lot to do with the presumed untapped potential that sets him over his peers. Is Wentz the real deal, or is he just North Dakota fool's gold? This writer digs deeper to find out.
One common misconception of FCS teams in players is that they're just not cut out for the high grade play of FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision, or Division 1-A) football, let alone NFL football -- which is simply not the case. The FCS has churned out NFL top-tier talent like Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, Vincent Jackson, Jared Allen, and others. There are a lot of reasons why FCS talent slips through the cracks, but as the league gains more respect, players like Wentz are elevated from late-round projects to first-round franchise savers.
It's immediately apparent why Carson Wentz is viewed by some as the best quarterback talent in this class. Even if the competition in the FCS isn't quite up to SEC standards, his tools on display aren't hidden by that assumption. He arguably has the strongest arm in all of college football in 2015, with the accuracy to match.
The above play illustrates both traits. Wentz throws the ball from where a NFL far hash would be, to a receiver in tight coverage on the far sideline. The deep out is a staple and is often used by NFL personnel people to give quarterbacks the pro stamp of approval, and Wentz passes with flying colors.
A big part of successful NFL quarterbacks also includes the ability to dial back the juice and introduce touch into their throws. Wentz is proficient at varying his passes tempo to the need of the situation. Whether dropping passes between linebackers and safeties, or hitting a wide-open receiver in stride, Wentz isn't over eager to show off his arm if he didn't need to.
Another aspect of Wentz' game that will have pro scouts salivating is his pro-style offensive exposure. Bison offensive coordinator, Tim Polasek, and quarterbacks coach, Randy Hedberg, have tailor made a system that plays to Wentz' strengths while teaching pro concepts, as well.
Snaps from under center, varied routes, and designed rollouts are common place within the North Dakota State offense, and Wentz appeared comfortable executing in those elements. While all quarterbacks will have to adjust to NFL game-speed (a caveat made in Goff's evaluation), it does help expedite the early learning curb by seeing and doing things that are present in NFL offenses.
Lastly, Wentz is nearly as potent on the ground as he is over the air. In seven games, Wentz ran for nearly 300 yards and scored six times. It is important to note that most of Wentz' yardage came from planned quarterback runs, which included QB draws, sweeps, and powers. Listed at 6'6" and 235 lbs., Wentz isn't quite the same specimen as Cam Newton, but he'll impact the game with a similar one-cut running style.
If Wentz' best trait is his arm, perhaps his worst is his feet. While Wentz isn't particularly bad with his feet, he isn't quick at re-setting them on off-platform throws and doesn't display the same type of urgency in the pocket while running in the open field.
In the above play, Wentz was slow to move and took a smaller bite of the pocket than he could of to escape the left-side pass rusher.
Sound pocket presence is one of the hardest things to teach young quarterbacks in the NFL, and some never learn it. It isn't that Wentz doesn't have the courage to make throws with pass rushers in his face, it's he doesn't have the discipline yet to keep his feet moving to quickly move away from pressure.
Despite being mentioned as a strength in this piece, Wentz' running style won't work quite as well in the NFL as it did against Division I-AA. His fullback brand of carrying the ball won't end well and he'll most likely be discouraged from taking defenders head on. The Panthers from Carolina bite a lot harder than they do in Northern Iowa.
As much as Wentz' credentials will be questioned throughout the pre-draft process, teams won't know exactly how he'll adjust to the talent disparity between FCS and NFL football until he takes the field. This will be a question for all players in the draft, but particularly those who don't regularly face power conference schools that regularly supplies the NFL with talent.
When all is said and done, most will endorse Wentz as a worthy first round selection. His combination of size, athleticism, arm strength, and more are a tools cocktail NFL teams simply can't let slip away. He deserves every right to be mentioned in the same breath as Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch, and others -- and may even surpass them come draft day.
Hugh Jackson's Cleveland Browns may give Wentz a strong look as high as the 2nd overall pick, but teams up and down the top 15 may hope that trigger doesn't get pulled. As a pro comparison, Wentz is reminiscent of two final four quarterbacks playing in the NFC Championship game: Carson Palmer and Cam Newton. His combination of size, running ability, arm strength, and general accuracy keeps him in good company among the NFL elite.