The 2016 QB class saw three quarterbacks find success in the league early, but in 2021, only one remains with their drafted team. The first two picks of that draft, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, were both shown the proverbial door after the 2020 NFL season. But not before signing lucrative extensions with their respective teams.
Wentz led the Philadelphia Eagles to an 11-2 record in 2017 before suffering a season-ending injury. His team went on to win the Super Bowl with backup Nick Foles. He’d eventually have to watch a statue for Foles erected at the stadium. Goff himself led the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018. The Rams went on to score 3 points, and the narrative surrounding Goff began to flip.
The Rams swapped Goff for another former top pick, Matthew Stafford. Furthermore, they proved to us they don’t care at all about their first-round picks because they gave up two more of them (2022 & 2023) and a third-round pick (2021) in the deal.
Can Wentz and Goff revive their careers?
These two 2016 QB classmates are at different lows in their careers. Although neither project to be the franchise-changing type, can they get back on track as franchise leaders moving forward with their new teams?
What went wrong with Carson Wentz in Philadelphia?
The Wentz situation is far more complicated than Goff’s, despite his play being far worse. General manager Howie Roseman had a lifesize poster of Wentz in his office. Although Goff led the Rams to the Super Bowl, Wentz was seen as the superior player in the 2016 QB class. He was a potential MVP candidate for some if he could stay healthy.
In 2017, the second-year quarterback validated his team’s decision to select him with the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. His play was outstanding in situations that most failed — and where he, too, would eventually fail. He posted a quarterback rating of 127 on 3rd-and-6 or more in 2017, far better than anyone else in the league.
The downward spiral
Things quickly devolved after his ACL tear in December 2017. The following season, Wentz went 5-6 as a starter before a fracture in his back ended his season prematurely. After the 2018 season ended, reports of Wentz being a “selfish” player began to surface. The 2019 season went alright, but then the Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts in Round 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Philadelphia believed they made a good investment, ensuring they had depth behind Wentz. However, they apparently didn’t discuss the pick with the quarterback.
Much like the Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers, the Eagles unintentionally devolved the relationship with their franchise QB. Yet, the result was almost the exact inverse. Rodgers won an MVP, while Wentz melted under pressure and was benched and subsequently traded.
Fixing Carson Wentz in Indy
Wentz has a familiar face in Indianapolis with head coach Frank Reich. Reich was the offensive coordinator that helped orchestrate the Eagles’ magical 2017 Super Bowl run. He’s just worked with another veteran quarterback, Philip Rivers, who led the team to an 11-5 record in his first and final season with the Indianapolis Colts.
Rivers’ final season in Los Angeles was a struggle. He posted a 50.5 QBR and threw a whopping 20 interceptions. However, Rivers turned things around in his one season with Reich in Indianapolis. He raised his QBR to 62.5 and dropped his interception total to 11.
Wentz could very easily turn things around in a similar fashion. There should be a comfortability for the quarterback having Reich in the building. Chris Ballard’s team-building ability seemingly dwarfs that of the gunslinging Roseman. Still, I find it improbable that he has a Wentz fathead in his office.
Mechanical and mental issues with Carson Wentz
The issues surrounding Wentz’s game are similarly more complex than that of his 2016 QB classmate. His calling card has always been his ability to make plays outside of the general offensive structure. Wentz’s athleticism and arm strength allow him to escape the pocket and find throwing windows while on the hoof.
In 2020, his aesthetic was different on the field. He wasn’t playing with the same flair.
Wentz’s feet were a mess. Clean feet have never been a strong suit for Wentz, but his seeming lack of confidence in either himself or his surroundings led to an indecisive process. Couple that with an injury-depleted offensive line, and you have yourself a skittish quarterback devoid of time in the pocket or avenues of escape. As a result, Wentz was sacked 50 times in just 12 games.
Getting better by default
I have few doubts Wentz looks at least statistically better in 2021. His surroundings are far more stable. He’s playing on one of the most well-coached teams in the NFL. His offensive line, anchored by All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, is an improvement over the continuously injured Eagles bunch.
His receiving corps in Philadelphia was either too young, too old, too injured, or too unqualified to separate consistently in 2020. Although there are a few unproven commodities in the Colts’ receiver room as well, T.Y. Hilton is still a solid veteran target Wentz can lean on in 2021.
Still, just how much Wentz can improve comes down to his individual work ethic and confidence in his own abilities. He must calm his feet and begin to trust his eyes and receivers again. He’s never been a timing-based quarterback, so it will be fascinating to see how the offense morphs around him.
What we learned from one year of Rivers
In 2020, Rivers got rid of the ball in 2.52 seconds, and he averaged 7.4 intended air yards. Wentz, conversely, held onto the ball for 2.91 seconds and tied for fourth in average intended air yards at 9.1. Additionally, a healthy Parris Campbell should help the offense attack horizontally and gives them a legitimate home run threat when he touches the football.
Wentz produced the second-worst completion percentage over expectation in 2020. Although his accuracy has never been lauded as a strength, his mechanical failures in the 2020 season magnified his issues properly placing passes. Still, if he calms his feet down and once again begins to stand tall in the pocket, he should improve back to being around even in CPOE.
Wentz’s career resurrection comes down to his own head and heart. The talent is there.
Jared Goff’s potential going forward
Goff hasn’t struggled as much as he has simply produced mediocre results. Despite this, the team enjoyed success in 2017 when Sean McVay burst onto the scene as the next greatest offensive mind.
Goff has shown flashes of brilliance as a passer, particularly when throwing in rhythm downfield. Those days appear long gone, however. Brick Wall Blitz does a yearly project charting all downfield attempts. In 2018, Goff ranked in the top-10 in the league. Yet, in just two years, that number dropped to 30th in the league.
Goff’s inability to create outside of structure is his downfall. There’s a good reason the backyard players of the world have passed up the traditional pocket passers. But that is not his only issue.
The book was out on McVay and Goff in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. If a pocket passer is to succeed, they must possess a mental sharpness that dwarfs that of the playmaking passers in the league.
If an offense has a good game plan, Goff can execute that game plan provided things remain in rhythm, and he’s not forced to work full-field reads consistently. Nevertheless, please don’t ask for him to freestyle.
There are situations where Goff can again take a good roster to the pinnacle of the sport. But the surroundings must be incredible for him to find that success.
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