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As Eagles training camp officially opens, it’s fair to say the entire 2017 Eagles season, and perhaps the future of the Eagles franchise as it stands today, hinges on the shoulders of one man.
No pressure, Carson.
Quarterback Carson Wentz had a good rookie campaign, for a rookie. He was a finalist for Rookie of the Year, but lost out to Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott. And so, Wentz enters the 2017 season with something to prove, as not only was he not the best rookie QB in the NFL last year, he wasn’t even the best rookie quarterback in his own division.
While Dallas fans have spent the summer worried if the rest of the league will figure out Prescott this coming season, Eagles fans — at least those outside the echo chamber local media — have been left worrying what to believe about Wentz.
In Philly, he’s the second coming. He’s the answer to all our quarterbacking prayers. He’s Peyton Manning with a bible. He’s a great guy and a great football player, and with a healthy offensive line, improved weapons at the skill positions and a defense some are ranking near the top of the league tables, many in Philadelphia are expecting big things for the Eagles in 2017. And big things for Wentz.
Outside of Philly, however, there’s more skepticism. The Eagles have improved the skill position players, sure, but their running back, LeGarrette Blount, was cast aside by the Patriots (New England doesn’t cast aside many still-useful players) and their two top receiver additions are Alshon Jeffery, who has only played 21 games out of a possible 32 the last two seasons, and Torrey Smith, who had two of the worst years in the NFL under Chip Kelly in San Fran.
The Eagles defense might be better, but the team replaced some aging veterans, so it could take a while for the front seven to gel. The secondary, despite a lot of attention paid in the draft and free agency, is still a primary concern.
So while we hear talk of Super Bowl in Philly, outside, the Eagles aren’t even pegged to make the playoffs.
Bovada has the Eagles slated for eight wins and Vegas Insider has them at 25-to-1 to win the NFC, behind the Cowboys and Giants in the division race.
How?!?! The Eagles finished 7-9 last year and had seven — SEVEN — games they lost by one score. How is this team presumably so much better at so many positions, and only slated to win one additional game?
In Philly, he’s the savior. Outside Philly, there’s not much faith.
Pro Football Focus ranked every quarterback in the NFL toward the end of last season and while Tom Brady was No. 1, NFL MVP Matt Ryan was No. 2 and Prescott was No. 12, Wentz was No. 22. That’s bad. This was Wentz’s season in a nutshell:
It’s been a strong first season for Wentz overall, with the next step being an improved supporting cast and tapping into his big arm to offset some of his inconsistent accuracy and inability to get through his progressions at times.
In other words, fast guys on the outside who can beat their defenders will help hide some of what Wentz is. Let’s see if the Eagles got enough of that to move him up the rankings this year.
Heading into the 2017 season, NFL.com created a list of the Top 100 players in the league. Just three Eagles made the list: Fletcher Cox at 38, Malcolm Jenkins at 90 and Brandon Graham at 93.
Of the top 100 players in the NFL, per the NFL, 16 were quarterbacks. That’s half the starters in the league, and Wentz wasn’t one of them.
Sure, he was just a rookie last year. It’s not fair to put that much pressure on him in his sophomore campaign. Only, that’s exactly what the Eagles have done with all these one-year signings on offense. And Prescott is ranked 14th. In the entire NFL, not just for quarterbacks. So much for pressure.
For what it’s worth, Matt Ryan led the Falcons to the Super Bowl and won MVP last year and wasn’t listed in the 2016 rankings. So maybe Wentz being passed over is a good thing.
It’s just, well, he keeps being passed over.
Fox Sports ranked the 50 NFL quarterbacks back in spring and Wentz came in at 19th, behind Ryan Tannehill, Eli Manning and, gulp, Sam Bradford. Kirk Cousins was 14th and Dak Prescott was 13th, which means that while Wentz is seen as the worst quarterback in the division heading into this season, he’s not that much behind the other three starters.
Bill Bender at Sporting News also ranked every starter this year and, well, he’s not a fan of Wentz either. He ranks the Eagles signal caller 24th, ahead of only Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, 2016 No. 1 pick Jared Goff, rookie Deshaun Watson, Trevor Siemian, Mike Glennon, Brian Hoyer and Blake Bortles.
Why he’s here: Like any other rookie, Wentz had an up-and-down first season with the Eagles. He played well at the start and finish, and he should build on that success with the additions of Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith. Wentz should move up this list.
Bradford is 23rd and Prescott is 12th — he’s twice as good as Wentz! — which means Bender could have done this entire ranking just to troll Eagles fans.
And yet, that’s how most of the pundits rank Wentz. ESPN ranked each team’s quarterbacks and put the Eagles at 23rd, writing, “this gets back to what we said at the beginning about optimism versus confidence. Wentz offers a ton of the former but has a ways to go before he offers reason for the latter.”
Even coach Doug Pederson knows he has to do more to protect Wentz. He got exposed as a rookie, asked to do too much in Pederson’s offense to the point where the second-year coach recently admitted “too much was resting on his rookie shoulders.”
And while anyone watching the Eagles last season could see that, Pederson continued to pile on the reps and the responsibility, to the point where nobody’s quite sure what to expect this year when the game is on the line. Does Pederson have the discipline to help Wentz develop?
The low rankings heading into 2017 might be Pederson’s fault. Sure, the skill position players were really bad last year, but Wentz was routinely put in positions to “make plays” on his own, something he hadn’t shown the ability to do at the NFL level. When he played within himself (and within the system) he was successful. But as Wentz became more comfortable in the NFL, his numbers actually got worse.
Per Pro Football Focus, Wentz had the league’s 13th-best adjusted completion percentage of 74.8 last season, accounting for drops, etc. While he started out the season strong — seven touchdowns and one interception in the first quarter of the season — the final 12 games saw Wentz throw nine scores and 13 picks.
Were it not for a 93.7 passer rating — 27 for 43 passing with two scores and no picks — in the meaningless season finale against Dallas, Wentz would not have had a week with a passer rating over 90 beyond Week 7, after starting his career with three of the first four weeks over 100.
Speaking of the first quarter, it was the first quarter of the games in which Wentz was his most careless with the ball, throwing just one touchdown while hurling six interceptions. And he was routinely worse in the fourth quarter. Wentz’s completion percentage dropped more than 10 points from the third to the fourth quarters in 2016, and despite attempting 184 passes, he had just one touchdown pass in the fourth quarter all season, to three picks.
Wentz had a 101.8 rating in the third quarter and 69.2 in the fourth. Again, the Eagles lost seven games by one score.
Of his 16 touchdown passes, 12 came in the red zone, with just one interception. But his completion percentage inside the opponents’ 20 was just 48.84 percent, and the Eagles had the 24th-best red zone TD percentage in the NFL.
Numbers can lie, and it might be unfair to pin this all on Wentz, but that’s why nobody outside of Philly seems to show much faith in him as training camp begins. He needs to prove he can succeed in pressure situations, while Pederson needs to show he’s willing to stop putting Wentz in so many, until he does. The new skill position players will help, but for the Eagles to make the playoffs and contend for the Super Bowl, Wentz is going to have to prove a lot of people wrong this season.
Have faith, Eagles fans. It’s only July.