Scout's Notebook: Will rookie Carson Wentz build on debut?


Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his weekly notebook. The topics of this edition include:

» How should the Redskins use top-dollar CB Josh Norman?

» Why teams should regularly use two-point packages.

» Is Carson Wentz's debut performance a one-game wonder?

But first, a look at the signifiance of Carson Wentz's debut performance ...

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NEXT-GEN STATS: Is Carson Wentz the real deal or one-game wonder?

That's the question every general manager and scout must consider after watching the second-overall pick in the 2016 draft light it up in his debut performance after missing most of the preseason with a rib injury. Wentz completed 22 of 37 passes for 278 yards and a pair of scores. He finished the night with a 101.0 passer rating and looked like a potential star at the position.

Now, I know it's only one game and we shouldn't give the rookie a gold jacket based on his spectacular play against a weak Browns' defense, but Wentz's numbers stand up well against debuts of other top picks in recent history. Take a look at some of the debuts of recent top-five quarterbacks:

Carson Wentz (2016): won game; completed 22 of 37 passes for 278 passing yards, 2-0 TD-INT ratio, 101.0 passer rating.

Jameis Winston (2015): lost game; completed 16 of 33 passes for 210 yards, 2-2 TD-INT ratio, 64.0 passer rating.

Marcus Mariota (2015): won game; completed 13 of 15 passes for 209 yards, 4-0 TD-INT ratio, 158.3 passer rating.

Andrew Luck (2012): lost game; completed 23 of 45 passes for 309 yards, 1-3 TD-INT ratio, 52.9 passer rating.

Robert Griffin III (2012): won game; completed 19 of 26 passes for 210 yards, 2-0 TD-INT ratio, 139.9 passer rating.

Cam Newton (2011): lost game; completed 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards, 2-1 TD-INT ratio, 110.4 passer rating.

Based on the numbers, it nearly impossible to determine whether Wentz will go on to become an elite quarterback after one game, but I found it interesting that his stats were nearly identical to Cam Newton's production in his 2011 debut against the Arizona Cardinals. I've always believed Wentz's game mirrored the reigning MVP's playing style and he could make a similar impact on the league as a big-bodied, dual-threat playmaker.

Looking back at my scouting report on Wentz prior to the draft, I viewed the 6-foot-5, 237-pounder as a big, strong-armed passer with exceptional arm talent. I thought he was not only capable of making every throw in the book with zip, velocity and precision, but he also flashed a feathery touch on deep balls along the boundary. As a runner, I loved Wentz's combination of size and speed on the perimeter. He excelled executing zone reads and designed quarterback runs, particularly down in the red zone where "plus 1" concepts -- quarterback runs to negate the defense's numerical advantage at the point of attack -- give the offense an added dimension.

Considering Wentz's high football IQ and his mastery of complex passing concepts due to his experience directing a pro-style offense at North Dakota State, I thought he would have a solid track to success despite playing against a lower level of competition as a collegian. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I thought it would take him some time to figure it all out (the Eagles planned to give Wentz a redshirt year as a rookie while he sat behind a couple of veterans), but the rookie was thrust into the starting lineup when the team traded away Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings for a couple of top picks.

I've been around the NFL long enough to know that plans quickly change and most top-five draft picks, particularly quarterbacks, crack the starting lineup at some point during their rookie seasons. But I didn't expect to see Wentz stepping onto the field with the "ones" in Week 1 after sitting out the majority of the preseason with an injury. Despite showing impressive flashes in limited action, Wentz hadn't played enough preseason snaps to get a full grasp of his readiness and I wondered how Doug Pederson would craft a game plan around the rookie to help him succeed in the season opener. In my experience, most coaches opt for a conservative approach when breaking in a rookie starter. Teams will feature quick throws and simple isolation or combination patterns to make it easy for the quarterback to find an open receiver against any coverage. Coaches will also script a series of plays around the strengths of their young passer to make sure that he quickly finds his comfort zone on the field.

Against the Browns, the Eagles crafted a beautiful game plan that highlighted Wentz's strengths as a downfield passer. From seams and go-routes along the hashes or sidelines to sail routes (deep speed outs) and deep overs (deep crossing routes), the Eagles featured a number of vertical routes that allowed the rookie to push the ball down the field off play-action or on the move. To my surprise, the high-risk, high-reward approach better suited the rookie's talents. According to Next Gen stats, Wentz completed 9 of 11 passes (81.8 percent) for a 15.6 yards per attempt average and a 158.3 passer rating on passes that covered 10 air yards or more (compared to connecting on 13 of 26 passes with a 3.8 yards per attempt average and a 60.7 passer rating on passes of 10 air yards or fewer).

That's ridiculous production from any quarterback, particularly a rookie making his first start after limited preseason work. As I studied the All-22 coaches' footage, I was blown away by Wentz's touch, timing and accuracy on his deep throws. He dropped the ball over the receiver's outside shoulder on most throws, which allowed them to keep the defender on their hip while securing the catch. Let's take a closer look at the video to help me explain:

The Eagles are aligned in an empty formation with Jordan Matthews in the slot. The team is running a smash-seams concept with the outside guys instructed to run hitches and the slot receivers running fade routes from their inside position. Against man coverage, the inside fade gives the quarterback a bigger box to target in the front corner of the end zone. This definitely makes the throw easier, but Wentz's superb ball placement made it nearly impossible for the Browns to defend the play.

Later in the game, the Eagles dial it up on a fade route to Nelson Agholor down the boundary. The second-year pro must escape press coverage at the line, but he can't get pushed too far to the sideline because it shrinks the target area for the quarterback. Against Joe Haden, Agholor quickly whips the former Pro Bowler at the line and fights to "stack" (receiver works to get directly in front of the defensive back while running down the field) the veteran corner as he heads down the field. Wentz throws a teardrop over the young pass catcher's outside shoulder for a score.

Wentz's debut performance has created a buzz in the scouting community. Evaluators wonder if the young passer can build upon his strong performance to energize an Eagles' offense that is more systematic than star-driven. After looking at the numbers and the All-22 coaches' footage, I not only believe he will continue to shine as a deep ball passer, but his accuracy and efficiency will improve on the quick-rhythm throws that are the foundation of the Eagles' passing game. If he quickly masters the "catch-and-fire" throws in the game plan, the Eagles might've landed a budding superstar at the top of the draft.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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