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Offseason Lowdown

Carson Wentz Isn't As Bad As You Think

by Denny Carter
Updated On: March 11, 2022, 1:22 am ET

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The trade sending Carson Wentz to Washington made for a fun couple days on Twitter: We got to meld jokes about the most toxic franchise in professional sports acquiring the most toxic asset in pro football. 

Sometimes the world makes sense. 

Beneath the avalanche of funny posts about the supposedly unsalvageable Wentz heading to an unsalvageable organization are some annoyingly inconvenient numbers. I take no pleasure in reporting this. 

The Spreadsheet Is (Sorta) Kind to Wentz

A look at Wentz’s 2021 season with the Colts -- the end of which sent Jim Irsay spiraling -- shows he wasn’t nearly as bad as we (I) thought he was. It should go without saying that from a fantasy perspective, he was barely usable, even in two-QB formats. Nevertheless. 

I can’t speak to how Wentz looked on the field during his one mostly-disastrous year in Indianapolis. I can tell you the spreadsheet tells a story that might -- might -- be welcome news to desperate Commanders faithful and those intent on drafting Terry McLaurin in 2022. 

Below is a look at Wentz’s combined expected points added (EPA) per drop back and completion percentage over expected (CPOE) -- a measurement created by analytics cyborg Ben Baldwin accounting for a host of factors in measuring a quarterback’s passing performance. These numbers include Wentz’s Week 1-9, before some rough outings that culminated with his late-season meltdown against the Raiders and Jaguars. It's cherry picking, I know. 

wentz1

Wentz’s first nine weeks, of course, included an out-of-nowhere 402-yard, two-touchdown performance against Baltimore’s odious secondary and back-to-back three-TD outings in Week 8 and 9. He was, in short, highly efficient for much of the season’s first half -- exactly what Frank Reich wanted in an offense predicated on establishing the ever-loving run. 

In case you were wondering (and I know you were) Wentz’s completion percentage over expected was 0.3 in those first nine weeks, better than Taylor Heinicke’s -0.8 CPOE. On the season, Heinicke had a higher CPOE thanks to Wentz’s collapse in late December and early January. Only five QBs had a lower CPOE than Wentz in 2021: Zach Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Baker Mayfield, Trevor Lawrence, and Sam Darnold. Not great. Not even good. 

While we’re comparing Wentz to the Commanders’ incumbent starter: Wentz in 2021 was better under pressure than Heinicke -- with a higher completion rate and yards per attempt while facing pressure -- and proved a far more effective downfield passer than Heinicke, who along with Trevor Lawrence and Ben Roethlisberger, was among the worst deep ball throwers in the league last year. Heinicke in 2021 converted a nightmarish 44 percent of his air yards into real life yards, one of the lowest rates in the NFL and six percentage points lower than Wentz. 

Go all the way back to 2019 and you'll find Wentz ranking eighth in adjusted completion rate on passes of more than 20 yards downfield. Wentz was rated as Pro Football Focus' ninth best deep ball thrower that season. 

Coming off a 2021 campaign in which he had the fourth most air yards in the NFL, McLaurin’s chances of cashing in some of those empty air yards -- prayer yards, some might say -- gets a significant boost if Wentz is under center for Week 1. Please consider context before storming my Twitter mentions with your freshly-sharpened pitchforks. 

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Adjust The Ranks: Wentz’s EPA, Yards Per Attempt 

Wentz’s adjusted EPA per drop back on the season wasn’t nearly as hateful as I thought it would be. He was roughly as good a passer as Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts in expected points added. 

wentz2

If you thought I was done cherry picking, you were wrong. Eliminate Wentz’s final two regular season games -- in which he averaged a horrible 6 adjusted yards per attempt while completing just 59 percent of his passes -- and here’s what you get in adjusted EPA per drop back. 

wentz3

Wentz was basically Kirk Cousins before he contracted the novel coronavirus in December, missed a week of practice because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19, and played horrifically against Vegas in Week 17, followed up by the aforementioned Week 18 meltdown in Jacksonville. 

Acquiring Cousins would have been a far less criticized move by the Commanders. But Cousins, by many measurements, is Wentz. Wentz is Cousins. In fact, Wentz had a slightly higher drop back success rate than Cousins in the first 16 weeks of the 2021 season, while Cousins edged Wentz in composite EPA and CPOE. Cousins converted 52 percent of his air yards into actual yards (three percent higher than Wentz’s conversion rate) despite throwing to one of the NFL’s dominant downfield pass catchers in Justin Jefferson

While Wentz’s adjusted yards per attempt (A/YA) was hardly sparkling at 7.3 in 2021, it marked the third-highest A/YA in his six NFL seasons. His touchdown rate (5.2), meanwhile, was above his career rate, trailing only his TD rate (7.5) during his spectacular 2017 season. It wasn’t all bad for Carson in his failed stint with Indy.

The analytics show Wentz can be a functional quarterback in the NFL this season. The analytics, however, don’t have much to say on Wentz reportedly being a lousy teammate and an unpleasable malcontent.