Carson Wentz is a Colt, Jalen Hurts is the Eagles’ presumed starter, and those enamored with structural fantasy drafting strategies have much to overanalyze.
The Colts mercifully ended the Wentz saga on Thursday by acquiring the veteran for a third round pick and a conditional second rounder. Wentz will reunite with the coach -- Frank Reich -- with whom he became a fantasy football force in 2017, notching the second most fantasy points per game among QBs while posting the fifth highest completion rate on deep throws and tossing 2.54 touchdowns per game. Before he was horrid, Wentz was quite good. Very few living humans are old enough to remember that.
Wentz under center for the Colts in 2021 offers -- shall we say -- a wider range of outcomes for the team’s pass catchers. Certainly Wentz’s floor is lower than Philip Rivers’ 2020 floor -- we’re talking about the guy who was second to last in expected points added per play last year, per The Athletic's Ben Baldwin -- but his upside is well beyond what Rivers could have delivered in his final NFL season. That translates to Michael Pittman, Parris Campbell, and the other Indy pass catchers sporting tantalizing upside with a rejuvenated Wentz throwing to them. It also means Pittman, Campbell, and the rest sink if Wentz is indeed the broken man he appeared to be last season.
Let’s get this out of the way: No one is going to draft Carson Wentz in traditional one-QB fantasy leagues this season. He’s intriguing in superflex because literally any starting quarterback is intriguing in superflex.
The hope is that Wentz returns to form -- or something resembling form -- with less pressure in his grill. Last year, only five quarterbacks faced a higher pressure rate than Wentz, who posted a career-low 57.4 percent completion rate. In his phenomenal 2017 season, Wentz was 16th in pressure rate. The Colts just happen to feature one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. Just ask Rivers, who in 2020 faced the second lowest pressure rate in the league, behind only Ben Roethlisberger.
With the expected departure of the astoundingly washed T.Y. Hilton, Pittman most likely profiles as the big play, downfield threat for Wentz this year. At times in his rookie campaign, Pittman looked to emerge as the team’s No. 1 wideout, only to fade in subsequent weeks, leaving fantasy managers (including one NBC Sports Edge analyst) perplexed and frustrated. I would be remiss -- and I’m never remiss -- if I didn’t mention Zach Pascal as a potential beneficiary of Wentz’s deep ball prowess. It was Pascal -- a restricted free agent -- who was second on the team (behind Hilton) last season in air yards and yards per target. Pascal quietly out-targeted Pittman, who missed three games with injuries.
Fantasy managers would do well not to forget about Campbell, who blew out his knee in Week 2 last season and missed the remaining 14 games. Campbell was locked in as the Colts’ slot guy, running 95 percent of his pass routes from the slot over his one and a half games. The speedy Campbell racked up nine targets in Week 1. Reich and the rest of Indy’s coaching staff bemoaned Campbell’s loss after talking him up as a glaring mismatch for opposing defenses. A better protected, much more accurate Wentz could make Campbell an every-week starter, especially in PPR formats (the only legitimate scoring system).
If dump off passes to running backs are a quarterback stat, Wentz’s arrival in Indy probably isn’t the most pleasant news for Jonathan Taylor’s and Nyheim Hines’ involvement in the team’s passing attack. Old man Rivers gave Taylor and Hines all the dump offs they could handle -- the two combined for a 22 percent target share -- just as he did with Chargers backs. In 2017, with Wentz working with Reich in Philly, running backs were not at all part of the team’s passing offense. Not until 2019 with Miles Sanders’ emergence was a runner involved in the Eagles’ passing attack. That’s not to say Hines and Taylor will lose all their pass-catching upside, but Wentz’s history with dump offs and screens isn’t the best indicator for the Colts’ runners.
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Now to the aforementioned change in how structural drafters might view the Wentz trade. We have collectively eulogized the late-round quarterback drafting approach in recent weeks thanks to the emergence of dual threat QBs who have turned LRQB into a fool’s errand -- or at least a wild-eyed optimist’s errand.
Hurts as the Eagles’ starter could be the key for those determined to wait and wait and wait on their quarterback in one-QB formats. It’s Hurts’ rushing potential that unlocks the LRQB strategy, just as Lamar Jackson did in 2019, and Tyrod Taylor before him, and Robert Griffin III before him. You’re probably not going to find a late-round signal caller who is going to pour on enough passing yardage to prove a no-brainer every week fantasy starter. You’re going to need the rushing: that’s precisely what Hurts gives you.
Hurts, after taking over for Wentz late in 2020, rushed 18, 11, nine, and eight times in four starts. He almost certainly would have had double-digit rushing attempts in Wee 17 if Doug Pederson hadn’t triggered Joe Judge by benching Hurts for Nate Sudfeld. Hurts scored a gaudy 45.2 fantasy points on the ground in those four games. He was the QB7 over that stretch, just a smidge behind Kirk Cousins and Tom Brady. We’ll likely see Hurts drafted well outside the top-12 QBs this summer, offering an avenue for those who refuse to give in to a centrist middle round quarterback draft strategy.
As for Hurts’ pass catchers? For The Win’s Charles McDonald said it best: “Say a prayer or send good vibes to Jalen Hurts. That young man is about to play on a skeleton roster filled with rookies in his first chance to be a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL.” It’s going to be bleak. There probably won’t be a whole lot of pass volume to go around, though Zach Ertz’s expected departure could clear the lane for Dallas Goedert to finally become a target hog in Philly’s offense. Tight ends, by the bye, saw a hefty 34 percent of the team's targets in Hurts' four starts. Philadelphia's offensive system will change in 2021, but Goedert's play making ability and Hurts' eye for tight ends will not.
Miles Sanders’ usage stabilized with Hurts under center for the Eagles last season. Sanders saw 18, 18, and 19 touches in three games alongside the rookie QB, scoring three of his meager six rushing touchdowns in that stretch. Sanders saw 49 percent of the team’s running back carries in those three games; Jordan Howard was second with a 10 percent rushing share.
A dangerous dual threat quarterback keeping edge rushers honest is usually a good thing for the running back standing next to said QB in the backfield. Sanders is a clear winner of the Eagles getting Wentz’s toxic contract off their books.