Carson Wentz: A far from perfect quarterback prospect

After a couple months of hiatus, I’ve decided to bring back my weekly column for the final two weeks of the semester, likely to the chagrin of both my readers and my superiors. This week, I want to genuinely examine the conundrum of Carson Wentz and the mix of emotions he makes me, and I assume most Jackrabbit fans, feel.

 The soon-to-be former North Dakota State quarterback is, by consensus, one of the top two quarterback prospects in the upcoming NFL draft, alongside Cal’s Jared Goff. Wentz has drawn praise for his prototypical size, arm strength and athleticism for the quarterback position, with apparent running capabilities as an added plus. He is also what some draftniks like to call “ a proven winner,” having started for the Bison in the two most recent of their five straight national championships.

 Though Wentz is a fairly well thought of prospect, he does have his critics and they bring some valid points to the discussion. The first thing brought up is usually the level of competition he faced in college playing in the FCS. SDSU supporters feel somewhat slighted at this, but the idea that he hasn’t played against many NFL caliber athletes on the defenses across from him is something that could make the ever popular “adjustment to the speed of the game” even more difficult once he’s in the league.

 The other major knock against Wentz is the fact that he only threw 612 passes in college and was only a two-year starter. Compare that to Goff, attempted 1,568 passes and was a three-year starter from the moment he set foot on campus.

 Far from a sure thing, Wentz still has a chance to go high in the 2016 draft. Possibly even as high as number one overall after the quarterback-needy Los Angeles Rams completed a trade with the Tennessee Titans to move to the top of the draft order. And that is an interesting feeling for me.

 From 2012 to 2014, SDSU got to watch Zach Zenner obliterate the FCS competition, racking up touchdowns and yards. When he finally finished his career, Jackrabbit nation waited with baited breath for his selection in the 2015 NFL draft. No one was fooling themselves, it was assumed Zenner would go in the fifth, sixth or seventh round. He eventually went undrafted before catching on with the Detroit Lions. 

Zenner had the track record of production against the FCS and went undrafted. Wentz, while still fairly dominant in his year and a half as a starter (he missed the second half of the 2015 season with a broken wrist) did not have the near record breaking success levels against the same type of competition, yet he is legitimately in the conversation for number one overall.

In my opinion, the discrepancy stems from stereotypes and the long held beliefs that the NFL is afraid to stray from for fear of risking their reputations. Zenner was a white running back from a small school that didn’t appear to have the size to transition to fullback. Running back is a position where the step from a level lower than FBS to the NFL seems to be much tougher.

 For quarterbacks, that transition has a few precedents, like Dallas Cowboys starter Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois) and Baltimore Ravens starter Joe Flacco (Delaware). Also currently in the league is second-year player Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois), who is one of the more highly thought of backup quarterbacks in the NFL with the New England Patriots.  A slightly older example exists in Kurt Warner, who was a finalist for the Hall of Fame this year. Warner graduated from Northern Iowa and played arena football before highly successful stints with the Rams and Arizona Cardinals.

 It doesn’t feel completely fair, given the outstanding nature of Zenner’s collegiate career and the brevity of Wentz’s. But other quarterbacks have made the jump, so there is a chance that Wentz could do it. There’s a chance that he is the rare example of the elite talent that developed late and slipped through the recruiting cracks coming out of high school. Only time will tell.

On April 28, we might find out just how highly the NFL thinks of Wentz. And regardless of how he performs once he gets there, Jackrabbit fans can at least take comfort in knowing he won’t be under center for the Bison ever again.