How Eagles QB Carson Wentz graded in NFL debut

How did Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz perform in Philadelphia’s season opener? Sam Monson answers.

| 2 months ago
Eagles QB Carson Wentz

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

How Eagles QB Carson Wentz graded in NFL debut

Carson Wentz became the first of the 2016 rookie QB class to see the field in regular-season action on Sunday, and produced by far the most promising performance. His grade of 86.6 was the third-highest mark among Week 1 NFL QBs through Sunday night—trailing only Andrew Luck and Drew Brees—and he finished the game with a passer rating of 116.4.

Week 1 quarterback grades (Monday Night Football games not included)

Week 1 QB grades

For those that judge their QBs that way, he also finished the game with a win on his first NFL start. The Browns spoke during the week about how the flaws in Wentz’ game would allow them to get after him and disrupt his play—and to an extent, they were right—but it wasn’t enough to overcome his positives, which had probably not been receiving enough credit.

Wentz has a tendency to hold the ball longer than he should and take too long to progress through his reads before the release. That’s a common trait among most young QBs, which is why you often hear about the game needing to “slow down for them,” or more accurately, them needing to speed up to the pace of the game. Even in that context, though, Wentz tends to struggle in that area. His game against Cleveland was no different—when he held the ball for 2.6 seconds or more, his passer rating was just 65.8, and he completed only 45.0 percent of his passes.

On the flip side, when he got rid of the ball quickly and in rhythm, he was exceptionally good. On passes that were out in 2.5 seconds or less, he completed 76.5 percent of his attempts and had a passer rating of 142.3.

The story was the same under pressure. Last season at North Dakota State, when pressured, Wentz’s passer rating dropped by 33.7 points, and his completion percentage plummeted from over 70.0 to just 42.6 percent. Wentz will struggle under pressure, and when the Browns were able to apply the heat, his numbers did the same thing in his first NFL action. Under pressure, his passer rating dropped to just 52.9, and he completed only four of 10 (40 percent) passes for 42 yards.

Carson Wentz passing under pressure versus Browns

The important part of the equation, though, is that Cleveland only pressured him on 13 of his 40 dropbacks, and on the plays they failed to do so, Wentz lit them up. He completed 66.7 percent of his passes on un-pressured dropbacks for 236 yards, two scores, and no turnovers.

Wentz only completed 59.2 percent of his passes overall in the game, but nine of his 15 “misses” were not a result of inaccuracy or poor decision-making. His targets dropped four catchable passes (which alone would adjust his completion percentage to 70.2), threw two away, and had an unusually high three batted at the line. Even if we assume that all three of those batted passes were on him—and that’s a very debatable assertion—his accuracy and efficiency was better than his completion percentage alone suggests.

Carson Wentz’s passer rating by direction versus Browns

Carson Wentz passing chart versus Browns

There has never been any doubt that Wentz has every throw in the book, and he may have the best arm talent of any QB in this class, but the question mark was whether he could do it consistently, or whether his negatives would be enough to hold him back at the NFL level.

To the first point, at least in this game, he was able to. Both touchdown passes were beautifully placed touch throws, and as we have just seen, his accuracy was high overall in the game. In fact, he only flat-out missed his target twice on Sunday, both with overthrows.

As to whether his negative traits would hold him back at the NFL level, the answer is that, at least when playing the Browns, they will not. Whether that remains the case when he faces a better team will be the real test, because those negative traits did still show up, and when put in those situations, he revealed the same problems that had evaluators concerned. Cleveland wasn’t good enough to put him in tough spots often enough for it to matter, but other teams likely will be.

Wentz showed some excellent play and extremely encouraging signs, but don’t go checking out Super Bowl ticket prices just yet.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Sifter

    I would be interested to know: who is the worst QB who played this well in his debut? ie. does playing like this in week 1 mean that Wentz is almost sure to be avoid being a bust? Or is one good performance really just that – one week, and any bad QB can have a good week?

    • poory

      josh freeman comes to mind

  • Malachi

    browns might be regretting passing on him right about now. altho they are likely more than just a QB away from contention anyway

  • Patrick

    The accuracy Wentz displayed was the most impressive part of his game this past Sunday. And even on those two misses where the overthrew his receivers, I still felt like those were intentional. One of them was where the receiver was blanketed and he threw it high where only his receiver could come down with it. It would have impossible or very difficult for the receiver to come down with, but at least there was no chance the defender was getting to the ball.

    The drops continuing to plague the Eagles offense dating back to last season is concerning. Hopefully Wentz can help the offense overcome that issue. Sproles’ drops or lack of concentration is very concerning.

    Wentz was definitely holding on to the ball too long, which could have been the reasoning for some of the batted balls. He also got lucky avoiding some sacks by holding on the ball too long and just barely getting the ball out. But even with the pressure he was accurate. Very impressive. Holding on to the ball and the batted balls come across as an NFL learning curve imo. He will learn to throw around the arms of the defensive linemen or time those passes better, and he needs to in the West Coast Andy Reid/Pederson offensive scheme.

    Accuracy is simply something that can’t be taught though. Being able to anticipate where the receivers will be and throwing to where they will be is not a learned skill. The great QBs have it and Wentz shows he has the ability. It is especially important in the WC offense to develop that YAC. Anyone remember McNabb’s throws into the dirt or behind his receivers? Hopefully he can improve the rest of his game and continue to develop.