Of all the injuries to elite players in 2017 (and there have been far too many), the most disastrous in terms of real football (and superflex) ramifications is the ACL injury suffered by Carson Wentz in week 14. He had the Eagles poised for a Super Bowl run with an 11-2 record. He was playing at an elite level in just his second season, surpassing nearly all of even the most aggressive projections for him. He was (and arguably still could be) the correct choice for league MVP.
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In the first 13 games of 2017, Wentz’s numbers were extraordinary. He completed 265 of 440 passes (60.2%) for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He also added 299 rushing yards on 64 carries but astoundingly had no touchdowns on that number of carries. He also brought a level of consistency that is rare and a monstrous advantage for any fantasy team.
He threw at least one touchdown pass in every game he played in 2017 and additionally only had three games out of thirteen where he failed to throw multiple touchdown passes. One of these three instances was buoyed by yardage as he threw for 348 yards in week 13 at Seattle, so he only ended up with two unfavorable results on the entire season. Take a peek at the game log below to see what I mean:
He finished second in points per game to Russell Wilson, and was clear of the QB3 (minimum ten games played) Alex Smith by nearly two points per game. The anomaly of zero rushing touchdowns on 64 attempts while averaging 4.67 yards per carry is the only thing that kept him from the QB1 throne in production – and is due for positive regression in ’18 and beyond. By all accounts I’ve seen, his ACL tear was clean and there was no additional damage that could hinder the recovery process. There should be no doubt that he’s under center at 100 percent come week one of 2018.
I have been a proponent of Wentz since early in the draft process and got confirmation of sorts during the 2016 draft trading process. I am a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, so as soon as the Browns traded the pick to Philly, his destiny for greatness was all but confirmed.
His rookie year was slightly rocky but it was amazingly apparent that the pass-catching corps and Lane Johnson injury were the only things holding him back from taking a quantum leap forward. In early summer, I wrote a piece on players at each position on players whose production and value I thought likely to spike in 2017. Wentz was among them. Here’s an excerpt from that article on Wentz:
“Carson Wentz, PHI
ADP Rank: 142nd overall and QB14
My Rank: 80th overall and QB7
Like [Marcus] Mariota, Wentz is another second overall pick in the NFL draft whose arsenal of weaponry saw a mammoth upgrade in the off-season. He similarly was forced to waste 143 targets in 2016 on Dorial Green-Beckham and Nelson Agholor, who was widely graded as the worst receiver in football in consecutive years.
His two targets bordering on reliable were Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz (additionally the returning Darren Sproles out of the backfield). Both were running the majority of their routes on the inside, and the passing game became painfully easy to game plan for as there was simply no threat from the outside wide receiver positions. You can read more on the woeful wide receiver play and how dearly Lane Johnson was missed during his suspension from Joe Paeno at Two QBs here.”
That’s all changed this off-season with the prudent additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith via free agency. Smith isn’t a name that generally breeds much confidence in the fantasy football community, but he knows how to stretch the field (at least markedly better than the aforementioned DGB and Agholor) and will not be a first or second option in the passing game this year, which is the required role for him to be most effective.
Last but certainly not least, the addition of Jeffery is arguably the largest positional upgrade from 2016 across the entire league. While not in the highest tier of elite wide receivers, he is certainly a (team) WR1 who has seen nearly ten targets per game throughout his career and a healthy season will have him eyeing WR1 numbers in 2017.
This added weaponry for Wentz, plus another year of development, will have him looking to top his 3,782 passing yards from 2016, but more importantly and almost certainly having his 16 touchdown pass number from 2016 take a huge leap and even potentially double.”
The projections on the statistics proved to even be selling him short, as he was pacing for 4,056 passing yards and 41 touchdowns. The touchdown improvement seemed certain but even I thought I was a tad aggressive saying the total of 16 touchdown passes from 2016 would double, and he surpassed that figure of 32 in just 13 games.
While the ’17 season he put on film was inarguably elite, the real question is, what does it mean for him moving forward? Simply put, the best is yet to come. He has certain traits that cannot be coached and ones that will not leave him. His weaponry will likely be upgraded even more heavily in ’18.
His escapability is a rare enough trait for any QB, but when you consider his size and athleticism, it’s a super rare characteristic. It has maybe never been seen before in conjunction with his intelligence, ability to read coverage and arm strong enough to make any throw with additional amazing accuracy, especially on intermediate and deep throws. Now let’s process that he’s not yet 25 years old.
His weaponry was upgraded in 2017 with Alshon Jeffery, who ended up being quite a sound investment after a slow-ish start. Alshon was rewarded in-season with a five year extension that will keep him in Philly through his age 31 season in 2021.
Torrey Smith was not what they’d hoped they were getting as a secondary option, but was not a total disaster. There is no damage here though, as the only guaranteed year on the Smith contract was for 2017 and the club can cut ties after this season (or next) with no cap hit or dead money. This will open the door for an upgrade on the outside, and potentially another mammoth one with a crop of high end wide receivers coming available this off-season. My personal hope is for Allen Robinson or Sammy Watkins to end up opposite Alshon but there are at least two dozen options who would be considerable upgrades.
What the Eagles didn’t get from Smith, they made up for with an emergence from Nelson Agholor, who made himself into a competent wide receiver with slot ability after his two previous seasons were an unmitigated disaster. He is under team control for the next two seasons.
Last but not least, Wentz’s highly reliable tight end, Zach Ertz, is also signed through 2021, his age 31 season. His core is locked firmly in place and there is likely to be another splash addition in the off-season that will make this passing offense the best in the NFL for years to come.
In my most recent update to my top 200 rankings, I slotted Wentz at 33 overall and as the QB1. This is quite likely a position he will hold for many years to come as I strongly prefer him to all of the up-and-coming quarterbacks and he is already producing at an elite level. With the state of the NFL and quarterbacks producing up to and into their 40s, it’s amazing to think you could have your high end QB1 for the next 15 seasons on your hands.
I don’t generally recommend this train of thought as projecting outside of a three-year window is, generally speaking, a losing proposition, but elite quarterback play is rare enough that any NFL team receiving it will build around that and do all they can to keep it in place for as many years as are conceivable.
I highly recommend buying on Wentz early this off-season if at all possible. Adding a piece (even a second rounder, a first in superflex) for a QB swap is just stealing and how you should be approaching every owner next week when trading re-opens in most leagues.
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- 2018 Summer Sleeper: Cleveland Browns - July 11, 2018