While the mainstream media and the draft media are all over Cal’s Jared Goff and Michigan State’s Connor Cook, the NFL team scouts are quietly very impressed with North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. While the level of competition is a concern, Wentz has all the tools to become a quality starter in the National Football League.
Wentz is a fifth-year senior and two-year starter for the Bison. While he didn’t start as a redshirt sophomore, he played in 11 games.
Wentz is listed as being 6’6″ – 231 and while he may not be quite that tall when he measures at an All Star game or the Combine he still is taller than most quarterbacks playing in the NFL right now.
Despite his size, Wentz is a very good athlete with good speed, change of direction and body control. You may think that a quarterback the size of Wentz is stationary in the pocket. That is the furthest from the truth as he is a very good runner and does an excellent job keeping plays alive with his feet. When he does run he looks to finish and not slide when there is no more yardage available. He is a relentless competitor.
Wentz plays in a multi-offense and lines up both from under center and in the spread. The passing game has some sophistication to it and it requires the quarterback to go through a progression and has some whole field reads.
Unlike many of the college spread offenses we see, the North Dakota State offense doesn’t have the quarterback make a high number of short throws at or around the line of scrimmage. This offense has the quarterback throwing the ball downfield. It is far more similar to a pro offense than many of the spreads we see quarterbacks running.
As a passer, Wentz shows he can set up quickly, go through a progression and get the ball out of his hands quickly. He has a very quick release and a strong arm. For the most part, he throws a tight ball with very good velocity. He is accurate and shows good ball placement skills. He seldom turns the ball over, and in four games this year, he has yet to throw an interception.
He is required to make a variety of throws and shows he can make any NFL type throw. He has good timing with his throw and shows he can throw with touch or drive the ball if necessary. He can easily make throws of 50+ yards with accuracy.
Wentz is a quick thinker and processes things quickly. He is a very good decision maker and you don’t see him force throws. He also has a good feel for pass rushers and has the quick feet to avoid a pass rusher and extend the play. He does an excellent job throwing on the run with accuracy.
Looking at his stats, in his 1.5 years as a starter, he has thrown for close to 4100 yards, 65% completion percentage, 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has also rushed for over 800 yards the last two seasons.
While generally level of competition is a concern when evaluating quarterbacks, I don’t see any problems with this player. He has played well against FBS schools and won a FCS National Championship last year. He consistently shows poise and leadership and is in total command on the field.
While there will be a learning curve when he gets to the NFL, I can still see him becoming a starter very early in his career. The upside is he will develop into a quality starter. He has more talent than Jimmy Garoppolo from the 2014 draft and should get drafted higher. From what I have seen to date, I would have no problem pulling the trigger on this player in the first round.
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During the draft, both clubs and fans are usually excited about the player they just chose in the opening round of the NFL Draft. The reality is some of these players start out very quickly and contribute while others are going through a learning curve and adjusting to life in the NFL.
Granted, four games doesn’t make a season, but we can still get a feel for how these players are trending.
Jameis Winston – Tampa Bay – The first overall pick in the draft has struggled while starting every game. His accuracy and decision making has been average and he has thrown seven interceptions. In fairness, his receivers haven’t played up to par in this early part of the season.
Marcus Mariota – Tennessee – Following an opening game where Mariota looked like a future Pro Bowler, Mariota’s game fell off some but he still has put up some outstanding numbers for a rookie. He has completed 61 of 97 passes in three games for 833 yards, eight touchdowns and only two interceptions. He looks like he could become a great NFL quarterback.
Dante Fowler – Jacksonville – Fowler’s rookie year ended on the first day of rookie minicamp when he tore his ACL while going through drills. He will spend the rest of his rookie season rehabbing his knee and learning the Jags defense. He should be ready to go for OTA’s next spring.
Amari Cooper – Oakland Raiders – Cooper was looked at as the most NFL ready wide receiver in the draft. To date he has not disappointed with 24 receptions for 339 yards and two touchdowns in his first four games.
Brandon Scherff – Washington Redskins – It was a bit of a surprise that Scherff went as high as he did, but he has been a starter at guard for the Redskins since OTA’s. He has played very consistent football and looks like he will be a future All Pro type player.
Leonard Williams – New York Jets – Going into draft day, the Jets never figured they would have a shot at the best interior defensive lineman in the draft. He has played very good football as a starter at defensive end, with 18 total tackles and a half sack in the Jets first four games.
Kevin White – Chicago Bears – After looking outstanding during the early part of OTA’s, White developed a stress fracture in his tibia. Going into training camp, the injury never healed and White had surgery to have a rod inserted to speed recovery. There is an outside chance he will be able to play the last third of the season.
Vic Beasley – Atlanta Falcons – Beasley lines up at defensive end and just may be the Falcons best pass rusher. Through four games he has 11 total tackles and 2.0 sacks.
Ereck Flowers – New York Giants – The early plan was for Flowers to play on the right side. When the Giants line got hit by injuries, Flowers was inserted at left tackle and the Giants haven’t looked back. Flowers has excellent size and length to go along with very good strength and power.
Todd Gurley – St. Louis Rams – The plan was for Gurley to be brought around slowly and not let him play until his knee was 100% ready. He did not play until game three against Pittsburgh and that was his “preseason”. Sunday against the Cardinals, Gurley showed how good he can be, running for 146 yards. As he gets healthier, he will keep getting better!
Trea Waynes – Minnesota Vikings – In the Vikings first two games, Waynes only played on special teams. In game three when starter Xavier Rhodes got injured, Waynes came in and recorded five total tackles and a pass break up. Last Sunday he was back to being a special teams player.
Danny Shelton – Cleveland Browns – Shelton hasn’t quite lived up to expectations in this early part of his rookie season. In four games he has 11 total tackles and no sacks. He didn’t record a tackle in Sunday’s loss to San Diego.
Andrus Peat – New Orleans Saints – When an offensive lineman is drafted in the top 15 of the first round, he is expected to become a starter. Peat is a backup right now with the versatility to play every position along the line except center. That has to be a disappointment for the Saints.
Devante Parker – Miami Dolphins – Parker had some injury issues early on and that has slowed his development. In four games, he has caught only four passes for 49 yards. The Dolphins have to hope that he comes on soon.
Melvin Gordon – San Diego Chargers – Gordon starts at running back and has done fairly well. He is the Chargers leading rusher with 228 yards on 56 carries but no touchdowns. He also has six receptions for 34 yards. Gordon was drafted for his game breaking ability but to date his long run is only 27 yards.
Kevin Johnson – Houston Texans – While Johnson isn’t a starter, he gets a lot of play time. To date he has 12 total tackles and two passes defensed. He looks to have a bright future in Houston.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys have the same huge problem: they’re missing their star quarterback for a big chunk of the season. Both teams have already felt the pain: the Cowboys lost last week’s game to the Atlanta Falcons and last night’s to the Saints, and the Pittsburgh Steelers lost a heartbreaker in the Thursday night game after failing to convert two fourth downs.
The two injuries are arguably the most devastating losses in the league. But which team is hurt more by the absence of their quarterback? Let’s break it down.
Who’s the Better Quarterback?
Both Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo are excellent quarterbacks, so this is a tough one to answer. Romo led the league in passer rating last season and yards per pass attempt last season, but Roethlisberger led it in passing yards and long passes. Romo has a statistical edge in most categories over the past few years, but he also plays more games in domes and favorable conditions. Observers generally peg Roethlisberger as the better QB (they dislike Romo’s interceptions, which always seem to be thrown at the worst possible time), but we’re going to call it a wash – both are consistently excellent guys, arguably top-five QBs in most seasons.
How Bad Are the Injuries?
Both of these injuries are brutal, but one will take longer to recover from than the other will. Ben Roethlisberger, despite taking a hit that looked like a season-ender, only took damage to his MCL (his ACL was spared). He should be back in 4-6 weeks, though the Steelers aren’t being very clear about that timetable. Tony Romo’s broken clavicle requires a longer rehabbing period: he’s out until at least late November. That’s eight weeks. Thanks to the Cowboys’ bye week, Romo will only miss seven games, but that’s still at least one more than Roethsliberger will miss. Romo’s injury is a repeat of one earlier in his career, and it’s an upper-body injury. We’ll give Romo the dubious honor of winning this round.
Backing Things Up
Brandon Weeden is a solid backup for the Cowboys, but we’re going to give the Steelers the edge at the position. It’s worth remembering that Brandon Weeden was older than the average draft pick when he was nabbed by the Browns in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He’s not a raw talent anymore – he’s 31 years old, and this may be as good as he gets. Vick may be past his prime at 35, but at least he had one.
Both backups will have some support. A great offensive line helped Romo have a career year last year; this year, they’ll help give Weeden some time to figure things out. The Steelers have incredible offensive weapons, including RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, which will make things a bit easier on Vick.
Margin for Error
Brandon Weeden and Michael Vick are not going to lead their teams to Super Bowls. Their jobs are the same: limit the damage until the superstar comes back. We’ve already mentioned that Weeden has a longer period to weather. But does that mean that his team is more at risk?
Michael Vick is expected to start only 4-6 games for the Steelers, but those 4-6 may be more crucial than the 7 games that Weeden has to start. That’s because the Steelers have two problems that Dallas doesn’t: a tough division race, and a brutal schedule.
The Cowboys, at 2-1 at the time of this writing, lead their division. The Giants keep beating themselves, the new-look Eagles aren’t working out, and the Redskins – well, they’re the Redskins. The Steelers were 2-1 prior to their Thursday night loss, but they weren’t in first even before the Ravens beat them: the Bengals, at 3-0, had that locked up. The Bengals are much better than any of the Cowboys’ NFC East competition, and they’ll get a crack at the Steelers on November 1, a game that Roethlisberger is likely to miss.
On top of that, the Cowboys have a chance to make up ground fast once Romo is back: the Cowboys have games against the Panthers, Redskins (twice), and Jets. The Steelers have no such luck: Ben will deal with the Seahawks, Colts, Bengals, Broncos, and Ravens (again) when he gets back. At least he gets the Browns twice, too.
Romo may be out longer, but Roethlisberger is a bigger loss. Without Big Ben, the Steelers are likely to slide out of contention entirely. Both quarterbacks will return, but in all likelihood, only Tony Romo will play into the postseason.
Coming out of Louisiana Tech is a senior running back by the name of Kenneth Dixon. Dixon is a talented running back, but he has a lot of wear and tear. He plays in a pass-first offense. Still, amazingly, he has quite the stat line over the past few years. Here are his careers stats so far. (as of 10/3/15)
• 699 carries with an average of 5.7 yards per carry
• 3,993 rushing yards and 59 touchdowns
• 69 receptions with 653 receiving yards
• 10 receiving touchdowns
Games scouted: Illinois (2014), Oklahoma (2014), and Western Kentucky (2014)
First, I would like to look at some concerns I have with Kenneth Dixon. Dixon does have a lot mileage on his tires, which is something that could hurt his draft stock. Soon, he will be breaking the barrier of 700 career carries and over 4,000 rushing yards. When you stop and think, that is over 700 hits he has taken in the stretch of only 4 years. I feel it is highly doubtful a team would spend a high draft pick on him because of that alone. Likely, he will not be averaging about 200 carries per year in the NFL, which is something that does stand in his favor.
Second, Dixon has a tendency to run upright, which causes him to take some rather big hits. I can recall several instances of him running down the sideline and getting hit very hard. His running upright not only leads to big hits, but it also decreases his ability to push piles. I feel his inside running is not as effective because he stands a little too tall when he hits a pile. Instead of being able to push a pile forward, he either gets driven back or has no gain.
But the good outweighs the bad. First, you have to look at the production. It is clear that, in his college career, Dixon has put up some great numbers. Has he faced the best of the best defenses on a consistent basis? No, but when has that played a factor in how great backs are in the NFL? It didn’t matter in the case of Doug Martin, Lesean McCoy, or Matt Forte, who all played for schools that played less than stellar teams on a consistent basis. If Dixon has the skill level mixed with the desire to win, the level of competition will not matter.
Dixon has great athletic ability to play the running back position. He will not be a power back, but will be used likely as a scat back. He is a very slippery runner who lives and breathes on runs off the tackle. He is extremely dangerous when he is allowed to cut the corner. Often, it will be a first down run or longer when he is allowed to do so. He can make quick cuts in the open field to make defenders miss and he can also make some crazy moves showcasing his agility and elusiveness.
I like how he is active in the passing game. He has shown on film that he can make catches and get yards after the catch without dropping passes or making errors. I even saw him line up in the slot some in the Louisiana Tech offense. This could add some draft stock to him as a lot of running backs are rarely involved in the passing game and are not three down backs. As of now, as we are reaching the start of conference play in the NCAA, I have Dixon listed as a third to fourth round pick in next year’s draft.
After four weeks of the NFL season, we can begin to get a better feel for the direction teams are headed for the 2015 season. As with every season, there are clubs that play better than expected as well as clubs that disappoint. Here is a quick look at the division races at the quarter pole.
The New England Patriots are still the class of the AFC East with a 3-0 record. Tom Brady is on a mission and is off to one of his best starts ever.
The New York Jets are the surprise team with a 3-1 record. Their only loss was at the hands of the Patriots. New Head Coach, Todd Bowles, is making a strong case for being Coach of the Year with his role in the turnaround.
Buffalo is talented, but inconsistent. They look like great one week, and then poor the next. They still have a shot at a wild card spot.
Miami is in trouble. They are 1-3 and lethargic looking. The poor start brought about the season’s first coaching change, as Joe Philbin was fired Monday morning. Tight end coach Dan Campbell is expected to be the interim coach. My feeling is there will be more changes once the season ends.
Cincinnati is at the top with a perfect 4-0 record. Fans like to say that the Bengals win despite quarterback Andy Dalton. Sorry guys, but not this year. Through four games, Dalton has a 123 passing grade and has thrown nine touchdowns to only one interception.
Pittsburgh at 2-2 will be in trouble until quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returns from a knee injury.
Baltimore at 1-3 has been a disappointment. Joe Flacco doesn’t look like his usual self. Playing for his third offensive coordinator in three years will do that to a player.
Cleveland is well….Cleveland.
Many thought the Colts would walk away with the division but they have struggled and sit at 2-2. If the rest of the division wasn’t so weak they could be in trouble but as of now they are still favored to win division.
Tennessee is a 1-2 and has shown they may be able to contend. Rookie Marcus Mariota is off to a fairly good start.
Houston at 1-3 doesn’t have a quarterback and will struggle to reach .500.
Many had hoped that second-year quarterback Blake Bortles would take a step in his second year. He hasn’t and the Jags are 1-3.
Denver sits on top of the division with a 4-0 record. It hasn’t been the play of Peyton Manning who got them there, it’s been a very strong defense led by new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
The Oakland Raiders are at 2-2 and look as if they are finally about to turn the corner. They have a brilliant young quarterback in Derek Carr and an ace receiver in rookie Amari Cooper.
San Diego is at 2-2 and that has to be a disappointment for them. Sunday they just got by a poor Cleveland team 30-27.
After four weeks, there is no clear-cut favorite in the NFC East. The Giants are tied at the top with a 2-2 record. After a slow start, the G-Men have won two in a row and Eli Manning is starting to play like the Manning of old.
Dallas, also at 2-2 will struggle until they get quarterback Tony Romo back and by then it may be too late. What was supposed to be a strong defense has been inconsistent at best.
Washington at 2-2 is a surprise. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has flashed and those flashes have gotten the Redskins to that 2-2 start. Defensive lineman Chris Baker has come on and had two sacks Sunday against Philly.
The Eagles have been one of the biggest disappointments of the young season. They sit at 1-3 and are struggling. If they don’t show a quick turnaround, Head Coach Chip Kelly will be in trouble. If you don’t think that’s the case, you haven’t been watching what has gone on in Philly the last nine months.
Green Bay as usual sits on top the NFC North division with a 4-0 record. Right now, Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football and as long as he is in Green Bay they could rule the division.
Minnesota sits in second with a 2-2 record and they have been inconsistent to say the least. They were horrible in their opener at San Francisco but then came back with strong games against Detroit and San Diego. Sunday they lost a close game at Denver 23-20. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is improving but still not there yet and Adrian Peterson still isn’t quite back to his old self.
Chicago lacks top talent and has had an abundance of injuries. They lost top draft choice Kevin White before the season began and leading receiver Alshon Jeffery has missed three of four games with calf and hamstring problems. The defense is better but doesn’t have enough players who fit the new 3-4 scheme.
As I write this I don’t have the result of the Lions- Seahawks game, but up until now Detroit has been the disappointment of the NFC North having not won a game yet.
On paper, Carolina doesn’t have the best talent in the division but they are the best coached team. They have overcome a number of injuries since spring to start out at 4-0.
Atlanta brought in highly regarded Dan Quinn to be their new Head Coach and the move has made a huge difference. The overall play of the Falcons is much improved and they are tied with Carolina at 4-0. Don’t overlook the playoff running back Devonta Freeman who has been outstanding.
I thought New Orleans would come back from the disastrous 2014 but they haven’t. Drew Brees isn’t what he used to be despite his game winning TD pass Sunday night against Dallas.
Tampa Bay is going with a rookie quarterback who is playing like a rookie. Number one overall draft choice Jameis Winston has completed only 55% of his passes and has thrown seven interceptions. You can’t win in the NFL with turnovers.
Arizona looked like the team to beat after three weeks but then struggled at home versus St. Louis in week four. I still think they are the class 0f the division, but let’s see how they come back from the loss.
St. Louis has been inconsistent but played their best game at Arizona on Sunday beating the Cardinals 24 -22. First round pick Todd Gurley finally looked fully recovered from a severe knee injury suffered a year ago – while he was at Georgia – running for 146 yards. If Gurley can remain healthy he will give the Rams a huge boost going forward.
Seattle got off to a slow start losing their first two games. They came back last week to beat up Chicago. As I write this I don’t have the results of the Seahawks – Lions matchup on Monday Night Football. Going forward, I feel Seattle and Arizona will fight it out for the division crown with the loser being a wild card team.
San Francisco at 1-3 will regret their divorce from Jim Harbaugh and will struggle to be a .500 team in 2015.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe