Is Carson Wentz elite? the Philadelphia Eagles’ grand gamble

Is Joe Flacco elite?

The question about the former D1-AA University of Delaware quarterback which has become a meme symbolic of the endless debate about NFL quarterbacks has new relevance in Philadelphia as fans await their own D1-AA QB – Carson Wentz.

Fans and pundits have spent the last two days debating the wisdom of Howie Roseman’s deal with the Cleveland Browns for the number two overall pick in next week’s NFL draft. While neither the Philadelphia Eagles nor the LA Rams (who draft first) have revealed who they plan to select, the overwhelming opinion of insiders around the NFL is that Jared Goff of Cal will go to LA and Carson Wentz of North Dakota State will be a Philadelphia Eagle. The tenor of these debates has ranged from cordial to near-violent: Vai Sikahema and Anthony Gargano berated and threatened one another on-air Thursday morning on the Fanatic over whether Carson Wentz should be considered a bust if he has a Hall of Fame career but never wins a Super Bowl in Philadelphia. Seriously. A parade of professional talking-heads have spoken loudly and confidently on the matter, as they do on any and every subject.

Is Carson Wentz elite?

The fact is, no one knows. And that scares the hell out of Philadelphia.

You can watch all the tape and analyze all the combine measurements you want, but no one knows if Wentz can play at an elite level in the NFL. There is always risk when drafting players – there are no “sure things” – but quarterbacks increase the risk-reward factor sevenfold. Because of the disproportionate importance of the position, quarterbacks are almost universally drafted higher than confidence in their ability alone would permit. The odds of the top offensive tackle in the draft being a bust is relatively low, year-to-year. Conversely, the odds that a QB taken in the first round will be an average-to-poor NFL player are quite good. There are too many first-round QB busts to name them all – JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, Todd Marinovich, Joey Harrington, Mark Sanchez, David Carr, Byron Leftwich, Jake Locker, etc. In all of those cases, professional scouts and analysts determined that each of these players had the potential to be a franchise quarterback that could lead their team to glory in the playoffs. Hindsight is 20-20, but predicting the future of QBs is more often luck than foresight.

The high number of first-round QB busts makes sense. No position in sports is of more importance to the success of the team than the quarterback. There are not enough top-tier QBs to go around in the NFL – maybe 10 or fewer in a league with 32 teams. Gambling on a quarterback that might turn into a Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers is worth the risk for many teams. Winning a Super Bowl without an elite quarterback is nearly impossible.

Sacrificing a high draft pick on a risky prospect is understandable, but many are questioning the additional cost which the Eagles have incurred by trading with the Browns to move from drafting at number eight up to number two. In addition to their 2016 eighth overall pick, the Eagles also traded an additional first-round, second-round, and third-round pick. The Eagles also swapped their 2016 fourth-round pick for Cleveland’s 2017 fourth-round pick.

The haul for Cleveland is substantial. Will Wentz be good enough to justify this steep price? He better be. Acting general manager Howie Roseman clearly believes he is. He has risked his future as well as the future of the franchise on this move. If Wentz is a bust, Roseman will not survive the fallout.

That, however, will be little consolation to a fanbase that has never reached the Promised Land and has never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy over Broad street. We cannot know with certainty whether Wentz will adapt quickly and become the franchise quarterback the city really only enjoyed during the Donovan McNabb era. This is undeniably a watershed moment for the Eagles. This trade will either be remembered as a brilliant move that brought the franchise to new heights or decried as delaying Philadelphia’s tortuous slog toward a championship by an additional five or more years.

Whether you’ve been on the Wentz Wagon since December or are clamoring for Roseman’s head, there’s no denying the tremendous risk inherent in this move. Only Carson Wentz will be able to prove who’s wrong and who got lucky.

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