QB Carson Wentz had quite the rookie season. Take a look back at some of his best moments as the leader of the Eagles.
Donovan McNabb and Carson Wentz were both picked second overall in the NFL Draft. Doug Pederson tutored McNabb in 1999 and coaches Wentz today. Because of similar circumstances like these, we are always going to compare the two of them.
McNabb started six games as a rookie. His best offensive weapon was running back Duce Staley. As much as we all love Staley, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry and ran for four touchdowns that year. The line wasn't good and the receivers were mediocre. McNabb was very raw and that didn't help matters. The Eagles finished next to last in yards on offense. They were 25th in scoring, but that was aided by six non-offensive touchdowns. That was one bad offense.
In the offseason, Andy Reid added right tackle Jon Runyan to beef up the offensive line. Guard John Welbourn returned from injury and those two gave the Eagles a solid starting group. The team drafted Todd Pinkston to bring some speed to the offense. Tight end Chad Lewis was re-signed, since he and McNabb showed good chemistry late in 1999. The Eagles brought in free agent Brian Mitchell as a role player on offense and to be the return specialist.
The offense took a big step forward in 2000. The line played well and that made a huge difference. Lewis had a breakout year, catching 69 passes. McNabb went from being a confused rookie to carrying the offense on his back. He had to since there was an injury to Staley and the ground game disappeared without him in the lineup. McNabb was still raw, but he was so gifted and played with such abandon that the Eagles finished 12th in scoring (aided by just four non-offensive touchdowns).
McNabb didn't get an explosive playmaker until Brian Westbrook became a key part of the offense in 2003. McNabb got his first high-level receiver when Antonio Freeman joined the team in the summer of 2002. McNabb didn't get his first stud receiver until Terrell Owens arrived in 2004.
Things are very different for Carson Wentz.
The cupboard wasn't completely bare when he arrived. Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles formed a good one-two punch at running back. Brent Celek and Zach Ertz gave Wentz a pair of big, talented tight ends. Jordan Matthews was a good receiver. The line was very good when all five starters were on the field. The Eagles were 16th in scoring last year with the benefit of five non-offensive touchdowns. The offense was inconsistent, but showed potential.
Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas, and Pederson decided to aggressively upgrade the offense this offseason. The Eagles signed the top free agent wide receiver on the market in Alshon Jeffery. They signed Torrey Smith to be a vertical threat for Wentz. Instead of cutting players for cap savings, the Eagles kept the whole offensive line intact. They added veterans like guards Chance Warmack and Dallas Thomas to compete for jobs. The Eagles drafted a pair of outstanding deep threat receivers. Mack Hollins is big and fast, while Shelton Gibson is more explosive.
The team made some interesting moves at running back. Philadelphia drafted Donnel Pumphrey, a small, but record-setting player. He has big-time speed and was ultra-productive at San Diego State. Just this week, the Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount to give the offense a big back. Blount is around 250 pounds and scored an NFL- and franchise-record 18 touchdowns last year. Get him near the goal line and he will finish.
The Eagles aren't going to suddenly be the 1999 Rams, but they have a good line and impressive set of skill players. Wentz has been given an excellent group to work with. He has gifted runners, receivers, and blockers. He has backs who can convert third-and-1 or create big plays. Wentz has receivers who can move the chains or haul in 40-yard bombs. The pressure is now on Wentz to use these weapons to lead the Eagles to points and wins.
Wentz won't have to carry the team on his back the way McNabb did in 2000. However, spreading the ball to all of these players and playing at a high level won't be easy. Wentz has to make better, quicker reads. He needs to be more accurate. Wentz has to raise his game to keep up with the players around him.
The Eagles know Wentz is the key to the team. Instead of relying on him to be great and improve those around him, they are giving Wentz the pieces around him to help him develop into a star player. They want to help him to become a great quarterback.
There is no magic formula for developing quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers sat for a couple of years. Andrew Luck was the starter from day one. Peyton Manning walked into a huddle with elite skill talent from the beginning. Tom Brady didn't get top playmakers until after he had already won three Super Bowls. The actual strategy is less important than the actual execution of the plan.
The Eagles would love to surround Wentz with mostly young talent, but that was going to be difficult to pull off. I love the fact the team didn't put all their eggs in one basket. They could have stopped after signing Jeffery and then focused on the young, developing talent already in place.
Rather than hoping for Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham to improve, the Eagles added three more receivers. They now have a lot of guys competing for jobs. That could bring out the best in the young guys. It could also seal their fate if they can't improve this summer.
Wentz has a chance to be a special player. I think the Eagles were smart to aggressively build around him and try to bring out the best in him. You only have so many years with a player like that as part of your team. You don't want to recklessly roll the dice, but you also don't want to sit on your hands and hope things works out. The organization made aggressive moves, not risky ones.
The Eagles should have a good defense this year. They should be one of the best special teams units in the league (if not the best). The offense should take another step forward. Wentz is in a really good situation heading into the 2017 season.
It will be exciting to see how Wentz plays this year.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.