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Carson Wentz: Injuries, Regression, No Worries? - Footballguys

A detailed look at Carson Wentz' fantasy prospects in 2018.

from most valuable player to fairly valued in a season

Carson Wentz was living every football player's dream last season. The second-year pro took a significant leap forward and was playing at an MVP level through 13 weeks. Not only was his individual play raising eyebrows, but it also played a big part in his team's success – the Eagles were on route to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Unfortunately, in a key NFC matchup against the Rams, Wentz tore multiple ligaments and was lost for the season. As you all know, the Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl without Wentz, a startling achievement given how well Wentz played before his injury.

Now, fantasy managers throughout the world are wondering what to expect from Wentz in 2018? Was last year a reasonable baseline? Is he rushing back from a significant injury? If you do draft Wentz as a No. 1, does it force you to reach for an early No. 2 as insurance?

  • Wentz proved last year he can be a high-impact fantasy starter
  • The Eagles personnel won a Super Bowl with Nick Foles playing under center
  • Wentz's recovery appears to be ahead of schedule
  • Before the injury, Wentz's play was just on the cusp of unsustainable – unless he's really on the level of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees

Last year, Wentz was the 18th quarterback drafted on average, in the 11th round. This year, he's being drafted 7th at the position in the middle of the sixth round. The good news is Wentz's most likely year-end finish justifies his current price tag. The bad news is Wentz's recovery from multiple ligament tears requires a leap of faith because he's unlikely to see any preseason action, at all. You're better off passing on Wentz this year; the downside is greater than the upside.


An MVP Breakout

Through 14 weeks (13 games), Carson Wentz was the league's most valuable player:

  • 242 completions
  • 399 attempts
  • 3,005 yards
  • 7.5 yards per attempt
  • 29 touchdowns
  • 6 interceptions
  • 283 rushing yards
  • 288.6 fantasy points (2nd to Russell Wilson)
Rank
Quarterback
PaRds
PaTDs
INTs
RuYds
RuTD
FanPts
1
3,296
33
7
299
0
319.7
2
3,232
27
9
443
2
316.9
3
Alex Smith
3,489
23
5
329
1
300.4
4
3,867
27
6
24
0
297.8
5
Kirk Cousins
3,448
22
9
157
3
285.1
6
2,720
17
12
585
5
280.5
7
3,688
23
9
89
0
276.3
8
3,744
24
13
38
0
274.0
9
Dak Prescott
2,745
21
9
289
5
271.2
10
3,612
23
7
(7)
0
264.9

Wentz was vying for top fantasy honors, thanks to a prolific touchdown rate coupled with minimal turnovers, and his nearly 300 yards rushing provided a stealthy bonus.

A Tear-ible injury

When news broke of Wentz's injury, Eagles fans and fantasy managers around the world were crestfallen. Wentz tore both his ACL and LCL, which complicates the recovery process. Dr. Jene Bramel broke down Wentz's situation back in April:

Of the three quarterbacks recovering from reconstructive ACL surgery this offseason, Wentz is the most complicated. Six weeks after his mid-December surgery, Wentz confirmed what video of his injury suggested -- he also suffered an LCL injury requiring repair. Though Wentz told reporters in late January the rehab progression was the same and the additional tear would not delay his recovery, his recovery will not be that simple.

While we've seen 6-7 month recoveries after isolated ACL injuries from quarterbacks (and some superhuman non-quarterbacks like Adrian Peterson), that's not the routine expectation for more complicated ACL injuries. Rehab after LCL repair is limited by a period of immobilization to allow the ligament to heal -- and Wentz was still in a locked brace six weeks after surgery. Contrast that with ACL reconstruction, where range of motion is planned and desired much sooner. The delay in range of motion will extend Wentz's rehab time.

Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Inquirer was told by an Eagles medical source as much in January. While Wentz "should be ready for the start of the season" and "it will be safe for him to play" with a smooth recovery, Wentz "won't be 100% by then." Unsurprisingly, the Eagles rebuffed all offers for backup turned Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles this offseason.

The Eagles remain confident Wentz will be healthy enough to play in the season opener but have already told reporters he'll not participate in any offseason individual workouts. Expect Wentz to start training camp on the PUP list. Barring an extremely quick recovery, it's likely Wentz will have limited mobility in the pocket in early 2018 and you should not expect to see Wentz threaten defenses as a runner until much later in the season and possibly 2019.

Normally, an injury to an MVP-caliber quarterback means disaster for a team's prospects. Philadelphia bucked the odds, and rallied around Nick Foles to not only hold onto the #1 seed but eventually outplay the dynastic Patriots on route to the team's first ever Super Bowl championship.

Handicapping Wentz's 2018 outlook

As Dr. Bramel notes, the lateness of Wentz's injury (December) and the fact it involved multiple ligaments makes forecasting a healthy return for Week One difficult. We'll know soon enough whether the Eagles opt to place Wentz on the PUP list at the start of camp. Even if they don't, it seems unlikely Wentz will play during the preseason. Drafting Wentz is going to require a leap of faith. Yet, fantasy owners are more than happy to take the risk and draft him as a top-10 option. Let's look at the possible scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: Wentz recovers fully and is cleared to start Week One
  • Scenario 2: Wentz is cleared to practice, but the team opts to hold him out for a few weeks into the season
  • Scenario 3: Wentz rushes back, and puts himself at risk of further injury
  • Scenario 4: Wentz returns but must limit his mobility to protect his knee, thus limiting his fantasy upside as both a runner and downfield passer when defenses break down
  • Scenario 5: Wentz has a setback and doesn't play this year

In the first scenario, it makes sense to draft Wentz at his current ADP. In the other scenarios, drafting Wentz as a QB1 is almost guaranteed to not pay off.

Isn't Wentz Worth Drafting As QB7 Since He Can Be QB1 If Healthy?

The key decision facing fantasy managers is whether Carson Wentz has a legitimate shot at being the #1 overall fantasy quarterback. Few question his ability to be a top-10 quarterback, but it's his ability to vie for top honors that defines whether his current draft price makes sense. If he can be QB1, drafting him a few rounds later than Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady may be a risk worth taking. If QB7 is closer to his actual value in a 16-game season, it's hard to justify selecting him because of the aforementioned uncertainty surrounding his health. So how can we decide whether Wentz has QB1 potential? It all comes down to sustainability. Last year, as we noted, Wentz was neck-and-neck with Russell Wilson for the top spot before his injury. So we know he's capable because he did it last year. But was 2017 a fair baseline? Consider:

Top 30 Quarterbacks, Fantasy Points per Game (2008-2017, Minimum 8 games played)

Rank
Quarterback
Year
Games
PaYds
PaTDs
INTs
RuYds
RuTDs
FanPts
FanPts/Gm
1
2013
16
5,477
55
10
-31
1
486.8
30.4
2
2011
15
4,643
45
6
257
3
449.9
30.0
3
Michael Vick
2010
12
3,018
21
6
676
9
350.5
29.2
4
2011
16
5,476
46
14
86
1
458.4
28.7
5
2015
16
3,837
35
10
636
10
445.5
27.8
6
2016
16
4,428
40
7
369
4
435.3
27.2
7
2011
16
5,235
39
12
109
3
434.7
27.2
8
2011
16
4,051
21
17
706
14
426.9
26.7
9
2014
16
4,761
40
16
263
3
426.4
26.7
10
2013
16
5,162
39
12
52
3
425.3
26.6
11
2012
16
5,177
43
19
5
1
418.4
26.2
12
2011
16
5,038
41
16
78
0
407.7
25.5
13
2016
16
5,208
37
15
20
2
407.4
25.5
14
2014
16
4,381
38
5
269
2
405.0
25.3
15
2016
16
4,944
38
7
117
0
403.9
25.2
16
2015
16
4,770
36
7
53
3
402.4
25.2
17
2012
16
4,303
39
8
259
2
401.0
25.1
18
2017
16
3,983
34
11
586
3
400.8
25.1
19
2012
16
4,827
34
8
32
4
396.6
24.8
20
2009
16
4,434
30
7
304
5
395.1
24.7
21
2017
13
3,296
33
7
299
0
319.7
24.6
22
2015
15
4,870
32
11
14
1
367.9
24.5
23
2015
16
4,024
34
8
553
1
390.5
24.4
24
2015
16
4,428
35
18
310
2
386.4
24.2
25
Robert Griffin
2012
15
3,211
20
5
833
7
360.9
24.1
26
2009
15
4,388
34
11
33
2
359.3
24.0
27
2010
15
3,922
28
11
356
4
356.7
23.8
28
2012
16
3,869
19
12
741
8
380.2
23.8
29
2014
16
4,952
33
17
68
1
375.5
23.5
30
2014
16
4,727
39
15
-24
0
375.0
23.4

Wentz's 2017 ranks 21st among quarterbacks over the last decade. That's encouraging because it shows that his production, while impressive, wasn't historically out of line with elite quarterback play. Now take a look at the distribution among quarterbacks on the list:

The distribution cuts both ways. If you think Wentz is on par with future Hall of Famers like Rodgers, Brees, and Brady, then expecting him to maintain last year's production is logical. If you think he's a very good quarterback but not an all-time great one, history tells us last year was at or near a career-best mark when we reflect back on his career years from now.

Touchdown Rate

Wentz threw 33 touchdowns in 440 attempts, for a 7.5% touchdown rate. As you might imagine, that is an elite rate. But let's put it in context:

  • Wentz's 7.5% is the 11th best rate over the last 20 years
  • Only 23 quarterbacks have eclipsed the 7.0% rate over that span

Top 25 Quarterback Seasons, by Touchdown Rate (1998-2017)

Rank
Quarterback
Year
Atts
PaTDs
TD%
1
2004
497
49
9.9%
2
2011
502
45
9.0%
3
2007
578
50
8.7%
4
2013
317
27
8.5%
5
2013
659
55
8.3%
6
Kurt Warner
1999
499
41
8.2%
7
Randall Cunningham
1998
425
34
8.0%
8
2007
404
32
7.9%
9
Tony Romo
2014
435
34
7.8%
10
Chris Chandler
1998
327
25
7.6%
11
2017
440
33
7.5%
12
2010
492
36
7.3%
13
2014
520
38
7.3%
14
Daunte Culpepper
2004
548
39
7.1%
15
2016
534
38
7.1%
16
2008
478
34
7.1%
17
2015
496
35
7.1%
18
2012
553
39
7.1%
19
2015
483
34
7.0%
20
2011
657
46
7.0%
21
Jeff George
1999
329
23
7.0%
22
Daunte Culpepper
2000
474
33
7.0%
23
Steve Young
1998
517
36
7.0%
24
Tony Romo
2007
520
36
6.9%
25
Vinny Testaverde
1998
421
29
6.9%

Ask yourself how many times the best quarterbacks in the league achieved a 7%+ touchdown rate?

Simply put, expecting Carson Wentz to maintain last year's touchdown rate is expecting him to do something only the best quarterbacks in history have done. Is it possible? Sure. But it's not likely.

Can't An Increase in Attempts offset regression in his touchdown rate?

What if Wentz's touchdown rate normalizes, but his workload increases enough to offset the regression? It's a logical question, but also unlikely. Wentz averaged 33.85 attempts per game last year; 10th among qualified passers. Eli Manning led the league at 38 attempts per game. Since the Eagles won the Super Bowl last year, they're not likely to alter the offensive game plan much, if at all. The old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies.

Projections

Projector
Games
Comp
Att
PaYds
PaTDs
INTs
Rush
RuYds
RuTDs
FumLost
15.2
323.0
513.0
3730
27.1
9.4
64.0
282
1.9
3.9
15.0
330.0
530.0
3970
30.0
9.0
58.0
230
1.0
3.0
14.0
325.0
520.0
3745
26.0
12.0
50.0
205
2.0
3.0
14.5
321.0
519.0
3540
25.2
12.8
70.0
210
3.5
1.3

Final Thoughts

Carson Wentz broke through in his second season and established himself as one of the league's great young quarterbacks. His fearlessness and ability to create plays in chaos bold well on a Super Bowl-champion roster that returns all its key pieces. Part of what made Wentz elite last year, his mobility, also cost him multiple ligament tears. Historically it's taken longer than nine months to return from the severity of Wentz's injuries, and even though he's progressing well, there's no guarantee he's capable of starting the season under center. Fantasy managers are treating Wentz like he's already healthy, and drafting him as a top-8 fantasy passer. While he's a good bet to return value if he plays 16 games, there's significant downside if he isn't ready for the start of the season or -- worse yet -- he rushes back and sets himself up for further injury. One of last year's best values at the position is now, at best, fairly valued. You win fantasy leagues through value arbitrage, and that makes Wentz worth passing on this season. Either you believe Carson Wentz is one of the best quarterbacks of the modern era, or his current ADP leaves little room for upside and plenty of downside risk.


Other Thoughts from Around the Web

CBS Sports Heath Cummings shares my concerns:

"Carson Wentz is one of the most obvious regression candidates in the league regardless of position. Most of the expected regression will be in the form of passing touchdowns. His 7.5 percent touchdown rate is wholly unsustainable. I'm not sure he will fall off as badly as Matt Ryan did last year, but it's a fair comparison. Add on the recovery from his knee injury, the fact he's expected to run less, and improvements the Eagles made on defense, and it seems unfair to expect anything more than a borderline top-12 season."

Rotoworld's Rich Hribar sees regression coming for the entire Eagles offense:

"Since 2000, 98 teams have scored a touchdown on 25 percent or more of drives. 78 of those 98 teams notched a lower touchdown rate the following season with an average loss of -4.5 percent. 79 of those 98 teams scored fewer offensive touchdowns the next season with an average loss of -7 rushing/receiving TDs. Of those 98, just 11 of the teams to do so in back-to-back seasons weren't led by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees."

Shark Pool (Footballguys Message Board) Thoughts

Travdogg says:

"Of the 3 QBs coming off IR, I like Wentz the most. He's got the best all-around offense around him, and he's also got a QB worth handcuffing. Foles is likely a startable QB if Wentz misses the first game or 2, and is available as a last round pick.

The supporting cast was upgraded in my opinion, as Mike Wallace is a much better WR than Torrey Smith, and Jay Ajayi won't be learning the offense on the fly. That said, Wentz will likely be less productive, as they may run more, and I'd agree the TD rate was unsustainable.

Wentz is my QB5 right now, I expect similar yardage and a few fewer TDs."

dhockster thinks Wentz's TD rate is more sustainable than critics fear:

"Most people think Carson Wentz's TD pass percentage will go down and it probably will. But I don't think it will go down very much based on how the Eagles run their offense. Keep in mind that if you look at the games Foles started last year, throwing out the Raider game because of extremely windy conditions, and throwing out the Dallas game because he only played 1 quarter with a very vanilla offense, his TD pass percentage against the Giants, Falcons, Vikings, and Patriots was 7.0% which would have ranked 3rd to Wentz and Watson among QB's last year."