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What if the Browns were right about Eagles' Carson Wentz not being a top-20 quarterback?

Martin Frank
Delaware News Journal

It seemed laughable back in 2016 when Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta said his team didn't consider Carson Wentz a top 20 quarterback in the NFL.

That statement came shortly after the Browns traded the Eagles the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NFL draft.

Wentz started the opener that season, against the Browns, and the Eagles beat them 29-10. One year later, DePodesta's comment seemed even more ridiculous when Wentz was on his way to the MVP award before tearing his ACL, with the Eagles sitting at 11-2.

The Browns, meanwhile, were headed to an 0-16 season after going 1-15 in Wentz's rookie season.

"In a given year, there may be two or three NFL-ready quarterbacks at the college level," DePodesta told a Cleveland radio station in the summer of 2016 in regard to quarterbacks in the draft.

"In another year, there literally may be zero. There just may not be anybody in that year who's good enough to be a top 20 quarterback in the NFL."

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) faces the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020.

That year, the Rams traded up to No. 1 to pick Jared Goff. There were several quarterbacks who didn't pan out that year, including Paxton Lynch near the end of the first round. The Cowboys, meanwhile, found their franchise QB in the fourth round with Dak Prescott.

But as Wentz is struggling through the worst season of his career, it's fair to wonder if DePodesta was right.

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Wentz is nowhere near the top 20 among quarterbacks this season.

He's 31st in passer rating at 73.1. He has thrown the most interceptions with 12, and has been sacked the most times, 35. Wentz is 32nd in completion percentage at 58.2, and 31st in average gain per completion at 6.11 yards.

And since Wentz returned from that torn ACL, the Eagles (3-5-1) are 17-18-1 under him heading into their game Sunday against the Browns (6-3).

What's more, an NFL Network report said Wentz has "sloppy practice habits," and Eagles coach Doug Pederson has been asked if Wentz is being coddled.

Both Wentz and Pederson denied the NFL Network report.

"He's being coached the way that we would coach any of our players," Pederson said. "We coach them all the same and we coach them all hard and aggressive, and we're trying to get the most out of all our guys."

A franchise decision

Ultimately, the Eagles will have to decide if Wentz will remain their franchise quarterback. They're certainly paying him like one, as he will begin a four-year extension worth as much as $128 million next season.

But the Eagles also drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round last spring.

And the Eagles could get out of Wentz's contract beginning in 2022 without taking a crippling salary cap hit.

For now, Pederson is not thinking that way. When asked by reporters who cover the Browns earlier this week if he would be in favor of making the trade all over again, Pederson responded:

"Oh heck yeah, I’d do it all over again. He’s the guy we wanted back then. He’s still the guy we want today. And I love everything about Carson Wentz. He’s a great leader for our team and our city.''

It's not like the Browns are in a much better position at quarterback. In the trade for Wentz, the Browns got the No. 8 pick, a 2016 third-rounder, a 2016 fourth-rounder, and a 2017 first- and second-rounder.

The Browns turned many of those picks into other trades, such as the Eagles' first-round pick in 2017 that the Browns sent to Houston so the Texans could draft quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The Browns are left with cornerback Denzel Ward, and many other tentacles to Odell Beckham Jr., and rookie defensive lineman Jordan Elliott.

They drafted their franchise quarterback first overall in 2018 in Baker Mayfield, and he's not a top 20 quarterback either. At least not this season. Some of the quarterbacks the Browns passed on that year were Buffalo's Josh Allen and Baltimore's Lamar Jackson.

Mayfield is ranked 24th in passer rating at 90.0. He's 29th in completion percentage at 61.3, 26th in average gain per completion at 6.77 yards and 19th in interceptions at 7.

Mayfield has already been benched in a game this season. If not for the Browns' prolific running game led by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, it's possible that Mayfield would've been benched more often.

A formidable running attack

"For us, we’re looking to move the ball any which way we can," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "Typically, as it relates to Baker, he understands that completely. He knows how we’re going to play the game that’s called for that week ... We have a plan to score points whether it comes from the ground or the air."

Or, as ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky recently put it: "It looks like the Browns' offense is trying to protect Baker Mayfield like they’re scared to run their offense through him."

The difference between the Browns and the Eagles is that the Browns are committed to the running game.

Cleveland is fourth in the NFL in rushing, averaging 159.0 yards per game and 30th in passing, averaging 188.8 yards.

The Eagles are similarly better at running (10th, averaging 122.8 yards per game) than passing (27th, 209.0 yards per game).

But the Eagles are passing 61.4% of the time, among the widest pass-run ratios in the NFL, while the Browns are running the ball 53.4% of the time.

Eagles running back Miles Sanders is second to Chubb in yards per carry at 6.0. Yet Sanders has never had more than 20 rushing attempts in a game. Last Sunday against the Texans, Chubb and Hunt each had 19 rushing attempts, with Chubb getting 126 yards and Hunt 104.

Some of that might have had to do with the weather, as the game was played in a rainstorm with high winds.

Still, Sanders said he'd never complain about his touches.

"You’re not going to get me," he said. "I’m a team player. I’m willing to do whatever it takes when my number is called ... I’m not ever questioning my workload or anything. I trust the coaches and the coaches trust me. That’s all it is."

So unless the Eagles have a sudden change of philosophy with Sanders, they'll have to make sure Wentz improves.

Part of that, Pederson said, is getting Wentz out of the pocket more, where he seems to be better on the move.

"I can dial up more of those," Pederson said. "We did a couple in the game the other day and they worked, they were successful ... He is dynamic out there."

Another problem has been the Eagles trying to incorporate two rookie wide receivers in Jalen Reagor and John Hightower, along with Travis Fulgham, who was on the practice squad as recently as Oct. 3.

It also hasn't helped the Eagles have used eight offensive line combinations in nine games because of injuries.

"That’s why I’m excited for the second half of the season," Wentz said. "I think we’ve gotten a lot of experience together throughout training camp and now experience in games with a lot of these guys. They’re starting to play faster, I’m starting to trust them, and there are things that are getting better.

"But by no means is that an excuse – young guys – none of that. This is the NFL. We have to learn on the fly and be able to adapt and adjust. We can be better, and we will be."

If not, then DePodesta might have been right, after all.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.