Last year the consensus top two quarterbacks were Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. This year, the debate has focused on Cal’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.
The opinion here is that while last season’s Winston vs. Mariota discussion, which involved two Heisman Trophy winners, was a real debate with good arguments on both sides, the Goff vs. Wentz discussion isn’t nearly that close.
Jared Goff is “small” hands down the smarter, safer, and better pick.
Here are the top 5 reasons why.
[UPDATE: This article was originally published before the news came out about the Football Outsiders analytics study identifying Jared Goff as clearly the best QB prospect in this year's draft.]
1. Level of Competition
Carson Wentz unquestionably played a substantially inferior level of competition than Jared Goff did in college, and therefore one can reasonably infer that the jump to NFL-level competition might be more difficult for him, at least in the beginning.
The FCS is simply not Division I football, and the defenses Wentz played against, though undoubtedly consisting of some individually talented players, on average are filled with players who were not offered scholarships at Division I schools because those schools didn’t think they were good enough. This fact cannot be denied despite the amusing and twisted rationales of some of the Wentz-lovers.
Furthermore, the fact that North Dakota State itself is a perennial powerhouse in the FCS (winning five straight titles, the first three in a row before Wentz ever started) and a team many say itself could play Division I college football actually lends even less credibility to Wentz’ s on-field accomplishments.
If ND State is one of the very few FCS schools who are as good as a lot of Division I programs, their advantage over other FCS schools is that much greater. To use a baseball analogy: How would any major league team perform against a minor league schedule of opponents?
On the other hand, Goff played Division I football in the Pac-12, a Power 5 conference, against defenses filled with highly regarded recruits and substantially more NFL-level talent. Further, he was able to shine passing the football on a Cal team with a weak offensive line that forced him to consistently avoid an oncoming pass rush with quick feet, quick decision-making, and a quick release.
Despite that, Goff did not just “dump the ball off” but instead regularly hung in the pocket and took hits as he fired strikes down the field.
2. Value to the team
Goff took over a horrendous Cal football team as a true freshman, and the team went 1-11. But as the unquestioned leader of the team over the next two seasons, he improved the team to 8-5 and helped get the Golden Bears their first bowl win in seven years.
Anyone watching Pac-12 football on a consistent basis could clearly see it was Goff’s individual talent that was primarily responsible for the turnaround of a Golden Bears team with a sub-par offensive line and a shaky defense.
Carson Wentz’s supporters most often like to describe him as a “leader” and a “winner” and point to his two FCS Championships as evidence of this fact. And it is true that in Wentz’s two years as the starter for the Bison, he went 20-3 and the team won titles both seasons. But a closer examination of the program’s overall record makes you question just how valuable he was to his team.
Carson Wentz made his first start at North Dakota State as a redshirt junior. During the previous three years while he sat on the bench and almost never played, North Dakota State won three straight FCS Championships and went 43-2.
In his senior season, Wentz led his team to a 5-2 record before he got injured and missed eight games. North Dakota State went 8-0 in his absence. Thus, in his five years as part of the juggernaut Bison program, Wentz’s team was 51-2 without him.
In theory could Wentz be the FCS “diamond in the rough” who is so much better than the minor league opposition he chose to play against? Of course it’s not impossible, but it is improbable. And the fact that North Dakota State’s squad seemed hardly affected at all (and actually had a better winning percentage) when Wentz did not play during his time there should be giving analysts further pause before they conclude that he is the jewel they’re looking for.
3. Playing Sample Size and Overall Performance
There is substantially more film of Goff passing the football than Wentz, and perhaps more importantly, passing the football against a strong pass rush (and surviving it). Thus, he is more of a known quantity in that regard.
In 2013, Jared Goff became the first QB at Cal to start as a true freshman. Leading a highly prolific passing attack over the next three years, Goff threw the ball a total of 1,568 times. Thanks to the high volume of passes thrown, as well as a relatively porous offensive line, Goff often took a beating. Nonetheless, he showed toughness and started all 37 games the Golden Bears played.
Goff ultimately tallied 12,195 yards and 96 touchdowns over three seasons at Cal. He ranks third all-time in Pac-12 history in both categories and very easily would have been the all-time leader in nearly every major passing category had he returned for his senior season.
Certainly it can be argued that the “Bear Raid” system Goff played in inflated his numbers somewhat and also that you can never know whether big stats in college will translate to the NFL. Nonetheless, there is no question Goff has proven, at least at the major collegiate level, that he can carry an offense on his back as a passer.
But the same cannot be said for Wentz.
Including a few garbage-time minutes he played in his freshman and sophomore seasons, Wentz’s college career consists of just 612 pass attempts. In fact, Wentz actually only started one full season of college football. He started all 15 games of his junior season, but missed eight games (1/2 the season) in his senior year due to a wrist injury.
Despite the fact that Wentz was less accurate and substantially less prolific overall in college than Goff, against lesser competition mind you, many NFL experts seem to give him a pass about that because of the type of offense he played in. Indeed it is true that ND State ran a more ball-control type offense than they did at Cal and of course that should be taken into account in examining Carson Wentz’s relatively moderate stats.
But even considering the different offensive scheme, you would still want to see at least a handful of individual games in which the Bison QB put the team on his back and won the game through the air. Certainly that is still important in a potential top pick at the quarterback position?
Yet you will be hard pressed to find too many examples of such a performance by Wentz. While Jared Goff averaged 330 yards passing per game over 37 career starts, Wentz, over the course of 23 career starts, threw for over 250 yards only three times, and over 300 yards just once.
4. Consistent Improvement
While Cal’s dramatic improvement as a team in Jared Goff’s three years is frequently cited, it is less often discussed how much Goff showed a steady improvement himself while in the spotlight.
Goff played three years of football under a microscope in the Bay Area, a significant major media market. He was thrown into action as a true freshman and forced to be the face of a total reconstruction project. Yet despite that pressure, Goff’s QB rating, completion percentage, yards, yards/attempt, and touchdowns notably increased each year.
Furthermore, in his junior season Goff played with the added pressure of being a projected 1st round pick all year long. In the face of such heightened expectations, the Cal QB proceeded to set Pac-12 records for touchdowns and passing yards in a single season. Goff ultimately concluded his college career on a high against his final two opponents, ASU and Air Force (both bowl teams). In arguably his two best performances ever, his two-game totals were 1,009 yards, 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He was truly peaking.
In contrast, Wentz was basically a total unknown while he rode the bench at North Dakota State. It was not until he had a breakout season as a redshirt junior that he garnered anyone's notice. Still, playing at an FCS school in North Dakota ensured that he had relatively little national spotlight or pressure on him entering his senior campaign this past season.
Nonetheless, Wentz did not really continue the upward trajectory that began his junior year and he had slight dips in QB rating, completion percentage, and yards/attempt in his senior season.
In fact if not for his team’s stellar play without him, Wentz’s college career would have ended after a mid-season wrist injury. But because his team made it to the FCS Championship game, Wentz was able to play in one last game. While North Dakota State won easily, 37-10, Wentz’s passing numbers were below average: 16/29 for 197 yards, 1TD, and 2 INTs.
After that performance, almost no one was talking about Wentz as a potential first round pick, let alone a top-5 selection. But a good performance in limited action at the Senior Bowl changed everything for him and suddenly Wentz was the apple of everyone’s eye.
5. Younger, Growing, and Still More NFL-Ready
With one notable exception, the general consensus, even among NFL insiders and pundits who prefer Carson Wentz over Jared Goff, is that it is Wentz who is the less refined product and will likely take more time to adjust to starting in the NFL. Nonetheless, those same experts insist that the “upside” of Wentz is much higher because of his larger build and raw physical skills.
What few seem to consider is that Goff is two years younger than Wentz. Goff is a sure-fire 1st round pick at the age of 21 who has put up huge numbers at a major Division I conference school, but Wentz was not yet even a starting quarterback for an FCS team at the same age! Considering Goff’s already mentioned steadier trajectory of career improvement, why isn’t anyone noticing that it might be the younger guy that might have the larger upside?
Furthermore, despite criticism over Goff’s “slight frame” (215 pounds) in comparison to Wentz’s (237 pounds), it is rarely mentioned that the younger Goff is still growing. He has gained 10 pounds per year over the past three seasons after he started his freshman season at a truly willowy 185 pounds. There is no reason to believe that Goff won’t be close to 230 pounds in a few years.
Oh yeah, and that one notable exception that believes Wentz is the better “NFL-ready” QB on day one? That was former NFL coach and current MNF analyst Jon Gruden, who also vociferously asserted that Johnny Manziel was the #1 player in the NFL Draft two years ago and previously raved about Tim Tebow’s NFL prospects.
The current story being sold in much of the media is that Carson Wentz is a herculean athlete and his potential is a combination of Andrew Luck and Cam Newton while Jared Goff is a scrawny and unathletic prospect with a limited upside. Give me a break.
The narrative gets so carried away sometimes that inconvenient facts get ignored.
(Rarely does anyone point out that Wentz running a 40-yard dash in 4.77 is not that much faster than Goff’s time of 4.82, or that Goff was timed as throwing with greater velocity at the NFL Combine.)
Yet more importantly all the talk about Wentz’s superior physical frame, hand size, and athleticism, makes people forget that these qualities are to be given their appropriate weight only after the far more significant analysis of proven play at the quarterback position makes them relevant enough to consider.
Sure, all things being equal you take the bigger and stronger guy. But all things are rarely equal, and in this case it’s not that close.
Look, nobody knows how a QB will pan out in the pros. But there is little doubt that Jared Goff's on-field performance indicates many of the hallmarks of a successful NFL quarterback… and Carson Wentz’s meteoric rise from unknown to “It” guy has all the signals of another NFL bust.
By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com