Carson Wentz Has Become an Explosive Passer

The Philadelphia Eagles have emerged as Super Bowl contenders and outstanding play from second-year quarterback Carson Wentz has been a big reason why.

In terms of our in-house efficiency metric Net Expected Points (NEP), Wentz ranks third in the league in passing NEP after finishing 21st last season. He is also third on a per-drop back basis and ninth in the league in raw net yards per drop back (he was 28th in the latter metric last season).

In most cases, a player improving drastically from his first year to his second is not all that rare or interesting. That is how things are supposed to work. Wentz, though, is a more fascinating case because he has flipped his entire style of play on its head.

Last season, he relied heavily on short passes, as the Eagles’ offense resembled head coach Doug Pederson’s old units in Kansas City, with Wentz playing the role of Alex Smith. So far this season, Wentz is making considerably more plays down the field, as the Philadelphia passing game has been one of the league's most explosive.

Airing It Out

Wentz only managed 10.0 yards per completion last season, joining Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford, and Brock Osweiler as the only passers to average 10 or fewer.

The Eagles also finished 24th in the NFL in terms of percentage of passes thrown 15 yards or further down the field (15.8%). Wentz was not all that efficient on these passes, completing just 35.4% of them while averaging 9.7 yards with a 7.3% interception rate, per Pro Football Reference. (The NFL averages on such passes were 40.8%, 11.7 and 5.6%, respectively.)

Philadelphia could have managed here if Wentz was better on shorter passes, but he also completed a below-average number of passes shorter than 15 yards.

Wentz has totally changed the script this season. He leads the league in yards per completion (13.0) and is throwing downfield with greater frequency.

A whopping 20.2% of his passes have been thrown 15 yards or further downfield -- the Eagles rank ninth in the league in this regard -- and he is doing a lot more with these throws than he did last year. While Wentz is still in the middle of the pack in terms of deep completion percentage (42.6%, to rank 14th among the 31 passers with at least 20 deep attempts), he is averaging 14.6 yards per deep throw. Only four passers have been better.

Wentz is also seventh in touchdown percentage on deep throws with a better-than-average 4.3% interception rate, giving him a 107.4 passer rating on these throws, which is seventh-best.

This success is even more surprising given how he started the season, as it looked like Wentz’s deep-ball struggles from 2016 would continue. In the first three games of the season, he only averaged 9.9 yards per throw and was 7-for-22 on deep passes. Since then, he is 13-for-25 and has averaged 18.7 yards per pass.

This run includes a strong performance last Monday against Washington, which was one of the top performance from Week 7. He was 4-for-7 on throws of 15 yards or more, including a picture-perfect 64-yard touchdown pass to Mack Hollins.

A few factors seem to be playing a role in this transformation, most notably an improved receiving corps. Last season, this group was thin and lacked a real deep threat. In 2017, they have added Torrey Smith (15.0 yards per catch) and Alshon Jeffery (13.6), while Nelson Agholor (15.3) has taken a massive step forward (he averaged just 10.1 last season with a 52.2% catch rate).

Ultimately though, Wentz himself deserves the lion’s share of the praise, as he is turning the potential that made him the second pick in the 2016 draft into production.