Carson Wentz showed all the makings of a franchise QB early in his career, but a poor showing in 2020 was enough for the Eagles to cut ties. Will his new home in Indy get him back on track in 2021?
The Indianapolis Colts have had one of the most unstable QB situations in the past four seasons. Taking some time to understand Frank Reich’s first few years with the Colts may provide us with clues as to what the future might look like with Carson Wentz running his offense. This article will provide an exploration into the Reich-Wentz pairing, the team make-up of the Colts, and a realistic range of outcomes for the Colts’ new signal-caller.
A head coach making the playoffs in their first season (and winning) like Frank Reich did in 2018 must have left him with visions of Lombardis dancing in his head. Everything was in place. A superstar quarterback leading a top-five offense, a young defense on the upswing, and a General Manager who just gave you two rookie All-Pro players in Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard. Those dreams of grandeur turned into nightmares of horror an offseason later when that superstar QB blindsided the entire league with an early retirement. A patchwork season of Jacoby Brissett led them to wring the last bit of football out of Philip Rivers.
Philip Rivers is key to projecting Wentz.
The First Go-Round
Both Philip Rivers and Carson Wentz spent two years with Frank Reich as their OC. In the graphics below, we see the averages of each quarterbacks average of those 2 seasons:
There are two important things to remember:
- Rivers ended up making 2020 his final season. These numbers came as he was on his last legs.
- Wentz was paired with Reich during his rookie and sophomore years. 2017, to this point, has proved to be his peak.
Frank Reich helped Wentz hit the ground running in the NFL. Getting to pair with Wentz again after a few years of experience in the NFL, Reich will attempt to get him back to a high level of play. With Wentz being where he is at in his career, the Colts get a franchise QB for the next 6-8 years, if Reich proves successful.
After showing solid fantasy production in his first four seasons, the whirlwind of 2020 destroyed the fantasy community’s confidence in the former Eagle. Examining the reasons for Wentz’s poor showing isn’t hard. He endured: a decimated offensive line, central skill players struggling with injury (Ertz, Goedert, Sanders, and Reagor all missed 4+ games), and a coaching staff that didn’t seem to be doing any favors. It is easy to see why Wentz struggled. He deserves some blame, but as the quarterback, he is probably shouldering more than he should.
Wentz’s Supporting Cast
It all starts in the trenches.
Wentz’s success came when the Eagles had one of the best offensive lines in the league. Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson made up the core that kept Wentz clean early in his career. In 2020, Jason Kelce was the only one from that group who started more than half the season.
Entering 2021, Carson Wentz will have Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith, and Mark Glowinski locked and loaded with Eric Fisher as an above-average LT if he is able to return from his Achilles injury from last season. The ingredients in Indianapolis mirror what Carson had in his best years in Philadelphia.
That offensive line has made Indy’s run game one of the top ten in the league. Since Frank Reich joined the Colts, he’s talked about wanting a top-five rushing offense. Jonathan Taylor showed his ability to provide that, after going on a tear over the second half of his rookie season. Not only is the Colts offense top-heavy, but Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, and Marlon Mack provide a well-rounded unit.
— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) June 1, 2021
The Colts’ new pass-catchers can be described in one word – potential. Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, and Kylen Granson had Reich fired up in the draft room. T.Y. Hilton decided to return to Indy on a one-year deal and, along with Jack Doyle and Zach Pascal, will provide a steadying force for the Colts’ new signal-caller. For Wentz to reach his ceiling, Pittman and Campbell are going to have to reach their *gulp* potential.
Overall, comparing the 2017 Eagles and the 2021 Colts may have some striking similarities.
Range of Outcomes
Obviously, losing a season to injury is the worst-case scenario, so we are going to assume health for this mental exercise. Watching the 2020 Eagles, Wentz’s confidence waned through the season. The discord between Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz was evident, and stories swirled of them not communicating for weeks. It’s not certain if the rumors are true or not, but the play on the field seems to affirm they are more likely true. Two things worry me about what last year exposed:
- Is Wentz’s confidence intact?
- When your situation hits the fan, do you move further out on complex, hero ball-type execution, or return to the basics, and rally the guys you have?
Worst case scenario for me is that Wentz got mentally fatigued, his confidence took a hit after being benched, and these effects will linger with him. What happens if he starts slow (or even just average)? Will outside conversation about struggles send him spiraling as it seemed to in 2020? With his confidence shot, there isn’t much optimism for him to improve substantially. Replicating his 2020 finish as QB22 in points per game (PPG) (per FantasyData.com) won’t get it done.
We saw Wentz’s ceiling as QB2 in PPG in his MVP-esque season in 2017. Outside of that, he’s settled regularly as a high-end QB2 (finishing QB15, QB17, and QB18). The elements of his 2017 season are in place: top three offensive line, strong rushing game, and competence in the passing game. His best-case scenario in 2021 would see him beat many of his career numbers.
The environment of Indianapolis could provide the exact healing that Wentz needs. The Colts’ focus on character has created a locker room atmosphere of brotherhood and competition. They are going to do everything they can as a team to repair Wentz’s confidence, assisting him in returning to his franchise QB level of play.
I’m very confident we aren’t going to see 2020 numbers from Carson Wentz. According to our June Superflex ADP, Wentz is being selected at QB20, in the mid-fourth round of that format. Because there are so many quarterbacks who do have rushing ability (Allen, Murray, Jackson), I don’t think even the most staunch supporter of Wentz would predict anything close to his 2017 finish. Likewise, I expect to see growth from him.
One reason I have confidence in a Wentz bounce-back is simple. He’s been good more often than he’s been bad. Recency bias has skewed our view about that. I’m confident in a back-end QB1 finish for Carson Wentz in 2021. Even if he does settle in as a QB2, I don’t see a scenario where his reputation isn’t somewhat repaired in the fantasy community and his value increases. Go buy-low on Carson Wentz.
Got the band back together.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) May 27, 2021
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