Carson Wentz can play, and that should be obvious for a number of reasons. Starting quarterback for back-to-back national championships, Most Outstanding Player award in both of them, ranked in the top 3 at his position in every drill at the scouting combine. The North Dakota State signal-called is the real deal, and impressed plenty with his Senior Bowl work. But because of his competition level, there are still doubters.
Yes, the Bison compete in FCS, the tier below the big boys like Alabama and Ohio State. Heck, it’s the tier below the Group of Five schools as well, like Boise State and Houston. That’s going to raise eyebrows and questions for some just three weeks before the NFL Draft.
But for every Spurgon Wynn (Texas State) and Giovanni Carmazzi (Hofstra), there are Steve McNair (Alcorn State) and Joe Flacco (Delaware) that have flourished in the NFL. Take a look at any game film, any throw, it’s evident Wentz can play at the next level. He’s rising up draft charts everywhere in these final weeks, and that’s because scouts and draftniks are dropping their small-school biases.
Two years ago there were plenty of people drooling over Khalil Mack’s production in college (100 tackles, 19 for loss, 10.5 sacks his senior year). He was the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year, and a first team All-American. He was 6’3″, 250 lbs., and had blown up Ohio State’s backfield in his game against the biggest of college football boys. But he played at the University of Buffalo, a gridiron afterthought, and some were weary about dominating lesser competition.
Two seasons later he is already one of the best defensive players in the league, and if you redrafted that top 10 Mack would easily be the first pick overall (a surefire star compared to star-crossed Jadaveon Clowney). The same may very well one day be said about Wentz.
I had his Quarterback Coach, Randy Hedberg, on my show to break down Wentz’s readiness for the league. In an era where more schools are opting for the spread offense and operating out of the shotgun, the Bison are old-school. Pro-style, under center, make your reads at the line of scrimmage close enough to smell the nosetackle’s chili-breath.
“We’re under center,” Hedberg told me. “We don’t look to the sidelines, we’re not looking at those pictures. Our guys get a huddle call and they make the huddle call and they get to the line of scrimmage and they make protection calls. Our quarterbacks make all of our protection calls at the line of scrimmage and I think that’s key. I think it’s big in the NFL game and it will help Carson when he gets to that level.”
Modern college offenses are fun and colorful, like scrolling through an Instagram feed. But at powerhouses all over the country quarterbacks look to the sideline from the shotgun and have quirky icons plastered on a board. Oregon quarterbacks will choose between an eagle, an eyeball, a slice of pizza, or Rece Davis. That’s fine in college. But once you get to Sundays, there’s no more photo hunts.
With the team success North Dakota State has had you could call them the UConn Lady Huskies of FCS. But maybe Gino Auriemma’s squad is the Bison of women’s basketball. NDSU has won an incredible five national titles in a row, and are a modern dynasty. That’s also a big reason why Wentz has made scouts drool. He doesn’t just have the tools (6’5”, big-time arm). He’s used those abilities to win big.
“We’ve won the last five national championships at the FCS level,” Hedberg says. “We have a great culture. Carson grew up in that culture. He’s seen the winning. He’s a winner. An NFL team that gets him will get a winner.” Watch him on tape, you’ll see Wentz make every throw with strength: short, intermediate, and deep. He’s got a quick release. He’s accurate. He’s also naturally smart, scoring high on the Wonderlic and gifted in decision-making. There’s almost nothing to grade down in his packet.
Except that ol’ FCS thing, which is still a baseless question mark for some. Yes, usually the best talents end up at the highest levels, and competing every Saturday against future pros can only help prepare you. But there’s more than one way to grow an NFL quarterback, and Fargo has planted one of the best. If you still think Wentz can’t do it because he didn’t play in a bowl game, think again. Wentz will be a star. Bet on it.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.