Why the Eagles want Wentz over Goff

On the Monday after Easter, Ron Wingenbach welcomed Eagles scout Anthony Patch to Century High School in Bismarck, N.D.

Patch's trek to the center of the Great Plains state wasn't part of some quest to visit all 50 capitals. He was here for one reason - Carson Wentz.

The Eagles had finished their on-field evaluation of the North Dakota State quarterback, but they sent Patch to meet with Wentz's high school coach to cross off any final concerns they may have had about character.

The Eagles had the No. 8 overall pick in the NFL draft at the time. They hadn't yet moved up to No. 2. And the Rams were still a few weeks from vaulting up to No. 1 - which was why Wingenbach, using intuition after countless questions from Patch, came away convinced the Eagles would make a strong play for Wentz.

Poll

Is it worrisome that Carson Wentz did not play at the highest level of college football?

"Just listening to him," Wingenbach recalled nearly a month later, "I told someone after he left, 'Don't be surprised if the Eagles move up to No. 1.' "

He was off by one.

Baring some unforeseen change of thought, Wentz will be chosen second overall when the draft opens on Thursday night. The Eagles traded up last week convinced that the Rams were taking California quarterback Jared Goff, sources close to the situation said, and all signs continue to point in that direction.

Howie Roseman, the Eagles' executive vice president of football operations, said that he didn't know for certain whom the Rams would take, and that the team felt comfortable with either Wentz or Goff. He likened them to vanilla or chocolate ice cream - in that both would be equally satisfying.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson had a similar take even before the trade.

"The guys are pretty even, in my opinion," he said. "From all the physical tools both of them are extremely gifted there - good arm strength, ability. Obviously, Carson's a little bigger and maybe a little better athlete. But right now, there's not much separating those two."

But the Eagles' preference is Wentz, NFL sources said. If it were Goff, they likely would have made a stronger play for the No. 1 pick. They had as much chance to jump ahead as the Rams, who originally picked seven spots later in the first round.

What made Wentz the target - all abilities theoretically being equal - was how the Eagles projected the 23-year old to fit their needs as opposed to Goff. Wentz's higher ceiling, his skill-set, his measurables, and his mentality - all made him better suited to play in Philadelphia.

"They're not the same guy. They're different," Roseman said. "They're unique in so many ways, and at the same time they both have some really great traits that give them a chance."

They will forever be linked, like the six other quarterback combos to be selected first and second since the NFL merger in 1970. But never in the history of the league have two teams traded up to take quarterbacks with both picks.

Another 1-2

And that is why some evaluators question the worth of Goff-Wentz versus other quarterbacks chosen as high. The Titans, who had the first pick, didn't need a quarterback. But the Browns, at No. 2, did. And yet they passed on Wentz.

"It's hard to compare this draft to last year's draft or the 10 years ago draft," ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said. "All I know is if you don't have one of these guys, if you don't have a quarterback, here's the pool of quarterbacks in this year's draft. And if you have a real good scouting department, you can see who the candidates are going to be in next year's draft."

Roseman made the same argument, even though the Eagles didn't necessarily have an immediate need. Starter Sam Bradford, before his trade request, was signed through 2017 and backup Chase Daniel through 2018. The Eagles felt the iron was just the right temperature.

"We've spent a ton of time investigating these guys, looking, as well, at what's going forward," Roseman said. "Looking at the quarterback market, not only this year but next year, 2018, and understanding that although this doesn't fit an immediate need, that this is a rare opportunity that we're in."

But are Goff and Wentz comparable to Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who were chosen 1-2 last year, for example? NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock thinks so.

"I took a lot of abuse a month or two ago for saying that I thought Wentz and Goff were every bit in the conversation with last year's Mariota and Winston," Mayock said. "And I still believe it, and apparently two other NFL teams do, if they're willing to give up that kind of firepower to move up and get those guys."

Winston and Mariota had impressive rookie seasons, but their long-term prospects remain uncertain. Andrew Luck-Robert Griffin III was a push after Year 1, but Luck has proven to be the far better pick of the 2012 draft.

Of the six 1-2 quarterback drafts - the others were Tim Couch-Donovan McNabb in 1999, Peyton Manning-Ryan Leaf in 1998, Drew Bledsoe-Rick Mirer in 1993, and Jim Plunkett-Archie Manning in 1971 - McNabb was the only No. 2 pick to have the better career.

Couch wasn't a near-unanimous top pick, though. Winston, Luck, Peyton Manning, and Bledsoe were. There seems to be a split among NFL general managers and analysts as to whether Goff or Wentz is the better prospect.

"The first guy I looked at was Goff," Mayock said. "When I got done four games of Goff, I thought this is going to be my first guy. This is going to be my top quarterback. I liked everything about Jared Goff. I thought he was a top 10 pick in just about any draft."

And then Mayock watched Wentz's tape. He moved the Football Championship Subdivision quarterback to the top of his list, and then after following him closely at the Senior Bowl, scouting combine, and pro day, kept him there.

"He's crossed off every check mark since," Mayock said.

Daniel Jeremiah, an NFL Network analyst and former Eagles scout, has Wentz ranked slightly ahead of Goff. But two general managers not in the market for a starting quarterback said they had a higher grade on Goff.

Wentz and Goff had an opportunity to gauge themselves against one another during pre-combine workouts with former Colts quarterback Ryan Lindley in Southern California. There was natural competition.

"Heck, it's a friendly competition-type thing when we're out there working out and everything," Wentz said from Chicago on Wednesday. "We've hung out before. We've kept in touch throughout this process. It'll be exciting where we both fall, and hopefully play each other a long time."

'Sitting pretty'

Both quarterbacks aren't considered as pro-ready as Winston or Luck, but for varying reasons. Wentz played at a level lower and had only 23 career starts, while Goff worked in a no-huddle, shotgun, spread-style offense in which most of the plays came in from the sideline.

"That will cause him to have some serious adjustments," Gruden said. "But after spending a day with him, he is a quick study."

Wentz had freedom in North Dakota State's pro-style offense to make checks at the line of scrimmage. He often worked from under center. He had progression reads - similar to the ones he will probably see in Pederson's West Coast-based scheme.

But he had only 612 pass attempts in college compared with Goff's 1,568. Assuming Bradford returns or Daniel is the stopgap, Wentz should have at least a year to learn from Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich, and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo.

"Whatever quarterback they take is sitting pretty," said Lou Riddick, an ESPN analyst and former Eagles executive. "If you're getting coached by Doug Pederson, Frank Reich, John DeFillipo, those are some quality coaches that know how to scheme it up right and teach the fundamentals right."

Jeremiah, who scouted for Andy Reid, predicted that Wentz would suit the Eagles' offense more than Goff because of his size - 6-foot-5, 237 pounds vs. 6-4, 215 - and athleticism. Reid likes to give his quarterbacks freedom to move and throw at various spots, and Pederson presumably would as well.

Reid has also had designed quarterback runs, from Donovan McNabb to Michael Vick and to Alex Smith with the Chiefs, and Wentz's mobility would allow Pederson to keep those plays in the offense.

But Goff is, literally, the West Coast guy. Born in Novato, Calif., about 30 miles north of San Francisco, he radiates California cool. The blond-haired quarterback with the Hollywood looks could be ideally suited to Los Angeles, although some scouts worry about Goff's being too close to the glitz.

Gruden, who worked closely with both Goff and Wentz during his annual quarterback camp series, disagreed.

"I just thought Goff came across as an iceman," Gruden said. "I tried to get under his skin, and I'm good at that. I can really irritate people. Not even I could bother Goff. So I don't think that's going to be a problem. I think it will be a benefit staying close to home in a state that he loves."

North Dakota is a long way from Philly, in terms of both temperament and football intensity. Wingenbach and others who coached and played alongside Wentz in high school and college said that Eagles fans would come to embrace the red-headed quarterback with the upper Midwestern grit.

"There's this belief that I'm at some sort of disadvantage coming into the league because of where I'm from," Wentz wrote this week in the Players Tribune. "But if you get to know me, you'll understand that being from North Dakota isn't a disadvantage. Not even close. In fact, having been raised in North Dakota is probably one of my greatest strengths."

The Eagles appear to have gotten the quarterback who shares their sensibility. But did they get the better one?

jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane