ANAHEIM, Calif. – Comparisons. It’s always about comparisons with NFL coaches and personnel people when they’re evaluating talent.
Ask them about a player and the first thing they’ll tell you is who he reminds them of.
When Bruce Arians watched Carson Wentz before the 2016 draft, the guy he reminded him of was Andrew Luck, whom Arians had coached as a Colts rookie four years earlier.
“He was the one coming out who reminded me of Andrew,’’ the Arizona Cardinals coach said Wednesday. “Big, strong, physical. Had touch. Could make all the throws. Played in a pro-style offense in college.
“His ascension doesn’t surprise me at all. And he’s gotten bigger and stronger. He really knows what he’s doing with the ball.”
On Sunday, in Los Angeles’ ancient Memorial Coliseum, Wentz — the second overall pick in 2016, who has guided the Eagles to a 10-2 start and thrust himself smack dab into the middle of the league MVP conversation — will go up against the 9-3 Rams and their impressive second-year quarterback, Jared Goff, who was drafted immediately ahead of Wentz at No. 1.
Arians has had up-close-and-personal looks at both Wentz and Goff this season. Staring at the sun for an hour would have been less painful.
In Week 5, Wentz threw four touchdown passes in a 34-7 win over the Cardinals. Goff and the Rams have licked the Cardinals twice, most recently this past Sunday, 32-16, when Goff completed 21 of 31 passes and threw his 19th and 20th touchdown passes of the season.
Arians gives a lot of credit for Wentz and Goff’s rapid development to their head coaches, Doug Pederson and 31-year-old Sean McVay, who have form-fitted their offenses around the talents of their young quarterbacks.
“You can’t ask players to do things just because you draft them,’” Arians said. “You have to fit it to what they do best.
“Not just a quarterback, but every player on your team. You don’t ask them to do things just because that’s what your system is. You adapt your system to the players you have.”
Wentz started 16 games as a rookie. He had his ups and downs but never lost his poise, finished strong and gained valuable experience that put him ahead of the game heading into Year 2.
Goff’s rookie season was much rockier. Playing for a coach (Jeff Fisher) whose job was on the line, Goff spent the first nine games on the bench before finally getting an opportunity to start.
Playing behind an offensive line that couldn’t protect him, he took a beating and finished with five touchdown passes and seven interceptions in 205 pass attempts and a 63.6 passer rating. The Rams lost all seven games he started and finished 4-12.
“Their offensive line last year was horrible,” Arians said. “He got hit so much. This year, he’s got a running game. All five of their [offensive linemen] have stayed healthy. And they matched an offense to a player that’s a really good fit for it.”
“It’s night and day with Goff,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “Last year, they didn’t trust him. They didn’t play him. And when he did play, it was hard to watch.
“I watched some of his tape Monday from Sunday’s game against Arizona. What struck me was his confidence compared to a year ago. He trusts his protections. He knows what he’s doing. The ball gets out of his hands. He understands completely what they’re asking him to do and where to go with the football.”
History has shown that taking a quarterback high in the draft is a 50-50 proposition. For every hit, there is a miss. For every Peyton Manning, there is a Ryan Leaf.
Twelve games into their second seasons, Goff and Wentz appear to be the exception. Two hits.
The Rams wanted Goff from the outset. The Eagles wanted Wentz from the moment they watched him cock his arm at the Senior Bowl. Or was it from the moment he came out of the womb? No matter. He was their guy.
Both have ended up where they belong. Goff, the Cali kid with the Ryan Gosling looks, is the face of one of LA’s two NFL franchises.
Wentz, the deer hunter from North Dakota, has become as beloved in Philadelphia as he is in Fargo.
“They’re both perfect fits for where they are,” Mayock said. “Wentz is a blue-collar guy and Philly loves that. He plays in cold weather. He’s got big hands [10 inches, to Goff’s 9].”
Yes, the hands were a factor in the Eagles favoring Wentz. Not the factor, but a factor. The Eagles were confident Wentz could flourish in wet, sub-freezing December weather at the Linc. They weren’t quite as confident that Goff could.
“We play in cold weather,” Eagles football operations chief Howie Roseman said in August. “Him having that cold-weather experience was important.”
“One of my concerns about Jared before the draft was that two of his worst games [at Cal] came at Oregon, his freshman year and his junior year, in bad weather,’’ Mayock said. “That might be micromanaging it, but I think they both ended up in the right place, though I think Carson could’ve played anywhere.”
No offense to the Rams, but Wentz is glad he ended up with the Eagles.
“I just felt a great connection with this coaching staff, with this city,” he said. “Just kind of the blue-collar work ethic. Everything about it.
“I just kind of fell in love with [the city]. It kind of ended up working out for both me and Jared.”
They both have had exceptional second seasons that have ignited talk of a Manning-Brady sequel for the next 15 years.
They both have excelled at situational football. Wentz, who leads the league in touchdown passes (29), is first in third-down passer rating at 125.7. Goff is fifth (98.8). They have combined for 36 red-zone touchdown passes and no interceptions. None.
“That’s usually the tell-tale sign of [greatness] when they’re able to play at a really high level on third down and in the red zone,” Arians said. “You know you’ve got something special when they’re successful there.”