MOBILE, Ala. — Carson Wentz ended his college career as a buzzy size/arm curiosity from the wilds of the FCS competition level. By the time he arrived in Mobile this week, he was being talked up as a top-five selection in the 2016 NFL draft. If Senior Bowl week were two days longer, he might have emerged as a front-runner in next week's Iowa caucuses.
The Wentz hype, early and extreme by even the standards of draft hype, is the result of several interconnected factors:
- Wentz is the best quarterback on either Senior Bowl roster by a considerable margin
- Jason Garrett's Cowboys staff is coaching Wentz's North squad
- The Cowboys possess the fourth pick in the draft and need a developmental quarterback to groom behind Tony Romo, who will soon undergo collarbone surgery
By the draft coverage mathematics of putting two and two together, the Wentz-Cowboys connection officially became a story. That got the rumor mill humming. The rest is history and has little to do with Wentz's college film (which probably few of the people doing the tale-spinning have ever watched, though I have watched a bit) or what Wentz did on the field this week.
The good news is that Wentz (6'5 1/2", 233 pounds) has had a fine week, punctuated with a very impressive Thursday practice.
Wentz found big Michigan State wide receiver Aaron Burbridge for a pair of touchdowns in red-zone drills, showing excellent velocity and ball placement on both throws. He drove a deep pass to UCLA receiver Jordan Payton that Payton failed to track over his shoulder. It demonstrated Wentz's deep accuracy and effortless delivery.
Wentz rifled several impressive passes in earlier practices, mixing them with some throws that just appeared to leave his hand improperly. At his best, he looked like Joe Flacco flicking deep passes from his high platform.
There is still work to be done—Thursday, he led receivers too far into the back of the end zone several times during an extended seven-on-seven red-zone drill—but Wentz showed steady progress during the week. Progress is important for a Senior Bowl quarterback. No one expects a guy to show up from North Dakota on Monday and establish flawless rhythm with his receivers by Tuesday afternoon.
Wentz sounds like he has a good sense of his strengths and limitations.
He admitted to "erratic" footwork in his junior year. "This season, it refined quite a bit," he said, though he acknowledged his footwork still must become more consistent.
Wentz ran a lot of options at North Dakota State, making him look on tape like a small-program Cam Newton at times. But Wentz doesn't expect to generate many rushing yards in the NFL.
"I don't want to say that I'm a 'dual threat' guy," Wentz said. "I'm definitely a pocket passer first, but I have the ability to improve and make plays when the situation calls for it. I'm definitely not a run-first guy, especially at the next level when guys are bigger, faster, stronger."
Wentz does want to emulate Newton—and a certain gunslinger of yesteryear—in one important way.
"I love Cam Newton, the way he has fun with football. That's something that I definitely want to replicate a little bit: just having fun.
"Growing up, my idol or the guy I followed a lot was Brett Favre, the way the guy played the game, had fun with it, enjoyed it. That's what I want to do."
Blake Jarwin_NFL DRAFT NIGHT
Ben Gedeon_NFL DRAFT NIGHT
Chad Hansen_NFL DRAFT NIGHT
Aaron Jones_NFL DRAFT NIGHT
Insider Buzz: CIN, KC & INDY Among Best Landing Spots for Joe Mixon
Insider Buzz: Redskins and Jay Gruden Targeting 'Dual-Threat' McCaffrey at Pick 17
NFL QBs Shouldn't Even Try to Challenge Safety Prospect Malik Hooker
What Are the Hottest Match Ups of the 2017 NFL Season?
Which 2017 NFL Draft Prospect Is the Next Tyreek Hill?
Chris Simms' Top 3 QB Nightmares of 2017 NFL Draft
Isaiah McKenzie_NFL DRAFT NIGHT
ArDarius Stewart_NFL DRAFT NIGHT
Insider Buzz: Titans Still Searching for No.1 CB, Eyeing Prospects in NFL Draft
Which 2017 NFL Draft Prospect Could Be the Next Adrian Peterson?
Pro Day Numbers Like Peppers and Suh? Meet the NFL's Next "Offense Destroyer"
Brian Kelly Calls DeShone Kizer the Best QB in NFL Draft
Alabama WR ArDarius Stewart Is Poised to Become a 'Monster After the Catch' in the NFL
Meet the WR Trio Ready to Light Up Their Pro Day on Road to NFL Draft
Auburn's Carl Larson with Something to Prove on Pro Day
What Changed for Tony Romo on Day 1 of NFL Free Agency?
Dirt Monster' Solomon Thomas Is Ready to Be King the of Trenches in NFL
Oklahoma State's Jordan Sterns on Pro Day Performance
What Will It Take for Tony Romo to Land in Denver?
Tony Romo Says Goodbye to Cowboys
Deal Alert: Grading Alshon Jeffery to Philadelphia Eagles Free Agent Signing
Matt Miller's Winners and Losers from the NFL Combine
Deal Alert: Grading DeSean Jackson to Tampa Bay Buccaneers Free Agent Signing
Insider Buzz: Deep CB Draft Class Helped Patriots Outbid Teams for Gilmore
Insider Buzz: AP May Return to Vikings as Other Teams Show Little Interest in FA
Insider Buzz: Desean Jackson Will Get Big Payday; Could Set Brandin Cooks Market
Deal Alert: Grading Brandon Marshall to New York Giants Free Agent Signing
Insider Buzz: Hue Jackson 'Loves' Mitch Trubisky; Chance to Be #1 Overall Pick
Top Performers from the 2017 NFL Combine
Rumor Alert: San Francisco 49ers Targeting Free Agent WR Kenny Britt?
Insider Buzz: Dolphins May Pay Big Money for Stills; Parker's Future in Question
Rumor Alert: Bears Will Make 'Major Push' for Free Agent QB Mike Glennon?
NFL Free Agency 2017: Where Will Former Redskins WR DeSean Jackson Land?
Myles Garrett, Top Edge Rushers Absolutely Owned the 2017 NFL Combine
NFL Free Agency 2017: Why Teams Should Be Targeting WR Terrelle Pryor
Insider Buzz: 49ers Targeting Mike Glennon If Cousins Deal Doesn't Develop
NFL Free Agency 2017: Why Teams Should Be Targeting RB LeGarrette Blount
Insider Buzz: Romo to Denver 'Gaining Momentum', Lack of Other Options
NFL Free Agency 2017: Where Will Former Chicago Bears WR Alshon Jeffery Land?
The Explosive, West Coast Kid: Meet the Ultimate Deep Threat John Ross
NFL Free Agency 2017: Where Will Former Vikings RB Adrian Peterson Land?
Insider Buzz: Glennon Offered Top Backup QB Money by Bucs, CHI & NYJ Interested
Insider Buzz: Raiders Will Wait to See Murray's Market Before Targeting Peterson
Insider Buzz: JPP Not Expected to Agree to Long-Term Deal, NYG Could Draft DE
Rumor Alert: Titans Most Likely to Trade for Saints WR Brandin Cooks?
Rumor Alert: Philadelphia Eagles Will Evaluate Signing RB Jamaal Charles?
NFL Free Agency 2017: Where Will Tony Romo Land If Cut by Dallas Cowboys?
Matt Miller's Rapid-Fire Predictions for 2017 NFL Combine
Insider Buzz: Kirk Cousins Open to Being Traded to Cleveland Browns
Insider Buzz: Adrian Peterson, Vikings to Determine Future at NFL Combine
Meet the Biggest Sleeper DB Ready to Tear Up the NFL Combine
Insider Buzz: Cutler Won't Accept Any Trade by Bears, Could Threaten to Retire
Insider Buzz: NFL Won't Rush to Interfere in Revis, Jets Contract Situation
Top Landing Spots for Tony Romo If Released or Traded by Dallas Cowboys
Top Landing Spots for Former New York Giants WR Victor Cruz
Insider Buzz: Redskins Interested in Tony Romo; Could Trade Kirk Cousins
Meet the Explosive Playmaker That Is Set to Destroy the NFL Combine
Insider Buzz: Jets Can Get Out of Revis Contract Due to Incident in Pittsburgh
Insider Buzz: Jets Can Get Out of Revis Contract Due to Incident in Pittsburgh
Insider Buzz: QB Mitch Trubisky Is a 'Lock for the Top 5' in 2017 NFL Draft
Insider Buzz: Salary Cap Increase Could Lead to Uptick in Franchise Tag Use
Tim Tebow Gave 75,000 Kids with Special Needs a Night They'll Never Forget
Insider Buzz: Tony Romo Could Retire from NFL to Pursue TV Career
Insider Buzz: Aldon Smith Reinstatement in Jeopardy with Latest Controversy
Insider Buzz: 49ers Open to Keeping Kaepernick but Not at Current Salary
Top Options for Denver Broncos' Draft Pick
History Will Never Forget New England Patriots 5th Championship in Super Bowl LI
Simms: Blame Falcons' Conservative D, Not Aggressive Offense, for SB LI Collapse
A7FL No-Pads, Full-Contact Football League Claims It's Safer Than the NFL
Gridiron Heights: Patriots Win Super Bowl LI
NFL Comeback Player of the Year Jordy Nelson
Top 5 NFL Interception Leaders of 2016
Insider Buzz: Rams Could Let Trumaine Johnson Walk in Free Agency
Insider Buzz: NFL Being Urged to Decrease TNF Games; Goodell Not Budging
Insider Buzz: Las Vegas Deal Dead, but Raiders Haven't Contacted City of Oakland
Insider Buzz: Belichick Could Pull Out Old Trick to Slow Down Julio Jones in SB
Tale of the Tape: Do Patriots or Falcons Have Advantage in Super Bowl LI?
NFL Award Predictions: Who Will Take Home Hardware at 'Honors' Ceremony?
Why Dion Lewis Will Be Patriots Good Luck Charm in Super Bowl LI
Which Group of Road Graders Will Win Offensive Line of the Year at NFL Honors?
Deflategate to Lady Gaga: Prop Bets That Will Keep You Hooked on Super Bowl LI
Insider Buzz: Patriots Will Move Fast on Garoppolo Trade This Offseason
Insider Buzz: Romo Wants to Face Cowboys in 2017 Season
Can Super Bowl LI Patriots Cement Legacy as Top Team of New England Dynasty Era?
Fake Brady Makes Appearance at Super Bowl 51 Media Day
Insider Buzz: John Elway, Rich McKay Endorsed John Lynch for 49ers GM Job
Insider Buzz: Raiders to Vegas Hits a Snag, Lease Proposal Seen as 'Insulting'
Why One of College Football's Worst Teams Will Be a Winner in Super Bowl LI
Atlanta Falcons X-Factors to Disrupt Patriots Offense in Super Bowl LI
Insider Buzz: 'Unconventional' John Lynch Hire Won't Impact Shanahan to 49ers
Insider Buzz: Teams Take 'Precautions' Before Facing Patriots, Shred Game Plans
NCAA Lacrosse to Super Bowl LI: Patriots WR Chris Hogan's Rise to the Top
Wentz was certainly having fun Thursday, firing touchdowns while his parents and sister huddled in the bleachers under North Dakota State blankets.
He knew what he had to prove when he spoke to reporters at the start of the week.
"Obviously, the biggest question is going to be: Can he play at this speed? Can he play against this talent in the secondary? I think I'm going to prove that. At the end of the week, everybody's going to no longer question that."
Wentz can develop into a very good NFL starter. But a top-five pick? Let's not burn out on draft hype just yet. Wentz took a big step this week. He has three months to climb the rest of the staircase.
These notes come not just from Thursday's practice but a week of observations.
Braxton Miller (6'1 3/8", 204 lbs, Ohio State) was having another phenomenal practice when disaster nearly struck Thursday morning. Miller crumpled to the ground untouched while running a crossing route and limped to the sideline.
Miller did not receive treatment and spent the rest of practice stretching and walking on the fringe. Assuming the injury is not serious, Miller has proven all he needs to prove this week and looks like a first-round pick.
Cornerback Maurice Canady (6'1 1/8", 191 lbs, Virginia) has been the best defensive back on the field all week in Mobile. He is physical at the line, turns and transitions well, and tracks the ball on deep routes. He has lined up at both cornerback and deep safety during drills, but he looks like an NFL cornerback.
Canady has the length Seahawks wannabes covet, of course. That said, he took a step back in Thursday's practices. Miller schooled him a few times, and Canady struggled in red-zone passing drills, often committing pass interference in the corner of the end zone instead of turning to play the ball.
There has been some buzz down here about cornerback Tavon Young (5'9 3/8", 180 lbs, Temple). I am naturally inclined to like a scrappy Philly guy (he's originally from Maryland, but four years at Temple makes you a Philly guy), and Young uses his hands and quickness to harass bigger receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Several receivers have separated from him after cuts on deep routes, however, and Young is very late to turn and play the ball. He may be strictly a slot-nickel cornerback in the NFL.
Glenn Gronkowski (6'2 1/4", 238 lbs, Kansas State) was bound to get an inordinate amount of media attention down here due to his highly clickable last name. He has justified at least some of the buzz.
Gronkowski caught a deep pass on a wheel route in 11-on-11 drills early in the week and has hauled in several shorter passes. He holds his own in pass-protection drills. He's not Rob Gronkowski, but he is better than his K-State tape would suggest. (Glenn was used mostly as a situational lead-blocking fullback in college). He will merit a late-round pick as an H-back.
Running back Kenneth Dixon (5'10", 215 lbs, Louisiana Tech) is really good. We knew that before Senior Bowl practices, and we still know it.
He's at his best in one-on-one pass-coverage drills against linebackers. No one here can come close to covering him without clutching a big wad of his North jersey.
Dixon is the perfect Patriots-style running back: He can run any route in the passing game, blocks fairly well and has the quickness to break big plays on draws and delays.
Running back Kenyan Drake (6'0 1/2", 210 lbs, Alabama) looks bigger than his measurements. He has had a tremendous week catching the ball out of the backfield and has a fine burst. I have seen and heard Charles Sims comparisons, and the shoe fits.
Drake is a guy who can take a swing pass at the NFL level and turn it into a size/speed dilemma for defenders on the edge.
Readers on Twitter wanted to know about the Penn State players here in Mobile. Carl Nassib (6'6 3/4", 273 lbs) generally gets second-round grades and has done nothing to hurt himself here. Nassib looks athletic and heavy-handed. He hustles and brings energy to drills. He has not crushed blockers in one-on-one matchups, however.
Austin Johnson (6'4 3/4", 323 lbs) also gets second- or third-round grades from those in the know, and I have liked him in drills. Johnson moves well for a man his size and has won a few leverage battles.
One more running back to watch: Tyler Ervin of San Jose State. Ervin is tiny at 5'9 7/8" and 192 pounds, but he displayed excellent receiving skills (on deep sideline routes as well as short stuff) and sudden cutback ability.
Ervin and linebacker Jared Norris (6'1 1/8", 239 lbs, Utah) dueled in an impressive pass-protection competition with the whole North squad looking on. Norris knifed past Ervin once, but Ervin also walloped the larger defender and held his ground, showing that he has the potential to hold his own as a protector if he sticks in the NFL as a third-down back.
Tight end Henry Krieger Coble (6'3", 248 lbs, Iowa) made a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone and has had a strong week as a receiver and blocker.
QBs Down, WRs Up
This was a rough week for quarterbacks not named Wentz.
Every other quarterback here either lacks adequate arm strength or consistent accuracy. Jacoby Brissett of North Carolina State and Dak Prescott of Mississippi State have late-round draft-and-develop attributes, but that's about it. Then again, Kirk Cousins didn't look particularly special here four years ago.
On the other hand, it was a fine week for wide receivers. Sterling Shepard of Oklahoma, who came to Mobile as a Day 2 draft pick at worst, kept improving as the week went on. The word around the huddled, frozen klatches in the stands went, "I don't like comparing every small, tough receiver to Steve Smith, but Shepard looks a lot like Steve Smith."
Charone Peake of Clemson had a great week. Leonte Carroo of Rutgers had a solid Wednesday before suffering a minor injury. The aforementioned Miller had seasoned observers gasping.
Farewell to Mobile
Friday's Senior Bowl practices are walkthroughs with no hitting. Most coaches and general managers are long gone. Even a large percentage of the scouts were departing Thursday afternoon, not in hotel rooms grinding film.
Saturday's game is for the SEC fans who started pulling into the Ladd-Peebles Stadium parking lot Thursday morning. This week was for the NFL, and for you and me.
Mobile's Mardi Gras festivities are also kicking off on Thursday. Streets were being barricaded, and the store I stopped at for iced tea before practice was stocking up on beer.
The NFL is ceding the Mobile stage to something somehow bigger and stranger.
There will be more to chew on in the weeks and months to come. A handful of NFL stories began this week in Mobile's chilly drizzle. Being there at the start of that journey, during those first stretches and dull installation sessions and rote press conferences, is always a privilege. It's one of the strangest, yet most rewarding, parts of this job.
See you next week in Santa Clara. And then again for the gallop to the draft.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.