Let's get something out of the way before this conversation even begins: North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz isn't the next Andrew Luck.
Wentz is a legit first-round talent with franchise potential, but he's not a generational talent.
A prospect of Luck's caliber comes around approximately once every 20 years. Before Luck, Peyton Manning served as the prototype. Before Manning, John Elway was known as the perfect prospect.
These comparisons have helped develop an impossible standard for all incoming quarterback prospects.
When the former Stanford quarterback's name is invoked in NFL draft circles, for example, it's usually viewed as a negative: "Well, this quarterback isn't the next Andrew Luck."
NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock turned a lot of heads when he did the opposite and compared Wentz to Luck in a recent media session (via Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot):
When I look at him, I see a kid that's as athletic or more athletic than Andrew Luck. He's bigger than Andrew Luck. He's got arm strength comparable to Andrew Luck. He just doesn't have the experience that Andrew Luck had at a high level that Andrew had coming out of college. So I see a ceiling for this kid similar to Andrew Luck. That's why I believe in this kid so much. But it's going to take a little bit of time.
Mayock hedged his argument by mentioning Wentz's overall lack of experience as a starting quarterback and skewed his comparison toward the pair's similar physical qualifications for the position.
At the 2012 combine, Luck measured 6'4" and weighed 234 pounds. He claimed an arm length of over 32 inches and 10-inch hands.
Wentz measured 6'5" and weighed 233 pounds before last month's Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, according to USA Today's Jon Ledyard. The North Dakota State prospect also has arms which measure over 32 inches and 10-inch hands.
During his time in Mobile, Wentz's draft stock seemed to skyrocket once everyone got a good look at the imposing signal-caller. But this wasn't necessarily the case.
"When it came down to the Senior Bowl, those teams knew about him," Bison quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg said, per the Associated Press' Dave Kolpack. "The national media probably wasn't aware of him. There was (FBS players) Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. They probably didn't know that this guy and FCS North Dakota State had this type of ability."
What everyone finally saw up close is how physically talented Wentz is, which is where he could be on par with or even surpass Luck.
Before then, mystery shrouded the Bismarck, North Dakota, native. Playing at an FCS-level program with only seven starts this past season due to a wrist injury clouded his evaluation.
There were areas in his game he needed to improve, yet he never got the opportunity to truly address them because of his limited time on the field.
Upon closer review, the types of throws he made impressed.
For example, NFL teams often assess certain throws to gauge arm strength and a player's aptitude to complete passes at the next level. One of those throws is the 12- to 15-yard out pattern.
Wentz showed he can rip this particular throw during the FCS National Championship Game against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks in January, courtesy of NFLDraftFever.com's Tyler Vesely:
I'm buying into the Carson Wentz hype. Has a great arm to make all the NFL type throws. Also a great athlete pic.twitter.com/q47giQH195— Tyler Vesely (@nfldraftfever) February 12, 2016
A few things are particularly impressive about this throw.
At the collegiate level, it's an even more difficult pass than in the NFL because the hash marks are wider. Thus, it's a longer throw. Yet Wentz delivered it on a rope.
Second, the Bison quarterback displayed perfect placement on this particular toss. It's right along the sideline, just outside the reach of a defender responsible for underneath coverage.
Third, the signal-caller made this caliber of throw after coming back from wrist surgery. There were built-in excuses as to why he couldn't complete the pass or shouldn't even have been asked to do so. He still did, and did so impressively.
These are the types of throws Wentz is clearly capable of and that project well to the next level.
Also, athleticism is becoming a much bigger part of quarterback evaluation. It isn't simply about being a "running quarterback." Instead, teams are looking for players who can consistently evade the rush and pick up crucial yards once everything breaks down around them.
Wentz's athleticism at his size is one of his strengths.
Luck ran a 4.67-second 40-yard dash during his combine experience and is far more athletic than he's often credited. In his first four NFL seasons, the Stanford product gained 1,101 rushing yards. He's never been a true dual-threat quarterback, but his mobility has never been in question.
North Dakota State's coaching staff made sure to use Wentz's mobility to the team's full advantage.
In his 23 career starts, the quarterback ran the ball 201 times for 936 yards. At times, Wentz became the primary ball-carrier, as seen below courtesy of Draft Cowboys:
Other times, he avoided pressure and made things happen once everything broke down around him, as Politco's Michael Schwab illustrated:
What's important in the second example is that the quarterback kept his eyes downfield and still attempted to get the ball to a receiver. When he could not do so, he created a positive play.
Physically, Wentz has all of the tools, and these traits make him a first-round option and potentially the first quarterback selected in the 2016 NFL draft.
What they don't do is put him on par with Luck when the two entered the league as prospects.
Luck wasn't considered the best prospect over the past 20 years based purely on his physical tools. If that were the case, JaMarcus Russell would have been more highly regarded.
If anything, his mental approach was lauded more than his physical prowess. Luck is generally considered a football savant. He doesn't just play the game at a high level but perceives the game in a different manner, much like Manning did.
When everyone combined his stature, athleticism, production at Stanford and his beautiful mind, it created a perfect storm, as if the quarterback emerged out of Dr. Frankenstein's lab.
The same can't be said of Wentz. Yes, the FCS product has tremendous physical tools and can make all of the throws, but he's further behind the curve in the mental aspects of playing the game's most important position.
Two areas of concern regarding Wentz's game entering this season after his first as the team's full-time starter were his ability to quickly process information to regularly work through his progression and making anticipatory throws.
Both of these areas are crucial at the NFL level. Some would even argue Luck is still lacking in both. But they've already been identified as problems for Wentz coming out of college.
Cian Fahey provided three examples where Wentz struggled to make a throw after being forced off the initial read in his progression:
When he comes off his first read he's regularly throwing into windows like this. Lot of turnover potential in him pic.twitter.com/ObZtOg13aY— QB Book Is Available (@Cianaf) February 22, 2016
This is a top-five QB prospect? pic.twitter.com/AOZXbPtaww— QB Book Is Available (@Cianaf) February 22, 2016
Part of this is due to a lack of experience in his limited starts and passing opportunities.
Of those generally considered the top quarterback prospects in this year's draft class—Wentz, Cal's Jared Goff, Memphis' Paxton Lynch, Michigan State's Connor Cook and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg—none have thrown fewer career pass attempts than Wentz.
North Dakota State built its success around a run-first offense and a physical style of play that grinds down opponents on its way to five straight national championships.
|Christian Hackenberg||Penn State||1,235|
|Connor Cook||Michigan State||1,170|
The previously noted concerns within Wentz's game also aren't a knock against his intelligence. Wentz is a 4.0 student, and NFL coaches will likely love him.
"His character apparently is off the charts," Mayock said. "That's what I was told by everybody surrounding him at the Senior Bowl that had any dealings with him. Smart, tough, loves the game."
He simply needs to digest information faster.
Fair or not, Wentz's competition level will also be questioned.
Luck started three seasons in the Pac-12 Conference. In those three seasons, the quarterback helped put Stanford on the map as one of the best teams in major college football.
The Bison train chugged along to three straight national championships before Wentz even took the reins of the offense, and they weren't winning those championships against the caliber of opponents Stanford faced weekly.
Level of competition shouldn't be a huge factor in Wentz's overall evaluation. He's shown the aptitude to play the position and the traits necessary to excel, but it's another knock compared to Luck.
Hyperbole can be dangerous around draft time, especially when certain comparisons are made.
Too often, people take those comparisons at face value instead of trying to understand how and where they apply. No player comp is perfect; it's a guideline to establish a basis for the talent being discussed.
When a player like Wentz is compared to Luck, many go overboard. There are similar traits in their games and areas where they're vastly different.
It's about understanding the prospect—who he is and what he can be—without setting unrealistic expectations.
What everyone should know about Wentz by now is he's a developmental passer who needs to work on the nuances of playing the position. As such, his growth from draft prospect into NFL starter could be much more difficult than what Luck experienced.
The Stanford product came into the league and broke rookie passing records. He made mistakes along the way, but he also led his Indianapolis Colts to three straight playoff appearances and earned three Pro Bowl berths.
He was as prepared to make the leap between levels as a quarterback could be. Even when others played as well out of the gate—like the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III—their production and success eventually dipped, while Luck continued to grow as a player until injuries ruined his 2015 campaign.
Wentz's deficiencies place him much further behind on the learning curve. But no one can deny his potential. He certainly looks the part and displays the attitude necessary to eventually succeed. A team expecting an instant impact may be asking too much of him, though.
In a few years, the North Dakota State product could be considered a franchise quarterback and Luck's equal as a professional, but he'll never be in Luck's category as a draft prospect.