One of the most popular traditions when new players are drafted into the NFL is to compare them to existing stars or stars of yesteryear. “Is this the next Barry Sanders? “Is this the next Peyton Manning? Is this the next Michael Vick?”
Carson Wentz, drafted 2nd overall in 2016, displayed a tremendous mix of natural athleticism, arm strength, mobility, and competitiveness at North Dakota State. After bursting onto the scene as a rookie, comparisons began flowing in. Analysts and fans would liken his football mind to Peyton Manning, his size and elusiveness to Ben Roethlisberger, and his ability to scramble and his athleticism to someone like Aaron Rodgers.
Wentz, who turns 27 in December and now in his fourth season, finds himself in a unique position. He’s displayed the incredible talent we’ve all seen since Day 1, he’s played at an MVP caliber level and showed he can be one of the single greatest players in the game, yet also fought back from multiple injuries and watched his team win a Super Bowl following the 11-2 start that he orchestrated. The “shadow” of Nick Foles will loom over Wentz until Wentz wins a Super Bowl or at least leads a deep playoff run of his own. Detractors will continue to say that the largely talented, bright young quarterback will never escape the shadow of another legendary figure.
Aaron Rodgers, who sat 3 seasons behind Brett Favre and didn’t become the full-time starter until he was 25, also stepped into the shadow of a legend. Unlike Wentz, Rodgers inexplicably fell in the draft to Green Bay in 2005, and likely cost multiple head coaches their jobs for passing on him. In his first two seasons as a starter (2008-2009), Rodgers displayed that talent – the quick release, the escapability, the fierce competiveness - on his way to 58 touchdown passes in those two seasons.
Going into the 2010 playoffs, Rodgers had just turned 27. Despite his obvious talent and already tremendous statistics, the knock on him was his lack of postseason success.
“He can’t win when it counts. He’ll never do what Favre did.”
It was the only thing any detractors could really cling to. Think Carson Wentz can relate at all to that?
Rodgers went on the road beat the Eagles in the Wild Card round that year, then again in Atlanta, then took down the Bears at Soldier Field, before defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in a shootout in Super Bowl 45. All of a sudden, there was no more doubting that Rodgers could rise when it counted and his ability to win big games could match the talent he displayed. Rodgers would go on to win the NFL MVP the next season, and again in 2014, and is a lock to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday on the first ballot.
Wentz now goes forward into his age-27 season with the same kind of universal praise for his talent, while facing the same criticisms from detractors.
“He’ll never win in the playoffs. He hasn’t played in a playoff game yet. He’ll never do what Foles did.”
It remains to be seen if Wentz can follow the Rodgers trajectory and silence the doubt in a snap of the finger with one great postseason run. For now, we get to watch these two great quarterbacks go at it on a primetime stage. One quarterback who escaped a legendary shadow vs. another trying to do the same. These two similar talents, these two quarterbacks often compared to one another, in a head-to-head matchup with each player at the top of their game, even at Rodgers’ age of 36. Rodgers’ Packers are 3-0 and looking to stay unbeaten, while Wentz’s Eagles will need a gut-check win on the road to avoid falling to 1-3.
Eagles/Packers and Wentz/Rodgers should be fun.