Why Carson Wentz could be the best QB in the AFC South

Is Colts Carson Wentz the top QB in AFC South?

By: Trenton Roberts (Twitter: @TRobertsNFL)

Until recent years, the AFC South had been the laughingstock of the league. From 2011 to 2017, teams in the division accounted for a whopping 12 bottom-six finishes in the NFL. However, their fortunes began to change with a surprising run by the Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC Championship game in 2017, and since then, the division has put two teams into the playoffs each season.

Currently, each team in the division is heading in a positive direction and have been building up youth for future success. After the 2021 offseason, every team is set (for the moment, more on this later) at the quarterback position, with Jacksonville drafting generational prospect Trevor Lawrence with the first pick in the draft and the Colts trading for Eagles signal caller Carson Wentz.

However, despite all the talent at the position and the recent numbers for each of the four quarterbacks, it’s Carson Wentz who stands above the rest in the division. Here’s why.

For starters, Deshaun Watson is clearly the most talented quarterback in the division, as he has shown in recent seasons by putting up huge numbers with not-so-great teams. However, the litigations taken against the young star this offseason have left major questions surrounding his availability for 2021 and beyond. This means that, should Watson not play in 2021, the team will have to shift to journeyman quarterback Tyrod Taylor to lead the offense, who, despite some past success with the Buffalo Bills, is a major downgrade.

Moving on to the Titans, Ryan Tannehill has been a fantastic game manager in the teams run-based offense, and pairs with A.J. Brown to form a good punch in the passing game, combining for 1,075 yards and 11 scores in 2020. However, despite good numbers, Tannehill is nothing more than just that: a game manager. This team is clearly Derrick Henry’s to lead, as the bruising back became just the eighth running back ever to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in 2020. Should the team need to rely more on Tannehill, my bet is on their opponent, because though Tannehill is good, he has a ceiling that holds him back.

Finally, we get to the top pick in the draft. In Jacksonville, Trevor Lawrence has some weapons at his disposal along the lines of DJ Chark, Marvin Jones Jr, and Laviska Shenault, and will likely be handed a very long leash just based off of his name alone. Despite never playing an NFL snap, it’s easy to see the Clemson product tearing up the league in the future. However, as a rookie joining a team that just finished with a single win in 2020, he’ll have his work cut out for him, so we can’t expect too much immediately. Sporting a pristine 34-2 collegiate record, though, it shouldn’t take more than a year for Lawrence to acclimate.

And so, we are left with Carson Wentz. On paper, Wentz looks like the worst quarterback in the division, not the best. His 2020 season was arguably the worst in the league, in which he threw a career high 15 interceptions to just 16 touchdowns and was benched halfway through the year in favor of rookie second round pick Jalen Hurts. The questions on whether he can return to his past success with Indy are certainly legitimate, and he has much to prove. However, unlike Watson, he’ll be available. Unlike Tannehill, he has a high ceiling. Unlike Lawrence, he has a good team around him and experience.

With a much better offense waiting for him in Indianapolis, Carson Wentz could and should return to his MVP-level play from the Eagles 2017-18 Super Bowl season and is well situated to come out on top of a crowded quarterback competition in the division.

Why Jonathan Taylor is the most indispensable Colt

Colts Jonathan Taylor is the team’s most vital player

By: Jason Ferris

When the Indianapolis Colts traded away their third round draft pick in 2021, and a conditional second-round pick in 2022, to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for quarterback Carson Wentz, the move was big news around the league. The retirement of previous starting quarterback Phillip Rivers, along with the departure of backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, created an immediate need at the quarterback position. Combine that with the necessary divorce that followed an ugly year in Philadelphia, and Wentz happily packed his bags for Indianapolis. 

The move made total economic sense with the Colts inheriting a very quarterback-friendly contract.  The Colts will pay Wentz $20 million in 2021 while the Eagles will absorb a $33.8 million dollar dead cap hit for Wentz next year, the highest hit in NFL history. The deal nets the Colts an already established NFL quarterback on a team that is built to win now. Wentz, still only 28 years old, may still have some high-level quarterback play in him. But regardless of how much gas is left in Wentz’s tank, the Colts’ 2021 hopes will rest with the legs or running back Jonathan Taylor, not on the arm of the jettisoned quarterback.

Taylor’s rookie season with the Colts was a huge success. The second-round pick out of Wisconsin did not take long to establish himself as the RB1 in Indianapolis and after that, it was off to the races. In 15 games as a rookie, Taylor started 13 games. He carried the ball 232 times for 1169 yards and 11 touchdowns. Only Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans and Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings put up more yards on the ground than Taylor. In fact, Taylor’s yards/touch (5,5) was slightly better than both Henry (5.4) and Cook (5.4).

Delving deeper, Taylor had 268 touches for 1,448 total yards from scrimmage. His 12 touchdowns were good for T-4th in the league. He also led the Colts with 15 broken tackles and 479 yards after the catch. But perhaps the most impressive facet of Taylor’s year was his workload. Because of the Colts’ hesitation to immediately insert Taylor as the bell cow back, his usage early on in the season was sparse. In total, Taylor lined up for 511 (47%)  of the Colts’ offensive snaps while elite counterparts Henry and Cook lined up for 66% and 62% of their teams’ snaps respectively. Despite the large discrepancy in playing time, Taylor was still amongst the league leaders. 

The notion that Taylor is due to see his workload next season increase is not in doubt. As 2020 wore on, head coach Frank Reich began to value Taylor’s contribution more and more. By the last four games of the season, Taylor’s snap counts were 56%, 69%, 58%, and 82%. In the playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, Taylor was on the field for 59% of his teams’ offensive snaps. Offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni began customizing plays for Taylor’s skill set and by season’s end, the Colts ranked 10th in the NFL in rushing attempts and 14th in yards/attempt. Those statistics look to only get better as Taylor’s role continues to increase.

With Phillip Rivers at the helm in 2020, the Colts were an impressive 11-5 and were a questionable officiating call from beating the Bills on the road in a close 27-24 loss. Rivers was ranked 12th in QBR with a 96.7 rating and he completed 68.2% of his passes. In short, his play was solid but not spectacular. That’s the role Wentz will need to play. Let the 10th ranked defense do their job, enjoy the protection from the stellar offensive line, make some timely throughs, and let Jonathan Taylor become the show. Next stop: 2021 NFL Playoffs.

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