Carson Wentz is the hottest name on just about every NFL Draft board and in just about every NFL mock draft right now. The North Dakota State quarterback is going as high as No. 2 in some mock drafts, and the only thing preventing him from going No. 1 in others is the fact that the team that holds that pick, Tennessee, has its own quarterback of the future in Marcus Mariota.
The Dallas Cowboys received an eyeful of Wentz at the Senior Bowl last month, as the coaching staff led Wentz’s squad the whole week. (Read our extensive coverage of all of that here.) It’s led many to believe that the Cowboys may take Wentz at No. 4 overall in the NFL Draft in a couple of months. The logic is sound — the Cowboys have an aging starter in Tony Romo and the time appears to be now to start grooming the soon-to-be 36-year-old’s replacement. The Cowboys might not get a better shot at taking a quarterback this early in the draft before Romo’s retirement. (Which Fish suggests might be 25 NFL games from now.)
So it's done then? Hardly. There is no consensus yet. Fish and Bryan Broaddus are among those who've said all along that Paxton Lynch of Memphis might be the top guy. Others love Cal's Jared Goff.
OK, but the idea that Dallas would take one, that's set, right because there's this from the Star-Telegram on what Stephen Jones just said this at the Scouting Combine:
As of now, Jones said a franchise quarterback trumps all.
"I mean you have to look at it," Jones said. "You’re not naive to it but if you have the opportunity in this league, in our situation, to get a potential franchise quarterback, then you have to make the investment. You have to have the patience. You sacrifice maybe that opportunity that maybe is impactful right now."
So the Cowboys are going to take a "franchise QB''? Um, no. Not if one isn't available. Jones never said there IS one. Just that you'd consider it IF there is one. (Oh, and even at 4, how do you necessarily get up to get him?)
But maybe there is. And for the sake of this historical argument, maybe it's Carson Wentz.
Many want to parallel Romo and Wentz, because both played in FCS. But that’s the only thing this pair have in common. Romo set a myriad of passing records at Eastern Illinois — most of which are now owned by New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo — but that wasn’t enough to get any of the NFL’s 32 teams interested in drafting him. He ended up as an undrafted free agent with the Cowboys, of course.
Wentz is traveling a completely different path. His numbers aren’t as gaudy as Romo’s, but Wentz went 20-3 as a starter and has five FCS national championship rings. If Wentz continues to track like this he’ll become just the eighth non-FBS quarterback to be taken in the first round since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
This is rare air for a quarterback at Wentz’s level. It’s not that NFL general managers don’t pay attention to quarterbacks at Wentz’s level. It’s that they rarely spend that precious first-round pick on one.
For instance, we examined the last quarter-century of quarterbacks selected in the NFL Draft and found that quarterbacks outside of FBS were taken on an average of more than one per year. Only two of them were taken in the first round. The rest were taken in the second round or later.
Those quarterbacks taken outside the first round are a murderer’s row of … forgettable talent. Get a load of some of these names:
Jeff Bridewell, out of UC-Davis, taken in the 11th round by Phoenix (now Arizona) in 1991;
Mike Cawley, out of James Madison, taken in the sixth round by Indianapolis in 1996 (two years before Peyton Manning);
Andy Hall, out of Delaware, taken in the sixth round by Philadelphia in 2004;
And Rhett Bomar, out of Sam Houston State, taken in the fifth round by the New York Giants in 2009.
It’s not that non-FBS quarterbacks taken after the first round in the past 25 years are devoid of success. Josh McCown (Sam Houston State), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Harvard) and Tyler Thigpen (Coastal Carolina) have carved out varying degrees of acclaim. But consistent success for non-FBS quarterbacks in the NFL has proven more elusive than consistent success for FBS quarterbacks in the NFL. That’s why a guy like Matt Cassel — who never started a single game at USC — can still get drafted. GMs are far more willing to gamble on quarterbacks from a name program with a track record than take a chance on a player from a lower division, especially at the game’s most important position.
So if scouts and GMs consider Wentz to be worthy of a first-round pick, that’s a vital part of the equation for teams that might take him there. Because while there haven’t been many non-FBS quarterbacks taken in the first round, the ones that have been deemed special enough to be worth a first-round pick have all paid off, as you can see below.
Terry Bradshaw (No. 1 overall, 1970, Louisiana Tech): At the time La. Tech was a Division II school. Bradshaw was so good he went No. 1 overall that year, despite playing at a smaller school. Bradshaw led the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s, won two Super Bowl MVP awards and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dan Pastorini (No. 3 overall, 1971, Santa Clara): Santa Clara no longer plays football, but when the Houston Oilers took Pastorini in 1971 the Broncos were in Division II. Pastorini was taken behind Heisman winner Jim Plunkett and Ole Miss star Archie Manning. Pastorini had a solid NFL career, leading the Oilers to the 1979 AFC Championship game. He was traded to Oakland the next season and his midseason injury allowed Plunkett to ascend to the starting job and lead the Raiders to a victory in Super Bowl XV. After he retired he won several NHRA Top Fuel Drag races.
Doug Williams (No. 17 overall, 1978, Grambling State): The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Williams and he led the Bucs to three playoff berths in four years, including the 1979 NFC Championship game. After a sojourn in the USFL, Williams returned to the NFL, leading the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl title, where he was named MVP.
Phil Simms (No. 7 overall, 1979, Morehead State): The New York Giants snapped up Simms and, after a few turbulent seasons, he led the Giants to their first Super Bowl title (where he was named MVP) and contributed to another before retiring and moving into broadcasting.
Ken O’Brien (No. 24 overall, 1983, UC-Davis): The most surprising member of the “Class of 1983” quarterbacks, O’Brien played for the then-Division II Aggies before the New York Jets took him a few selections ahead of Dan Marino. O’Brien was no Marino, but he was a two-time Pro Bowler and threw for more than 25,000 yards for his career.
Steve McNair (No. 3 overall, 1995, Alcorn State): McNair set the world on fire in 1994 from Lorman, Miss., accounting for more than 6,000 yards and 53 touchdowns his senior season. The Houston Oilers took McNair No. 3 overall and he became the face of the franchise when the Oilers moved to Tennessee and he led the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV. He threw for more than 31,000 yards and was the league’s MVP in 2003, as selected by the Associated Press.
Joe Flacco (No. 18 overall, 2008, Delaware): Flacco enjoyed a similar Senior Bowl rise to Wentz, which led the Baltimore Ravens to select him to solve their quarterback issue. Flacco led the Ravens to a Super Bowl title, with Flacco named MVP.
There is value in the long, sometimes tedious talent evaluation process in the NFL, especially when it comes to the first-round pick. It’s why, for the next few months, Wentz will be prodded, scrutinized and questioned as teams like the Cowboys figure out if Wentz really is worth that early selection -- if he (or whomever) is that "franchise QB'' worth grabbing.
And in the case of this one guy: if the Cowboys take Wentz in the first round, they’re staking their future on Wentz not only being "franchise,'' but also on being as good as the lower-division quarterbacks that have come before him.