Where does Carson Wentz rank on the Mount Rushmore of great Eagles quarterbacks? While answering that question in full may be a bit premature, considering Wentz’s young age and limited experience, it’s a topic making the rounds at barber shops and dive bars all over Philadelphia.
Wentz has been admittedly hampered by injuries during his first three years in the NFL, a fact not lost on opposing fans and rival sports talkers. Even so, the new face of the franchise has staggeringly impressive numbers in his first 40 games, with a better-than-average 23-17 career record. It’s a small sample size, but it does provide a working barometer for comparing Wentz to his peers. For argument’s sake, let’s see how the 26-year-old compares to the three other greatest signal-callers in Eagles history: Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb and Nick Foles.
First, a few notes on how we accumulated the stats. The numbers were pulled from game logs from NFL.com and include each player’s first 40 starts under center. For example, Cunningham was often inserted on third downs during his rookie year, but he didn’t get his first start until November 9, 1986. It also negates mop-up duty by McNabb in 1999 and Foles in 2012. This is apples-to-apples and pigskin-to-pigskin analysis, taking into account each quarterback’s first 40 traceable starts.
Wentz made his NFL debut on a sunny day at Lincoln Financial Field on September 11, 2016 against the Cleveland Browns. The Eagles cruised to a 29-10 victory behind Wentz’s 278 yards and two touchdowns. He went 22-of-37 (59.5%) and the only real scar was two fumbles, but the Eagles recovered them both.
Since then, Wentz has put up extremely gaudy numbers and was on his way to NFL MVP honors in 2017 before a season-ending knee injury turned a lesser-known backup quarterback into a household name. Wentz has yet to play in a postseason game, but the stats from his first three seasons — his 2-3 career record against the Cowboys notwithstanding — are borderline ridiculous.
Win-Loss Record: 23-17 (57.5%)
Passing Yards: 10,152
Rushing Yards: 542
Completions-Attempts: 923-of-1,448 (63.7%)
Passer Rating: 92.5
Stat of Note: Since 2017, Wentz ranks third in the NFL in passing touchdowns per game (2.4) and fifth in passer rating (102.0) and he’s just the third quarterback in NFL history to register a 100-plus passer rating in two of his first three seasons. Wentz already ranks sixth all-time on the franchise’s list of passing leaders.
McNabb, the No. 2 pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, backed up Wentz’s current head coach Doug Pederson for the first nine games of his career. His first start came on November 14, 1999 in a 35-28 win over the Washington Redskins. McNabb was 8-of-21 for 60 yards while rushing for another 49 yards. He had made his NFL debut (not as a starter) the previous week against Carolina.
The coaching staff saw enough out of the rookie quarterback in the Washington game and he went on to lead the best era in Eagles history, including four straight NFC Championship Games (2001-2004) and one ill-fated Super Bowl. The stats below stop after McNabb’s 2001 regular season because he qualified for 40 starts. However, they do include two playoff games from 2000.
Win-Loss Record: 25-15 (62.5%)
Passing Yards: 7,722
Rushing Yards: 1,391
Completions-Attempts: 743-of-1,301 (57.1%)
Passer Rating: 78.4
Stat of Note: McNabb holds every Philadelphia Eagles passing record, including most yards (32,873), most touchdowns (216) and quarterback win-loss record (92-49-1). Perhaps the most amazing feat No. 5 ever accomplished was in 2002 when he threw for 255 yards and four touchdowns on a broken ankle.
Cunningham was the 37th overall pick in the 1985 NFL draft, but was forced to sit behind incumbent starter Ron Jaworski for the majority of his rookie year. After a bizarre experiment where Cunningham would come in on third-and-long situations, head coach Buddy Ryan finally made him the full-time starter on November 9, 1986. Cunningham went 10-of-21 for 152 passing yards (42 rushing yards) in a 17-14 loss to the New York Giants. (Note: Cunningham did start a game in 1985, but those numbers aren’t included because he went back to the bench).
“When they would say he was ‘The Ultimate Weapon,’ he was truly the ultimate weapon,” former Giants linebacker Carl Banks told ESPN’s Jason Reid. “I don’t think there was ever a quarterback who was harder to prepare for, or gave defensive players individually more problems or more concerns before the game even started.”
Win-Loss Record: 22-17-1 (55%)
Passing Yards: 9,277
Rushing Yards: 1,681
Completions-Attempts: 741-of-1,363 (54.3%)
Passer Rating: 62.7
Stat of Note: Cunningham’s 1990 season (not factored in the above stats) has been called the greatest single season for any NFL quarterback. The fleet-footed Eagle threw for 3,466 passing yards, ran for another 942 yards and finished with 35 total touchdowns. He is also the only quarterback to punt a football 91 yards.
Foles, a third-round pick in 2012 (88th overall), battled with Michael Vick for the starting job most of his rookie season. He got his first career start on November 18, 2012 in a dismal 31-6 loss to the Washington Redskins. Foles went 21-of-46 in the game while throwing for 204 yards with two interceptions. Still, the rookie earned the trust of head coach Andy Reid and won the job. In 2018, Foles would famously lead the Eagles to the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history.
The stats below end after the regular season that year since it put him at 40 games. However, they do include a playoff loss to the Saints in 2013. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is a part of life,” Foles reminded everyone after winning the Super Bowl. “It’s a part of building character and growing. Without failure, who would you be? I wouldn’t be up here if I hadn’t fallen thousands of times and made mistakes.”
Win-Loss Record: 22-18 (55%)
Passing Yards: 9,161
Rushing Yards: 350
Completions-Attempts: 789-of-1,321 (59.7%)
Passer Rating: 86.3
Stat of Note: Foles threw for seven touchdowns and no interceptions on November 3, 2013 against the Oakland Raiders, making him one of only three quarterbacks in NFL history to accomplish it. He amassed a perfect passer rating (158.3) in the Eagles’ 49-20 win that day. He also earned MVP honors that year in his only Pro Bowl, in a record-breaking season where he led the NFL with a 119.2 passer rating.
The Aftermath: Wentz’s Legacy & Unfinished Business
Still digesting all the stats? It’s a ton to process. Point is, Wentz has been putting up some pretty unbelievable numbers during his short time in the league. He has more passing yards and more touchdown tosses in his first 40 starts than any of his Eagles peers, including McNabb. Wentz’s 92.5 passer rating also blows everyone out of the water. Well, almost everyone. Foles boasts a not-too-shabby 86.3 passer rating.
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