ASHBURN, Va. -- Before training camps began, we had a question to answer for our NFC East roundtable: Which quarterback in the division would you want for the next three years? The consensus among the three of us who don't cover the Eagles: Redskins QB Kirk Cousins. I think that had to surprise my Philadelphia counterpart, Tim McManus. My guess: Things have changed -- and it's not because of how Cousins has played. That leads me to the mailbag.
Would you take Wentz or Cousins? #jkmailbag
— hoya8185 (@Hoya8185) October 20, 2017
John Keim: I understand why the question is phrased this way, but really, it could also be asked this way: Which quarterbacks in the NFL would you rather have ahead of Carson Wentz? There aren’t many.
The question will get an on-field answer when Cousins and Wentz square off as the Redskins face the Eagles in Philadelphia on Monday night.
This past summer, it was hard to know how much Wentz’s game had grown, or would grow. But it’s easy to see now. He’d be at the top of that NFC East list for me now (I’m still a fan of Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, but Wentz, to me, rates an edge). When I answered the question this summer, Prescott was second on my list. Close call.
I like Cousins; he’s a good quarterback. He’s not irreplaceable, but he is good and I trust what those who have worked with him for a long time think of his ability. They were high on him before he excelled. However, he’s not Wentz -- and that’s not a criticism. The Redskins can go far with Cousins, provided other parts fall right -- as has happened with the Eagles' defense.
Wentz is headed to a different level, if he continues to progress at the rate he’s on in his first two seasons. And yes, even if you like Cousins, it would be hard to say you wouldn’t want Wentz. He was the second pick in the draft for a reason -- and he’s proving the Eagles right for taking him that high.
One NFL writer I respect, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit, had Cousins No. 12 on his list of top-20 quarterbacks for the rest of the season. Cousins was third among division quarterbacks. Benoit had Wentz at No. 6; and Eli Manning at ninth (too high for me). Here’s what he wrote about Wentz:
“We thought before the season that Eagles head coach Doug Pederson might expand the offense to better capitalize on Wentz’s late-in-the-down playmaking prowess. He has, and Wentz has responded. You can’t teach a quarterback to keep his eyes downfield under duress the way Wentz does, and you certainly can’t teach him to make Wentz’s strong-armed throws, which can come off design or improvisation.”
And that last part is why you’d be silly to not take Wentz. Cousins has a lot of skills, but what separates Wentz from others is the ability to go off schedule. Cousins has run more, but when he does, he usually makes plays with his legs rather than his arm. Wentz has hurt teams with his arm in these situations, keeping plays alive only to sting them downfield. Just look at the season opener, in which he spun off one tackle attempt, stepped up, moved back to his left and then hit Nelson Agholor for a 58-yard touchdown.
There are areas Wentz must clean up; he’s not great under duress when contained in the pocket -- he completes just 38.6 percent of such passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But the man is 6-foot-5, so he can see over the rush -- and doesn’t let it bother him. He’s big, strong and athletic. He doesn't get rattled.
“He’s progressed at a rate as fast as anybody I’ve seen, really,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden told Philadelphia reporters Thursday. “His ability to make plays in the pocket, his ability to stay in the pocket in the face of a rush and still deliver balls accurately, his command of the offense. I think he’s already proven this short in his career that he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the league, quite frankly, and he’s going to be for a long time. And I don’t know how he got to Philadelphia. And I’m very upset about that.”
We don’t know how much longer Cousins will be in Washington (if the Redskins don’t franchise-tag him, this is likely his last year). We do know Wentz will be in Philadelphia a long time. That’s going to be very good for the Eagles.