Carson Wentz to Washington Commands No Fantasy Excitement
On Wednesday, March 9, the Indianapolis Colts agreed to send Carson Wentz to the Washington Commanders for a 2022 third-round pick and next year's third-rounder that can convert to a second-rounder based on incentives, as a well as a swap of 2022 second-round draft picks. While this move solves Washington’s quarterback question mark for 2022, it does little to move the fantasy needle for Wentz or the Commanders’ pass-catchers.
How Wentz Compares to the 2021 Washington Offense
Carson Wentz peaked in his second season, throwing 33 touchdowns and finishing as fantasy football’s QB6. His career snapshot, however, shows us a mediocre quarterback—his 6.9 adjusted yards per pass attempt ranks 28th among qualified passers (min 500 pass attempts) since Wentz entered the league and 17 active quarterbacks average more fantasy points per game in that span.
As for how that translates to the Commanders and their fantasy outlook, it seems as though Washington traded for a player that fits their already uninspiring passing attack rather than acquiring a passer that could boost their expectations.
A System Fit
For most of his career, Wentz has played in relatively conservative offenses—his teams often rank about the middle of the pack in neutral passing rate and usually trend towards a slower pace based on seconds per play in neutral situations.
|Year||Team||Neutral Pass %||Rank|
Pace data courtesy of Football Outsiders
This isn’t far off from what we saw from Washington in 2021 when they threw 55% of the time in neutral situations (21st) and ranked 20th in neutral pace. Based on Wentz’s past, Scott Turner may call passes a bit more with Wentz than he did with Taylor Heinicke but any uptick in passing volume for Washington will likely be marginal at best.
One of the easiest ways for a quarterback—and a passing attack as a whole—to offer fantasy upside despite relatively low volume is by taking deep shots (have fun with Russ, Broncos). This likely won’t be the case in Washington this season, though, as Wentz hasn’t typically pushed the ball downfield much in his career.
While Wentz-led offenses have ranked in the top 10 in deep rate twice, more often than not offensive coordinators haven’t routinely dialed up many deep balls for Wentz. Per SportsInfoSolutions (SiS), only 54.3% of Wentz’s throws of 15+ yards last season were considered on-target passes, 21st among qualified passers.
Given Wentz’s limitations as a deep passer, expect Turner to limit deep balls much like he did last season when Washington ranked 17th in deep-ball rate.
Accuracy and Mobility
After struggling with accuracy issues in his rookie season, Wentz seemingly fixed some of his problems and even ranked in the top 10 in on-target rate (SiS) in 2018. Over the last two seasons, however, his accuracy has fallen off a cliff.
|Year||On-Target Rank||Average Throw Depth (Rank)|
On-target and throw depth data courtesy of SportsInfoSolutions
Cumulative on-target rate can be misleading, as quarterbacks who often throw deep will frequently have a lower overall on-target percentage than those who are conservative. Last season, Wentz ranked in the bottom half of quarterbacks in average throw depth and still finished 32nd in overall on-target percentage. In Heinicke’s 16 games last season, his 36th ranked on-target rate and 7.7-yard average throw depth were almost identical to Wentz.
Where Heinicke sometimes salvaged his fantasy performances was on the ground, rushing 60 times (11th among quarterbacks) for 313 yards (9th). Wentz rushed just three fewer times than Heinicke in 2021 and amassed 215 yards on the ground.
How Wentz Impacts Washington’s Pass-Catchers
With Wentz’s history as a moderate-volume quarterback with underwhelming efficiency, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s had trouble supporting relevant fantasy wide receivers. In his career, Wentz has only had two instances of a wide receiver finishing in the top 24 in half-PPR points per game and he’s never had a receiver finish better than WR21 in half-PPR scoring.
|Player||Year||Tm||G||GS||Tgts||Tgts/G||Rec||Yds||TD||.5 PPR||.5 PPR/G||.5 PPR/G Rank|
|Michael Pittman Jr.||2021||IND||17||17||129||7.6||88||1082||6||194.6||11.4||25|
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This does ignore the fact that in each year in Philadelphia, Wentz had a top-10 fantasy tight end, with Zach Ertz posting three top-five seasons from 2017 to 2019. Tight end is often a relatively shallow position, though, and a talented tight end will often rise up the fantasy ranks in spite of mediocre quarterback play. For that to happen with a wide receiver, it usually takes a generational talent.
While Terry McLaurin is a great technical receiver, we saw last season how limited he can be with a quarterback of Wentz’s ability when McLaurin finished as the WR34 in half-PPR points per game.
Beyond McLaurin, the only other player that figures to be fantasy-relevant in Washington—at least as the roster stands now—is Antonio Gibson, who finished as last season’s RB9 overall and RB19 in half-PPR points per game. If Washington maintains a similar offense with Wentz as expected, Gibson’s status as a fringe RB1 should be safe, even as a pass-catcher. Although Wentz didn’t throw to running backs a ton in Philadelphia (average 22nd in running back target share), he threw to his running backs at the seventh-highest rate last season in Indianapolis.
The Bottom Line
Washington traded for a one-year stop-gap who is almost a mirror image of what they got from Taylor Heinicke last year. They hope that Wentz can turn things around with a change of scenery but with no guaranteed money beyond 2022, the Commanders can easily cut ties if things don’t work out.
In redraft leagues, Wentz is nothing more than a streaming option that shouldn’t be considered in standard 12-team drafts—he is currently 4for4’s QB23. For best ball purposes, Wentz will be a serviceable QB2 or QB3 but he is most valuable on tournament teams that land Terry McLaurin early and are looking to complete a late-round, affordable stack.
The most heavily-impacted player in this trade is McLaurin. Coming off of an uninspiring 2021 campaign, Washington’s top receiver is currently being drafted as the WR17 in pre-draft Underdog leagues. Wentz’s history tells us that it may be tough for McLaurin to live up to that ranking—he’ll need a monstrous target share to sniff high-end WR2/fringe WR1 status with Wentz under center and there is a chance that Washington targets a receiver to complement McLaurin with their 11th pick in this year’s draft. If his ADP holds at WR17 throughout the offseason, McLaurin is a player that I will only be targeting when he falls lower than expected.
Since this trade should barely move the needle on how Scott Turner calls Washington’s offense, fantasy drafters targeting Antonio Gibson at his second-third round asking price should continue to do so with confidence.
As for the Colts, they are left with more downside than upside, at least for 2022. With the quarterback market mostly picked clean, the best scenario for a player such as Michael Pittman may be a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo or Kirk Cousins. Bringing in someone like Jordan Love or drafting a rookie could mean a year in purgatory for the Indy pass-catchers.