Goff and Wentz, Top 2 Picks in 2016, Will Finally Meet on the Field

Just a year and a half ago, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were taken first and second in the N.F.L. draft. But which one has turned out to be Peyton Manning and which one Ryan Leaf?

Maybe they’re both Manning.

Goff, the No. 1 pick, has led the Los Angeles Rams to a surprising 9-3 record so far this season, and the Philadelphia Eagles and Wentz, who was No. 2, are 10-2. The two second-year quarterbacks and their overachieving teams meet Sunday in Los Angeles.

Whatever the result, both teams are overwhelming favorites to make the playoffs, and though the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings may have something to say about it, few will be surprised if the Eagles and the Rams meet again in the N.F.C. championship game.

That would complete a remarkable turnaround. The year before they drafted Goff and Wentz, both teams were 7-9.

In the run-up to the draft, Goff’s passing at California seemed tailor-made for the N.F.L. There was some concern that Wentz had played against lesser competition at North Dakota State, but he, too, was thought to be a top prospect. Of course, the same could once have been said about Tim Couch (Kentucky), the No. 1 overall pick in 1999, and Rick Mirer (Notre Dame), No. 2 in 1993.

Excitement over Goff and Wentz was high enough that the Rams and the Eagles traded significant value to get in position to take them. The Tennessee Titans gave up the No. 1 pick to Los Angeles for a package of draft picks, and the Cleveland Browns did the same with Philadelphia for No. 2. (The Titans drafted the promising quarterback Marcus Mariota the previous year, and the Browns at the time were high on their new acquisition, Robert Griffin III.)

Wentz was the first to sparkle, playing every game as a rookie and popping up among the leaders in several quarterback categories. Goff did not shine; in seven games as a starter after taking over from Case Keenum at midseason, his numbers were among the worst in the league: a 55 percent completion percentage and seven interceptions against only five touchdowns. Worse, the Rams lost all seven games.

This year, though, both players are quite simply two of the top quarterbacks in the game.

In the statistic adjusted yards per attempt, Goff is third among quarterbacks who have played more than two games, with 8.5 — trailing only Tom Brady (9.1) and Alex Smith (8.8), and towering over his rookie figure of 4.3. His touchdown to interception ratio is a healthy 20:6.

Goff’s turnaround — and his team’s — has startled almost everyone. Coach Sean McVay, who at 31 is the youngest coach in the N.F.L., has gotten his share of the credit, as has the former Bills receiver Robert Woods, whom the Rams acquired in March. But whatever the primary cause, Goff has suddenly developed from bumbling novice to effective passer. Last month, fivethirtyeight.com rated his improvement the second greatest ever from a quarterback’s first to second season.

Wentz, after being one of the leaders in adjusted yards per attempt all year, has slipped a little to 8.3 — still fifth among current starters and a significant improvement on last year’s 5.7. He also ranks No. 1 in touchdown passes, and his interception percentage, like Goff’s, is just 1.5.

Advanced stats from Sportradar show that while neither player is especially remarkable on first or second down, both are quite efficient on third down, when completing a pass is vital and defenses are often looking out for one. Goff ranks sixth on third downs, while Wentz is the best in the league, completing 66 percent of 110 passes, with 12 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 125.7

And while both quarterbacks would surely be welcomed by nearly any team’s fan base, there are differences.

Sportradar data shows that Wentz is especially formidable from the shotgun formation, while Goff is more of an under-center quarterback. Goff is the league’s best when throwing to a receiver running a slant route: 12 for 18 with three touchdowns. Wentz’s preferred routes are the curl or buttonhook, and the deep post route (yielding an eye-opening eight touchdowns).

Las Vegas odds have the two upstart teams almost equal: The Rams are favored by 2½ points, the typical home-field advantage. Back in August this seemed unlikely to be a crucial game; now it may determine home field advantage in the playoffs.

The Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since 2008, the Rams not since 2004. Their young quarterbacks have made this a banner year, and offer hope for many more to come.

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