The signs were always there for the Eagles' brass, from the Senior Bowl practice fields in Mobile, Ala., to the meeting rooms at the scouting combine in Indianapolis to the dinner table at an upscale restaurant in Fargo, N.D. They thought Carson Wentz could develop into one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.
But this soon? That would have been difficult predict. It's 22 games into Wentz's career, and he's already entering MVP discussions. One Las Vegas sports book listed him as the favorite through six games. Coach Doug Pederson cautioned that the season doesn't end after six games, but the Eagles likely wouldn't disagree that Wentz should be in the conversation with the top quarterbacks this season. Those quarterbacks give their teams a chance each week no matter the opponent — whether it's Monday against the Washington Redskins, in Week 6 when Wentz outplayed past MVP Cam Newton, or in future games against the other players who often enter MVP conversations.
"I think, refreshing with him, particularly this young and so early in his career that really he can really get better, and he can improve each and every game, each season," Pederson said. "And I know that he's probably going to be in those conversations, probably for the rest of his career."
Through six games this season, Wentz has completed 126 of 207 passes for 1,584 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also rushed for 133 yards. Wentz is on pace for 4,224 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. That would set a franchise record for yards and touchdowns.
The term "on pace" can be dangerous — there's still a lot of time left this season, and injuries or regression strike even the best quarterbacks. But the Eagles are more encouraged by Wentz's presence than the statistics. They see how he wants to be coached, the work he's doing behind the scenes to improve, and think that what's been apparent on the field is only the beginning. Others around the league are noticing how rapid the development has occurred and realize not only why the Eagles are 5-1, but why they could be a factor for a long time with Wentz.
"He's progressed at a rate as fast as anybody I've seen, really," Washington coach Jay Gruden said. "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."
It's common for opposing coaches to be complimentary of Wentz, but this wasn't hollow. Each week, opposing coaches have their own versions of compliments about Wentz — about the potential they saw when he was at North Dakota State, about his toughness in the pocket, about his ability to extend plays.
Usually, there are more growing pains with a young quarterback. Wentz experienced his share last year, especially after the first month. So far this season, he has avoided the wide spectrum of performance that often comes with young quarterbacks.
"I never really think about the negative like that," Wentz said about the lack of growing pains. "I always expect to be the best player I can be every single week. I don't really look at all that. I go back every week, no matter if it was statistically my best game or worst game, and [find] where I can be better."
Wentz said there are plays each week that would require a mulligan, and he also thinks there's improvement that can come in the mental side such as getting the team in the right protections and identifying the hot receiver on a given play. He says this even while the Eagles are the best in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage.
Pederson gave credit to the coaching staff, which is a quarterback-centric group. Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich both played and coached the position in the NFL. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, a high school and college quarterback, has been a coordinator in the NFL.
With that kind of staff, it's important that Wentz doesn't hear mixed messages. That's why it must start with Pederson, who learned from Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid that there is only "one voice." So the message comes from Pederson and trickles down to Wentz.
Then there is also time when Pederson meets with Wentz. Every Thursday evening during the season — it was Friday this week because of the Monday night game — Pederson and Wentz meet in the head coach's office. When they met this week, Pederson noticed how Wentz "really doesn't pay attention" to the hoopla surrounding him.
"He has a broader picture of the team concept, and he knows that if the team does well, he's going to do well, and then he can be in that conversation at the end of the season," Pederson said.
Pederson schedules this time so he and Wentz are on the same page, but there also are benefits to the head coach and quarterback learning about each other. They spent 10-15 minutes this week talking football, and the rest of the time sharing deer hunting stories. Pederson shared memories of his time in Green Bay with Brett Favre, who was Wentz's favorite player as a child.
Favre, by the way, won three MVPs. Only 22 games into his career, Wentz is already looking like a player who could put his name into MVP discussions.