By Matt Kelley (@Fantasy_Mansion)
Special to Yahoo Sports
Carson Wentz was trying to put the Philadelphia Eagles in position to win in Week 14 with a courageous dive into chaos in one of the most thrilling football games of the season. That plunge into the choreographed violence snapped his ACL, and with it, the Eagles championship aspirations came and went.
Jeff Hostetler 2.0?
Philadelphia retread Nick Foles will replace Wentz at the helm of an 11-2 juggernaut. Foles succeeded as the Eagles starting quarterback once before and will attempt to channel Hostetler as the Eagles roll on into the playoffs. Hostetler famously stood in for Phil Simms after a broken foot knocked the Giants’ starting quarterback out in December, 1990. Hostetler led the Giants to a Super Bowl XXV victory over the Buffalo Bills that season.
Is this Foles’ Hostetler moment? In a word: No. Like the 1985 Bears before them, and 2000 Ravens after them, the 1990 Giants leveraged a Bill Belichick-coordinated defense and grind-out-the-clock game plan to break the will of their opponents. While the Giants’ competitive advantage was Lawrence Taylor and a smothering defense, the 2017 Eagles’ competitive advantage has been Wentz. Simms and Hostetler acted as football caretakers, the Eagles need a gunslinger.
The Carson Wentz Show
Wentz leaves behind a productivity void that is impossible to replace. No NFL quarterback possesses his combination of size, arm strength, intelligence, and athleticism. To put Wentz’s season in context, he was in the midst of the best season for a second-year quarterback since 2010. Through 14 weeks, Wentz ranked second to Russell Wilson with 281.7 total fantasy points (21.7 points per game). Philadelphia coaches, Eagles fans, and fantasy gamers rostering Eagles players must adjust to a new reality as Wentz’s production dissolves into the horizon.
Wentz ascended in spite of a receiving corps that struggled to separate all season. Eagles receivers averaged 1.06 yards of separation at target, which ranked No. 32 on PlayerProfiler.com. Wentz himself exasperated the Eagles’ league-bottom target separation with a brash willingness to send the ball into tight windows. His 32 Danger Plays was fifth highest among NFL quarterbacks. Aggressive downfield throwing led to 20 interceptable passes, but also propelled Wentz to a league-leading 33 touchdown passes. This is the life of NFL’s signature gunslinger.
Eagles skill position players benefited greatly from Wentz’s aggressive style. His zeal to push the ball downfield was best illustrated by his 4,288 total attempt distance (total yards traveled by the football on pass attempts). Wentz was also top-12 in both red zone pass attempts and deep shots before the injury. He was the opportunity engine powering the high performance fantasy seasons of Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Zach Ertz despite their inability to gain significant separation.
Deep Ball Attempts
Red Zone Attempts
Carson Wentz 2017 Attempts Breakdown
Wide Receiver Impact
How will the loss of Wentz impact the Eagles skill position players? Looking at the recent Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson injury fallouts, perhaps surprisingly, the No. 1 fantasy receivers were largely unaffected.
With Elite QB Play
Without Elite QB Play
When a backup quarterback is thrust into a starting role, the target distribution often narrows. Watson received high praise for his ability to go through read progressions quickly. Recall that Watson sometimes targeted Will Fuller deep on plays originally designed to leverage intermediate routes. With Savage under center, Hopkins target share surged, which offset sharply diminished offensive efficiency. Following this logic, primary receiver Jeffery should thrive under Foles.
On the other hand, secondary receiver production often collapses in the wake of an elite quarterback injury. Multiple forces conspire to strangle opportunities previously afforded to receivers down the receiver depth chart. Less sophisticated quarterbacks go through read progressions more slowly, opting to throw the ball away or scramble when their primary read is covered. Furthermore, as offensive efficiency collapses, teams run fewer pass plays, particularly in the red zone. In a cruel twist, Agholor has been the most touchdown-dependent receiver in the league this season. His 10 red zone receptions rank No. 5 among receivers and No. 1 among wideouts with a snap share at or below 75-percent.
With Elite QB Play
Without Elite QB Play
Jordy Nelson is also top-5 in red zone receptions. Ask Nelson how losing Rodgers impacted his production. Agholor is in trouble.
What About Ertz?
The QB change also hurts Ertz, who will miss Wentz’s ability to push the ball down the seam. Ertz enjoyed a 78-percent catchable target rate, which is particularly high given Ertz’s 8.7-yard average target distance. Wentz’s efficiency when targeting Ertz is best illustrated by his 113.0 passer rating when targeting the tight end. Wentz also trusted Ertz in the red zone, evidenced by his 26.7-percent red zone target share, which ranked No. 5 among tight ends.
Ertz may suffer the Wentz injury most of all. Fortunately, the Eagles have a tight end friendly schedule the rest of the season. Philadelphia opponents allow +3.70 fantasy points per game above the mean to opposing tight ends. But with Foles at the helm, Ertz’s ceiling is now capped regardless of schedule strength.
While Foles is a massive downgrade from Wentz, he may be a league-winning QB streaming option. Once upon a time, way back in 2013, Foles led the NFL in touchdown rate, yards per attempt, and passer rating. Since the Chip Kelly era’s spectacular implosion, Foles has been one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks based on the advanced metrics. In the years since, he averaged 150 yards per game, with nine total touchdowns and nine total interceptions. The real Nick Foles lies somewhere between Philadelphia Foles and St. Louis Foles.
Foles is an underwhelming talent, but the situation sets him up for success in Weeks 15-17. Eagles skill position players catch the football at a high rate and compile yards after that catch, which drives their +6.98 Supporting Cast Efficiency Rating (No. 7) on PlayerProfiler.com. As with Ertz, Foles will enjoy a best-case scenario schedule the remainder of the season. The Eagles play the Raiders, Cowboys, and Giants, including two games at home.
Forecasting the fallout from the Wentz knee injury is complicated. Jeffery will likely exceed expectations with Foles under center. Ertz remains a must-start with throttled upside. Agholor is now radioactive. And in another cruel twist, Wentz fantasy owners must strongly consider streaming Foles to close out the season.