Hope you are having a nice holiday week in a super-hot July, especially you guys in Canada and the U.S.A!
Ya know, I’ve been trying to think of a perfect player comparison to Carson Wentz for almost three years now. The concept has eluded me but I have been digging through old tapes to find the one QB from the past which Wentz most resembles in the way he plays the quarterback position.
Finally I think I found my guy: Bert Jones.
Before Jones retired early in 1982 due to a neck injury, he played a style of football which to me evokes the closest comparison to the Carson Wentz model we see today. Their set-up-and-throw delivery mechanics are eerily similar. Their take-off-and-run-out-of-trouble techniques look identical.
Even the circumstances of their collegiate careers and NFL Draft status are weirdly similar.
For example, neither Jones nor Wentz played very many games in college. While at LSU, Jones only started two games prior to the end of his junior year, but he started every game thereafter, leading LSU to a 12–2–1 record.
Another similarity: both quarterbacks were picked 2nd overall in their respective drafts, and both wound up starting for their respective pro teams that very September due to late preseason trades of the incumbent starting QB.
In the 1973 Draft, Jones was chosen second overall by the Baltimore Colts to be the Colts’ heir apparent to Johnny Unitas, who was then traded to San Diego. Bert Jones’ debut came on September 16, 1973 in a loss to the Cleveland Browns.
After a year of up-and-down seasoning not unlike Carson Wentz’ rookie year, Jones really got it going. He and his teammates enjoyed three consecutive AFC East division titles (1975–77). The 1976 regular season was Jones’ finest as a professional; he threw for 3,104 yards and a career-high 24 touchdowns, compiling a passer rating of 102.5 (they only played 14 regular season games back then). He was one of only three quarterbacks to achieve a 100+ passer rating during the entire decade of the 1970s, joining Dallas’ Roger Staubach (1971) and Oakland’s Ken Stabler (1976). Jones was honored by the Associated Press as 1976’s NFL Most Valuable Player.
Carson Wentz was putting up similar numbers and getting all kinds of MVP hype in 2017 before he hurt his knee. More importantly, he was leading his team to a lot of W’s, just as Jones had done for the team that drafted him, after paying the dues of a learning-curve rookie season common to both.
Style of play looks similar to me on film, too. Both Wentz and Jones are most often described as “tough competitors”. Both have been known for taking off on foot and not shying away from hard contact. Both have had the reputation of extending plays to the danger point, yet usually escaping the fatal sack and finding a crucial completion downfield. Both have also had the occasions to absorb hard smashing sacks, then (usually) bounce back up to call the next play.
Both also have paid a physical price for their sometimes reckless style of play. Jones missed most of 1978 and 1979 with a shoulder injury, and the Colts fell to last place in the AFC East those two seasons.
The physiques and arm strengths of both Jones and Wentz are quite comparable. So are the athleticism and the “charisma” factors.
Jones was 6-3, 210 coming out of college. To guys like reporter Clark Judge who saw him in training camp in 1973, he was obviously a superior athlete – a guy who could run, who could make all the throws and who knew how to win. Moreover, he was someone who not only made others around him better, but could lift a franchise and carry it.
He did that in 1975, turning a 4-10 doormat and into a 10-4 division champion – the first of three successive AFC East titles. With Jones at quarterback, anything seemed possible. It didn’t matter who was in the lineup. As long as Bert Jones was standing, the Colts had a chance.
Four decades later in Philadelphia, they were saying the same thing about Carson Wentz.
According to Clark Judge, when New England coach Bill Belichick was asked prior to Super Bowl XLII which NFL quarterback was his favorite he started by talking about John Unitas … but then quickly moved on to Bert Jones. Belichick began his pro career in 1975 as a $25-per-week assistant with the Colts and saw the best of what Bert Jones had to offer. And what he saw made an indelible impression.
“As a pure passer,” he said, “I don’t think I’d put anybody ahead of Bert Jones. I know he had a short career and the shoulder injury, but when I was there and he was just starting his career, the success that he had and his ability throw the ball as a pure passer and as an athlete, it would be hard to put anybody ahead of Bert Jones at that point in time.”
“I totally agree with Belichick,” former Colts GM Ernie Acorsi said. “Jones had it all. Athletic, accurate, had a rifle for an arm and not only could run but was fast and powerful. He was smart, too, and could see the field and find the right receiver. He excelled under pressure, was a great leader and could carry a team on his back. Teddy (then coach Ted Marchibroda) did a great job with him in ’75.”
The only things missing from Bert Jones’ resume are longevity and a Ring. Carson Wentz has his Ring and hoping for more. The rest of us continue to pray for his longevity.