Wentz vs. Goff: The highs, lows and future of the NFL's top young QB rivalry

Picking between Goff and Wentz (1:21)

Tim Hasselbeck and Ryan Clark debate whether they'd rather have Jared Goff or Carson Wentz as their quarterback. (1:21)

There was no doubt that Jared Goff and Carson Wentz would be taken with the top picks in the 2016 NFL draft -- the only question was which quarterback would be selected first.

Initially, the Rams weren’t in position for either quarterback, with the 15th overall pick.

But the Rams needed a franchise quarterback, almost as much as they needed to make a splash in Los Angeles after spending the previous 22 seasons in St. Louis, and made a blockbuster trade to move up into the top overall spot.

The Rams went with Goff, a Northern California native with a laid-back vibe who played three seasons at Cal. Wentz, a rugged playmaker from North Dakota State, went second to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Goff and Wentz will be linked for the remainder of their careers, and the debate continues over which organization got the better QB.

Last season, Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Rams in a 43-35 victory in Week 14. But backup Nick Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots.

Goff and the Rams lost to the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC wild-card matchup.

On Sunday night, the second installment of Goff vs. Wentz will take place when the Rams host the Eagles. The Eagles have endured an uneven season at 6-7, while the 11-2 Rams have clinched a division title for a second consecutive year and are poised to make a deep playoff run.

2016: Wentz faster out of the gate

Goff’s rookie season was disastrous.

Former head coach Jeff Fisher opted for the 21-year-old QB to begin his career on the sideline, as he listed Goff inactive for a season opener against his hometown San Francisco 49ers in the Bay Area.

The Rams started 3-1 despite an anemic offense led by Case Keenum. Then, Fisher’s painful brand of ball began to unravel. After going 1-4 over the next five games, Goff was thrust into the starting role, but the season already had spiraled out of control.

The Rams were the lowest-scoring team in the NFL, and the offense lacked creativity and the staff did not feature a proven quarterbacks coach.

Not an ideal situation for a rookie.

Goff was pulverized in seven winless starts as the Rams finished 4-12. He completed 112 of 205 passes (54.6 percent) for five touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was sacked 26 times behind an offensive line that allowed the second-most sacks that season (49).

If there was a glimmer of hope that season, it was Goff’s performance against the New Orleans Saints. He was 20-of-32 for 214 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception. Though the 49-21 score showed a lopsided defeat, his game tape would prove to be a valuable selling point for a quarterback-minded coach who would eventually take over.

With three games remaining in the season, Fisher was fired and pundits outside the Rams’ headquarters began to shout that Goff was a bust. He had averaged just 5.3 yards per throw, had the lowest total QBR among QBs with at least 200 passing attempts, and the Rams were outscored in his seven games 221-85.

But what the pundits didn’t know was Goff had been through a similar drubbing before -- his freshman season at Cal, when the Bears finished his freshman season 1-11, before going on to improve his sophomore (5-7) and junior (8-5) years.

When asked after a final loss if there was a bright spot to the season, Goff responded, "I'm not sure there is much. Maybe that we have a change coming that is going to be positive and bring a lot of positive energy."

Similar to his college career, Goff remained calm despite his performance following his rookie season, and he also met his new head coach, Sean McVay.

Wentz was supposed to get the equivalent of a redshirt year, but when Sam Bradford was traded to the Minnesota Vikings eight days before the start of the season, it became Wentz’s team. Despite having little time to prepare, he won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for September after posting five touchdowns with no interceptions and a 103.8 passer rating, while the Eagles rocketed to a 3-0 start. The city let out a collective sigh of relief, realizing the No. 2 overall pick was the real deal.

He established rookie franchise marks for completions (379), attempts (607), passing yards (3,782), completion percentage (62.4) and passing touchdowns (16). Talk about being thrown into the fire: Wentz’s 607 pass attempts were the most in team history in a single season.

His 134 passes without throwing an interception at the start of the year was the third-longest streak to open a career, behind only Dak Prescott (176) and Tom Brady (162). When the Eagles drafted him, the higher-ups lauded not just Wentz’s athleticism but his football acumen as well. That was all on display almost immediately.

The Eagles finished 7-9 in Doug Pederson’s first year at the helm, but the play of the young quarterback had the organization feeling bullish about its future. Given Goff’s struggles out of the gate, it seemed like the Eagles lucked out by having Wentz drop to them at No. 2.

2017: Goff’s breakout year; Wentz’s bittersweet championship

One season with the 31-year-old McVay, who was hired in part because of his ability to developing quarterbacks (most notably Kirk Cousins with the Washington Redskins) and Goff went from bust to promising, up-and-coming superstar.

“When you have a guy that you feel like can do the things that you’re asking him to do, you got a chance to compete week in and week out,” said McVay at his introductory news conference. “Sitting down with Jared, you can feel his passion and the drive that he has to come back and respond in Year 2 and be better.”

McVay’s offense took the Rams from the lowest-scoring team in the NFL to the highest, averaging 29.9 points per game -- and Goff proved to be a QB with a worthy arm and growing understanding of how to play in McVay’s scheme.

He led the Rams to a signature come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3, then helped them win three straight on the East Coast and in London. He effectively altered the narrative to his young career, and it became increasingly apparent that the McVay-Goff pairing was bound for success.

In an offense that featured NFL Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley II, Goff completed 296 of 477 (62.1 percent) passes for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns, with seven interceptions in 15 games. The Rams finished the regular season 11-5, as Goff helped the team clinch its first NFC West title since 2003.

The season ended with the Rams' first playoff appearance since 2004, which resulted in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC wild-card matchup.

Goff was selected to the Pro Bowl as a first alternate, an end to a bounce-back season few could have predicted.

“I think it’s just the beginning," Goff said at the time.

Shortly after the Eagles secured their first Super Bowl in franchise history, Wentz sat down at his locker stall and, overcome with emotion, bowed his head down toward his knees while “We Are the Champions” played over the loudspeakers. After a word from fellow QB Nate Sudfeld, Wentz rose up, wiped his face and continued to celebrate with his teammates.

This was not how he envisioned it: watching from the sideline as backup Nick Foles took the Eagles across the finish line. But a torn ACL/LCL suffered Week 14 against Goff’s Rams prevented him from finishing the year and set up an improbable underdog charge by Foles & Co.

Wentz put ego aside and moved into the background, allowing Foles to take the reins. He worked closely with Foles behind the scenes while providing him the space he needed in the public forum.

While he was unable to play during the playoffs, Wentz deserves as much credit as anybody for setting the Eagles up for postseason success. He led the team to an 11-2 record in the games he started to help secure the top seed in the NFC and finished second in the NFL with 33 touchdown passes despite missing the last three-plus games. Prior to his injury, he was the odds-on favorite to win MVP.

Wentz was lethal in the red zone -- tossing 23 touchdowns with zero interceptions and no sacks -- and was the best QB in the league on third down. His ability to escape pressure and create on the fly led to one highlight-reel play after the next.

His style danced on the line between aggressive and reckless. Wentz sacrificed his body on a number of occasions in the name of making a play. It caught up to him in Los Angeles, where a goal-line scramble resulted in a season-ending injury.

2018: Where are they now/what’s next?

Goff, now 24, has proven to be an ascendant star -- and an MVP candidate -- in his third season.

“You mature, you learn a lot,” Goff said before the opener, when asked how he’d grown since his rookie year. “You learn a lot about yourself, a lot about the NFL and how to prepare, how to go about your daily business, how you get ready for a game.”

This year, Goff has demonstrated a knowledge and command of McVay’s offense that he lacked in 2017, and has developed total trust in his receivers.

Goff has also never dwelled on that disastrous rookie year.

“As time goes on, you become more comfortable in your role, and I think that's no different with this one,” Goff said. “Just being able to be the leader I want to be, the teammate I want to be, the person I want to be and just continue to mature and grow and be the best I can be every day.”

He has also proven to be the yin to McVay’s yang. Goff is cool and collected, McVay, admittedly is a bit excitable.

This season’s biggest moment came in a Week 4 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, when Goff completed 26 of 33 passes for 465 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions. He posted a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3, just one of 49 perfect QB ratings in the NFL since 1950.

He also led a come-from-behind win against the Green Bay Packers and went toe-to-toe with MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes, before finally outdueling the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback in a Monday Night Football showdown to lift the Rams to a 54-51 win.

“In all three phases you've seen significant improvements,” McVay said of Goff’s growth. “The decisions and the timing are a result of him recognizing things. Then, I think the accuracy is a result of just a physically talented player, and then the work that he's put in, in the offseason and then during the course of the year as well.”

In less than three seasons, Goff has gone from bust to a quarterback expected to lead an all-star cast to the Super Bowl.

And because of that, Goff should be due a massive, if not record-breaking, contract for his role in helping the organization to a dramatic turnaround the last two seasons. After the Rams awarded Todd Gurley a four-year, $60 million extension going into his fourth season, it would not be surprising to see a similar situation this offseason for Goff.

Wentz’s comeback has not gone as planned. The Eagles are 6-7 and have an 8.9 percent chance to make the playoffs. Goff and the Rams have the ability to deliver the knockout blow this week.

There was plenty of talk about a repeat heading into this year. Part of the thinking was that an ultramotivated Wentz would be an elixir to any Super Bowl hangover. But that has not proved to be the case. The hangover, turns out, was a doozy. And Wentz, who did not make it back onto the field until Week 3, has spent the season working to get back into form. He’s not all the way back yet. There are moments when he looks like his old MVP-caliber self, but he has also had stretches when the rust is evident. One of those funks came in the biggest game of the year against Dallas last week. Wentz was unable to get much going for most of the game before busting out for three touchdowns down the stretch in what proved to be a 29-23 overtime loss.

Wentz’s accuracy (69.6 completion rate) is up over nine points from last year, but his overall production is down. The offense has regressed, scoring about a touchdown less on average compared to last year.

What’s missing most is that Wentz magic -- the big, improbable plays that generated the feeling that all things are possible with No. 11 under center.

Understandably, Wentz has not been as high-flying in his first season back from major injury. Pederson noted that his QB did not have a full offseason to work with his guys like he had the year prior. There simply hasn’t been enough time -- both with his teammates and since the injury -- for Wentz to find that gear.

This season, with the Rams racing to the playoffs, will go to Goff, but Wentz will be heard from again before long.