Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is off to the best three-game start that Pro Football Focus has ever recorded from a rookie QB in 11 seasons of grading players. His 90.5 grade (on a 0-100 scale) is not only better than the three-game starts of each of the star rookies from 2012’s renowned QB class (Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, all of whom led their teams to the playoffs in Year 1, and by season’s end ranked among PFF’s top 15 quarterback grades), but it is the top mark among all QBs so far for the 2016 NFL season.

How has Wentz been able to produce at such a high level in leading the Eagles to a 3-0 start, and can he keep it up after his team’s bye this week. Let’s take a look at five big reasons that explain how Wentz has started the year as the best quarterback in the NFL.

1. He has done a great job of taking care of the football.

Wentz has compiled a 5-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio to start his career, but his ability to avoid mistakes has gone far beyond simply avoiding interceptions. He has the lowest percentage of negative-graded plays among quarterbacks this year, hardly ever putting the ball in harm’s way, and his accuracy has been extremely impressive overall.

He has been on target with his throws at the highest rate in the NFL through three games, with an adjusted completion percentage of 80.4. Wentz had the reputation during the draft process for having arm strength that many NFL passers couldn’t match, which makes it even more remarkable that he has established himself as such an accurate thrower early on, mixing in an ability to move his team downfield while avoiding big mistakes.

2. The Eagles have done a good job of protecting him. (Literally.)

Through three weeks, Philadelphia’s offensive line has produced the league’s fourth-best pass-blocking efficiency by allowing just 19 pressures (two sacks, four hits and 13 hurries). Put another way, Wentz has been under pressure on just 25 percent of his dropbacks this season, which is the fourth-lowest rate in the league.

To be fair, the Eagles have yet to face an elite pass-rushing opponent, and bigger tests are coming later this season in the form of the Vikings, Giants, Seahawks and others, but it’s encouraging to note that when he has been under pressure so far this season, Wentz has performed well. His adjusted completion rate on pressured dropbacks currently ranks fifth in the league.

3. The Eagles have protected him within the confines of their offense, as well.

Part of the reason why the Eagles’ offensive line has held up so well is that Philadelphia’s play-callers have been calling plays to get the ball out of Wentz’s hands quickly, not leaving their pass protectors exposed to hold up against opposing rushers for too long. The Eagles’ average dropback depth of 7.2 yards is the fourth-lowest in the league.

These short drops have led to a lot of high-percentage throws – 21 percent of Wentz’s attempts this season have been screen passes, more than double the NFL average of 10 percent – and Wentz has excelled, earning the fourth-highest passer rating on throws in which he released the ball in 2.5 seconds or quicker. The offensive game plan so far for Wentz and the Eagles has been to make things easier for him, and he has executed it at an extremely high level.

4. But he has proven he can be effective on deep throws when he is asked to make them.

While Wentz has been doing a great job of playing within the confines of the Philadelphia offense and taking the short stuff defenses have given him, he has still been very effective on the deep shots he has taken. While his average depth of target of 7.7 yards downfield is very low overall, his percentage of attempts of 20-plus yard throws is right around the league average.
In other words, Wentz has demonstrated the ability to pick defenses apart in the short passing game and then punish them with an occasional deep throw. His deep-ball adjusted completion rate of 50 percent is the ninth-best rate in the league, and he has been very efficient at the intermediate level as well, showing off the arm strength that caused him to shoot up draft boards this spring.

5. He has played very well even with a so-so supporting cast.

As mentioned above, the Eagles’ offensive line has done a good job of keeping the opposing pass rush away from Wentz, and in general the line has had success run-blocking, as well. But the rookie QB’s skill-position weapons don’t rank among the league’s best.

Ryan Mathews is a serviceable power back and Darren Sproles proved in the win over Pittsburgh last week he can still be very effective as a receiver out of the backfield, but the Eagles are particularly out-manned at the wide receiver position with its trio of Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham. Over time this young group might develop along with Wentz, but to this point in the season Wentz has had to overcome having the fourth-highest rate of dropped passes in the league at 6.8 percent. This is not a case of a young QB whose game has been elevated by tremendous talent around him – he has had to do a lot of it on his own.

Bottom line

The Eagles’ first three games have hardly featured a murderer’s row of opposing defenses in Cleveland, Chicago and Pittsburgh. The fact that Philadelphia’s bye week takes place so early this season means that Wentz will have a long stretch run of games in which to look more like a rookie than the elite NFL QB he has performed like through three games this season.

But even with that seemingly inevitable regression, Wentz’s start to the season bodes extremely well for his future, and for the Eagles this season in a competitive NFC East. With an extremely talented quarterback who through three games has shown the ability to avoid the types of mistakes that usually come with playing a rookie QB, they are positioned to contend for the playoffs a lot earlier than previously thought in the Carson Wentz era.

Jeff Dooley is the Editor in Chief of Pro Football Focus and a contributor to The Washington Post’s NFL coverage.