Derek Carr and Overstated Rookie Success


Not much has gone right for the Oakland Raiders since they lost the Super Bowl back in the 2002-03 NFL season. The team has averaged less than 5 wins per season since then while burning through countless coaches and quarterbacks in the process. Many Raiders fans have begun to feel optimistic recently however, after Amari Cooper was added to their young core of Khalil Mack and Derek Carr this offseason.

The turnaround of this once-proud franchise is going to be largely dependent upon the play of Carr. The young signal caller had what many considered to be a successful rookie season, throwing for 3,270 yards and 21 touchdowns to lead an impressive group of rookie quarterbacks.

His athleticism, arm strength, and mobility all ensure that he passes the eye-test when watching film, while his leadership and competitive nature have allowed him to quickly win over both fans and teammates in Oakland. In short, he appears to be a prototypical NFL franchise quarterback, and one capable of leading the Raiders back to relevancy and into the postseason.

But Carr is far from a perfect player, and his flaws may have a larger impact on the outcome of his NFL career than his strengths. He’s struggled with the deep ball since debuting for Oakland, and ended up finishing with a league-worst 23.9% deep accuracy rating according to ProFootballFocus. That league-low percentage came on 71 deep attempts as well, the fifth most deep attempts in the league. His blatant inability to convert big-play opportunities severely handicapped Oakland’s offense and failed to stretch the field in any capacity.

That inefficiency on deep throws was one of the biggest reasons for his league-worst 5.5 yards/attempt. When combined with his inefficient 58.1% completion percentage, it becomes very clear why the Raiders struggled to move the ball so much in 2014.

Additionally, he doesn’t stack up well against the quarterbacks in his own draft class, let alone previous rookie passers. While he did lead his draft class in yards and touchdowns, he was well behind Teddy Bridegwater and Blake Bortles when it came to Comp%, Deep Acc.%, and yards/attempt.

Carr also fails to stack up well against other young quarterbacks like Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel, and Ryan Tannehill. Manuel looks like a complete bust in Buffalo, while the jury is still out on Tannehill and Smith in the NFC East. Yet Carr still had the second worst completion percentage among those players in their rookie years – not a good sign for fans hoping he can lead the Raiders back to relevancy.

Completion percentage isn’t a perfect indicator of future success for NFL quarterbacks (Andrew Luck rebounded well from a 54.1% rating his first year), but it is a positive trait to display for young passers. Beyond the simple touchdown-to-interception ratios that are often thrown around when discussing elite quarterbacks, completion percentage is a great measure of a QB’s accuracy in a larger sample size. The fact that Carr’s low percentage came on mostly short throws does not bode well for him either.

This is where his low yards/attempt comes into play. With an already low completion percentage, Carr is more likely to be behind on downs when it comes to moving the chains. His additional inability to complete longer throws to make up for his low completion percentage is crippling for Oakland’s offense and makes it more difficult for them to sustain drives. When the simple act of moving the ball offensively is broken down this simplistically, Carr’s impressive TD/INT ratio doesn’t hold as much value.

Quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez and Brandon Weeden struggled with many of these same issues early in their careers. Forced to make up for their previous inefficiencies earlier in games, they ended up making riskier decisions and turned the ball over at very high rates in later quarters. Thus far into his career Carr has done a good job of keeping his turnover numbers low by making intelligent plays late in games. But unless he can prove that he can pick up first downs on a consistent basis, he will struggle to develop into anything more than a game manager at the NFL level.

Carr will certainly need to improve his ability to throw an accurate pass while displaying touch on the deep ball if he hopes to establish himself as a legitimate NFL starter moving forward. He’s far from becoming the next JaMarcus Russell, but Raiders fans should be cautious when establishing expectations for their young quarterback in 2015 and beyond.

About the author: David Tews

David is a sport management student at UMass Amherst who one day hopes to work in athlete representation. Keep up to date with his writing and other interesting sports news by following him on Twitter via @DavidTews13.