Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr Poised To Take A Step – Backward?

Dec 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) stretches before the game against the Green Bay Packers at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) stretches before the game against the Green Bay Packers at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is looking to build on his success last season – but some are surprisingly predicting a minor regression for the third year pro.

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Derek Carr is the franchise quarterback the Oakland Raiders have been in search of for years. At least, that’s what fans and the organization believe. He’s been a leader on the team since his arrival and he’s helping lead a revitalized offensive unit to heights it hasn’t seen in quite some time. Carr made a big jump from year one to year two, with many believing he’s poised to take an even bigger jump in year three. Of course, there are others who don’t exactly see it that way.

As a rookie, Carr beat out veteran Matt Schaub to earn the starting nod during camp – okay, okay, that wasn’t that big or impressive of a feat. But he did a pretty good job of running then-OC Greg Olson’s pedestrian and completely unimaginative offense. For his rookie season, Carr completed 58 percent of his passes for 3,270 yards. He also tossed 21 touchdowns against twelve interceptions.

He didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but he did have a solid, respectable rookie campaign. In that first year, it wasn’t all that difficult to see that he had the tools to be a special player and could help lead this team back to respectability and beyond.

After the very long overdue firing of the Allen regime and all traces of it were finally swept out of the building, in came current HC Jack Del Rio and Carr’s new OC Bill Musgrave.

Now, many of us have an issue with Musgrave’s offense at times. But one thing he has done that Olson didn’t do, was trust his players enough to open up the offense and get it running at a higher, more efficient tempo.

And it was an approach that paid big dividends for the organization.

In year two, Carr’s numbers jumped fairly dramatically. Armed with some terrific new weapons who can run Musgrave’s more open, up tempo passing attack, Carr completed 61 percent of his passes for 3,987 yards, and 32 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions. His QB rating jumped from 76.6 in 2014 to 91.1 last season.

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Carr also led four game winning, fourth quarter drives as the Raiders improved from a 3-13 club in 2014 to their 7-9 mark last season.

Logic would seem to dictate that with a year of Musgrave’s offense under his belt, the continuity of the staff and schemes would lead to more improvement this season. After all, that first year in a system is getting to know the plays and schemes, while the second year is about refinement and improvement. The steps forward taken in the first year in a new system should theoretically give way to a big leap in the second.

However, not everybody sees it that way.

Ian Wharton of Bleacher Report recently put together an article in which he issues his predictions of each starting quarterback’s statistics for the upcoming campaign. Now, obviously these are just one man’s predictions, but it’s interesting to note that Wharton sees Carr not improving on his pretty terrific 2015 season, but actually slightly regressing.

To be fair, he’s not predicting that Carr’s statistics are going to fall off the table or that he’s going to turn into the second coming of JaMarcus Russell. But despite writing of the third year quarterback in generally positive earms, he is predicting that Carr isn’t going to make any sort of improvement this season at all – and even slightly regressing, statistically speaking.

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About Carr, Wharton wrote:

"“Carr is a dynamic downfield passer who has proved evaluators wrong to this point in his career. He’s shown confidence even under pressure, which is rare for a young quarterback. There’s certainly still room to continue improving, but the early returns are promising.”"

He’s not wrong in noting that Carr has room to grow and improve. He needs to learn to make better decisions with the ball when the pressure is high – the late pick six he threw at home that helped seal a loss to Denver comes to mind. He sometimes tries to do too much and needs to learn to throttle that back a bit.

They’re effort mistakes, to be sure, born of being a fiery competitor, but that can sometimes lead to bad decision making on the field – something that heading into year three, he will very likely improve upon.

Oakland Raiders
Dec 24, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) throws a pass against the San Diego Chargers during an NFL football game at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

But where Wharton’s prediction falls apart is in his projection of Carr’s numbers this year. Instead of the continuity of Musgrave’s system, and a full year of chemistry and rapport built between he and his offensive weapons – not to mention having an offensive line that is one of the biggest, nastiest, and best in all of football right now – Carr’s numbers will be down.

Wharton predicts that Carr is going to finish the year down in completion percentage (60 percent) and yardage (3,700 yards). He predicts that his touchdown total will remain the same (32), and that only his interception total is going to improve in 2016 (11 interceptions on the season)

Despite noting the team’s continuity, and that Oakland’s offensive line is going to be a mauler that will lead to better protection and efficiency, Wharton is projecting that Carr’s numbers will be a bit worse this season than last.

If that seems odd and doesn’t make one lick of sense to you either, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Compounding the issue of Wharton’s projection of Carr’s numbers not making sense are his projections for the other quarterbacks around the league. Of course, he does have all the usual suspects – Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers,Carson Palmer, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, et al – having fantastic seasons and putting up big numbers.

Fair enough. Can’t really argue with that.

What can be argued though is that Wharton is projecting that the next tier of quarterbacks – mostly youngsters like Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota, and Jameis Winston among others – will improve upon their 2015 seasons, albeit slightly in some cases, more dramatically in others, while Carr more or less stays stagnant or slightly regresses in terms of numbers.

Does having a huge stat line guarantee success in the NFL? Does it guarantee a spot in the playoffs or a Super Bowl trophy? No, of course not. But having a highly efficient quarterback who can capably move his team down the field and put points on the board certainly helps. Just look at the playoff board each season and see how many teams who qualified for the postseason had one of the league’s better passing offenses.

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The Raiders had an offense that was dynamic at times last season. What they lacked was consistency. Injuries along the offensive line and to rookie sensation Amari Cooper certainly contributed to that. But with a healthy unit that has a season’s worth of chemistry and continuity under their belts, the Raiders look poised for some big things in 2016.

And Carr, in particular, looks primed and ready to exceed his impressive 2015 season – taking a big step forward, not backward.