In 2016, Derek Carr was an MVP candidate. The Raiders quarterback, then in just his third pro season, led Oakland to the playoffs with a 12-3 record in his 15 starts. He threw 28 touchdown passes and just six interceptions that season, and was so good that in November of that season, an ESPN poll of analysts tabbed Carr as the most deserving player in the league for the MVP honor.
At that point, Carr had a 122.5 passer rating in the fourth quarter or overtime and had led his team to wins in five games in which the Raiders trailed after the third quarter.
Wrote ESPN: “The quarterback has come through at a high level in the toughest of situations for the Raiders all year.”
Now, much has changed.
As Carr gets ready to enter his sixth NFL season – after winning just 10 games combined over the 2017 and 2018 seasons – some critics believe Carr no longer is the quarterback capable of turning around the Raiders. Some have speculated Oakland could use one of its three first-round picks in this year's draft on a quarterback.
And, this week, ESPN included Carr in a roundup headlined, “How the NFL’s worst quarterbacks can improve in 2019.” His inclusion, along with the likes of Sam Darnold, Eli Manning, Baker Mayfield, Blake Bortles and Ryan Tannehill, was based on his overall Total QBR number from 2018 (Total QBR is ESPN’s NFL ratings formula for QBs).
At first glance, it sounds bad. But actually, the review of Carr was largely favorable, noting much of his problems in 2018 likely were the result of injuries to the offensive line, the lack of wideouts and consistent running game, and a new head coach and system under Jon Gruden.
Now comfortable with Gruden and the system, and likely to have a stronger team around him in 2019, ESPN suggests Carr could have a significantly better year.
Wrote ESPN: “A more buttoned-up O-line, a speedy No. 1 receiver and a threat at running back to open up the play-action game would do wonders. Though, perhaps, simply a second season with Gruden will produce a bounty.
“Consider: the only other time Carr played in the same system for a second consecutive year, in 2016, he played at a league MVP level.”
ESPN also noted that while Carr had big problems the first half of 2018, throwing eight picks in the first six games, he had just two the rest of the schedule.
ESPN notes Carr’s 46 losses as a starter over his first five seasons rank as the third-worst total in NFL history, but it isn’t all because of Carr.
Wrote ESPN: “There are some positive things to build upon.”