For the first time in years, the Oakland Raiders have a quarterback they trust.
Derek Carr’s rookie season was bright, even on a 3-13 team that lacked much of a running game, special receivers or a strong defense.
As the Raiders enter the free-agency season (that begins March 10) and prepare for the start of the draft on April 30, they’ll be free to pursue players at other positions because they believe in Carr.
But, there are two schools of thought about Carr.
One is that he’s the real deal.
Carr showed good decision-making abilities, avoided sacks (only 24) and had a great touchdown pass-to-interception ratio for a rookie paser (21 to 12). He threw for a team rookie record of 3,270 yards and completed 58.1 percent of his passes. His teammates and coaches believe in him, and he was able to learn from a rough first season, starting all 16 games. Surrounded by better players in 2015, Carr has a bright future, goes the prevalent line of thinking.
As Bucky Brooks of NFL.com noted, “Carr has been the surprise of his class, producing and performing at a surprising level despite playing with an inferior supporting cast.”
But Carr also was extremely conservative in 2015. He rarely threw downfield, and was often content to throw passesof under 10 yards. His yards-per-attempted pass was just 5.4, well below average. Daniel Jeremiah, a former NFL scout who now writes for NFL.com, said Carr “needs to take more chances and push the ball down the field.”
Which brings us to the other line of thinking about Carr.
In writing for the sports analytics website Numberfire.com, JJ Zachariason this week cautioned that perhaps Carr isn’t as good as the Raiders believe he is. The reason: his poor numbers in Net Expected Points (NEP), a statistic that measures each play and calculates how many points an average team would be expected to score in that situation, considering down, distance to go and yard line.
According to Zachariason, the average NEP rating for quarterbacks in the NFL in 2014 was 45.17. Carr, meanwhile, finished with a minus-40.94 total. That put him as the fourth-worst in the NFL. Zachariason wrote that, historically, NEP scores by rookie QBs can be a good predictor of a quarterback’s future success, and that Carr’s number ranks among such flops as Geno Smith, Joey Harrington and Josh Freeman.
However, it’s not foolproof. Carson Palmer and Matthew Stafford also had low scores but have had productive careers.
Zachariason pointed out that Carr faced big obstacles in 2014, including a tough schedule, the lack of a running game and no great wideouts. Plus, he said, future Hall of Fame-caliber QBs such as John Elway and Peyton Manning thrived after rough rookie seasons. “Carr can still succeed,” he wrote. “He can still be a top-tier quarterback."
But, he says, the NEP score is just one cautionary number that must be considered when evaluating Carr’s future.
Meanwhile, count new head coach Jack Del Rio in the camp that sees nothing but a bright future for his young quarterback.
“Carr’s a special young talent,” Del Rio said recently. “He’s got a really quick release, good decision-maker, he’s shown some of that grit we’re looking for, some of that toughness, so he’s a guy that we feel like we have an opportunity to build around.”