The Oakland Raiders finally have a quarterback they can put faith into in Fresno State’s own Derek Carr.
The Raiders are a team on the rise, widely considered a lock to make the playoffs in 2016 because of their highly regarded offensive talent. The offensive line is one of the best units in the league, but it’s the skill players that get the most attention (as is usually the case). Combining the greatness of that offensive line with the talent of running back Latavis Murray and the receiving core of Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts, Andre Holmes, and Clive Walford can make it easy for many young quarterbacks to thrive in Oakland on paper.
Such has been the case for Carr. 2015 was a breakout year for him statistically, as he completed 61.1% of his passes for 3,987 yards, 32 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 91.2 passer rating on his way to becoming the first Raiders quarterback to make a Pro Bowl since Rich Gannon back in 2002. Coincidentally, that’s also the last time Oakland made the postseason as well.
Where as a year ago I was not nearly as high on him as other analysts and fans were, this year I’ve been able to recognize the necessary improvements he’s made to make the Raiders’ future optimistic. Below I shall illustrate that with GIFs, analysis, and more GIFs.
Derek Carr’s Improvements
Carr has been celebrated for his arm strength and ability to trust his receivers to go up and make tough catches, but do these really matter if your quarterback does not consistently put himself in a position to make these plays? Probably not, and that was the case for Carr’s rookie season, where he fired too many inaccurate passes and 50/50 jumpballs to have taken him seriously back then.
Thankfully, this was lessened in 2015, as Carr made a more deliberate attempt to fire more accurate passes and less jumpballs. The biggest reason for this stride in decision making was his footwork.
No longer was Carr constantly showing off poor footwork from the pocket, instead taking a significant step up (quite literally) with his footwork, trusting the space he had around him to deliver throws to his receivers. In the first GIF, Carr scrambles on the run, but wisely resets himself when he notices an open receiver, firing an accurate dart in the process. In the second GIF, Carr does a nice job of stepping up to avoid pressure while delivering the dart to his intended target.
It’s this kind of footwork that was more abundant in 2015 than it was in 2014, and it is very important for the development of a young quarterback. The third GIF continues this, as Carr is able to thrust a dime to Walford after stepping up in the pocket.
Under cleaner pockets, Carr was able to stay patient and deliver accurate passes while surveying the field. In the first GIF, Carr gets really good protection, allowing him to throw a dime in the end zone to Cooper for the touchdown. In the second GIF, #4’s first read is not open, but he does not panic and notices a receiver flying across the middle, allowing him to make the easy completion.
The third GIF is perhaps the best of these examples. Carr is able to sidestep pressure while scrambling to the right of the field, and fires across the field to an open Walford. This play is impressive because of how the quarterback avoids pressure and how he’s able to spot an open receiver.
As stated before, Carr is a QB that is typically unafraid of giving his receivers chances to make plays, as illustrated above. Holmes tripped up in the first GIF, making the throw look worse than it actually was. Nevertheless, he makes an impressive catch off a nice throw from Carr, again featuring great footwork. The second GIF isn’t a perfect touchdown throw, but Carr’s footwork means his receiver is at the very least able to make an effort on a catchable throw.
Derek Carr’s Supporting Cast
As shown by the GIFs above, it’s obvious Carr has made improvements in his play. But while he deserves credit for his progression, at the same time we must credit the surrounding factors just as much, if not more so.
Firstly, the offensive scheme the Raiders have featured has been fleshed out so that skill players are more comfortable with their roles. This is due to the presence of general manager Reggie McKenzie and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave (Jack Del Rio’s trust in my opinion must be earned this season). While both have been ripped apart in previous years, they’ve managed to do a really good job with setting their quarterback up in a position to succeed, drafting and managing talented players in many areas that were critical for a rebuild.
Under Musgrave, the Raiders passing offense in 2015 was a combination of YAC playmaking and aggressive downfield throwing, allowing each skill player to thrive in the area they were most comfortable in. The Raiders receivers were highly unregarded by many in 2014 (I wrote that they were not as bad as they were made out to be), but in 2015 were generally accepted to be one of the more talented core in the league.
And speaking of, Carr’s receivers helped make his stats look better (and certainly vice versa) with their talent and catch radius.
The Raiders knew after 2014 they would need a true #1 receiver to haul in Carr’s throws, and that’s exactly what they got out of Amari Cooper. A YAC and vertical threat, Cooper’s playmaking helped make Carr’s job easier at times, as shown in the 4 GIFs above.
In the first GIF, Carr knows he can simply throw the ball in Cooper’s area and trust his receiver to go up and make the play. The play is a harmless jumpball because Cooper’s athleticism allows him to size up and make a play with his hands. Nothing wrong here. In the second GIF, Carr’s pass is thrown a bit wide, but again, Cooper uses his wingspan to go after the ball and bail Carr out on the pass with a great catch.
In the third GIF, Carr flings the ball in Cooper’s area. This pass is a bit dangerous, but Cooper is able to lessen the margin for error and hauls in the pass with an amazing catch. In the fourth GIF, Carr simply throws the screen pass to Cooper and he does the rest, eluding defenders and speeding his way for a touchdown.
Cooper is not on the level of receiving that Odell Beckham is, nor was his rookie, but nonetheless he was really good. He was able to make up for drops by how he was able to get yards after the catch and use his athleticism to go after grabs.
Similar to Cooper, Michael Crabtree stepped up as a threat when the Raiders signed him for a bargain in 2015 off a 1-year contract worth $3.5M. After his season, Oakland re-signed him for 4 years and $35M, or $8.75M per year. That’s a steal when you consider the quality WR2 Crabtree is.
In the first GIF above, Crabtree establishes his ability to get YAC. His vision and speed on the short pass from Carr allow him to get an easy touchdown. In the 2nd GIF, Crabtree’s ball skills come into play. Crabtree is a talented pass catcher that was not properly utilized during his time in San Francisco. In Oakland, the opposite appears to be true, as the Raiders in 2015 understood his talents and what kind of player he was.
Carr throws a nice high pass in the area of Crabtree in the 2nd GIF where only he can get it, and Crabtree is able to grab it with his athleticism, somehow avoiding getting injured on the play (miraculously) for the touchdown. In the 3rd GIF, Crabtree shows off his route running, able to easily beat the corner covering him on a fake out. All Carr has to do in this situation is (again) throw in his receiver’s area for him to grab the touchdown. To be fair to Carr, though, this was a pretty impressive pass, as it was thrown across the field.
For a receiver Oakland got for a bargain, Crabtree’s quality is great, and I ponder what could have been if he had this kind of situation with the 49ers.
Andre Holmes isn’t on the quality of Amari Cooper or even Michael Crabtree, but he is nonetheless a quality WR4. Undrafted in 2011, Holmes played on the practice squads of the Vikings and Patriots, as well as the Cowboys from 2011-12 before being claimed off waivers by Oakland in 2014. I always thought he was a better receiver than his 2014 reputation suggested, as he was ripped despite not being in a good situation under a rookie quarterback and a weaker scheme.
With a better scheme in 2015, the undrafted Holmes was able to show off his talents a bit more, despite a dropoff in stats (being a WR4 will do that to you).
The first GIF is a good tight pass from Carr, but Holmes’ catch in tight coverage is still impressive. At 6 ft 4, Holmes is tall, so Carr can locate him with ease without forcing him to collect high passes. In the second GIF (seen above describing Carr’s footwork, but from a different angle), Holmes trips but is still able to make an impressive catch, showing off an impressive radius for an undrafted player.
Like Holmes, Roberts, a slot receiver, went undrafted in 2014 before signing with the Raiders. He went through the entirety of that year on Oakland’s practice squad before working his tail off and making the 53-man roster in 2015. Roberts was one of my favorite stories of last season; he is exceptionally talented for an undrafted player, runs smooth routes and has impressive hands.
In the first GIF, Roberts runs a very nice route, breaking the ankles of his man before making a great diving catch for the touchdown. In the 2nd GIF, Carr’s pass is great, but Roberts’ ability to adjust his angle at the pass cannot be overlooked. More impressive is that he is able to get YAC after landing a bit awkwardly. In the third GIF, Roberts’ stutter steps the defender to get himself open, allowing Carr to deliver the strike to him.
But none of that compares to the GIF I’m about to show you.
The above GIF is one of the most impressive sequences I have ever witnessed from a wide receiver in my film watching career. On this play, Roberts does a fantastic fake out on the guy covering him. The defender buys the fake, and then Roberts bails out an inaccurate throw by adjusting himself and making a terrific diving catch for the game winning touchdown. This whole sequence is beautiful, and is why the Raiders should continue moving forward with Roberts as the slot receiver.
You can find more information about the tight end Walford in my article on him here, but he had a very impressive rookie season in 2015. His route running is great, as is his pass catching ability and elusiveness of defenders. I hope to see him have more of a role as the #1 receiving tight end in 2016, because I truly think he can break out if he does so.
A 6th round pick in 2013, Latavius Murray has been yet another nice story for the Raiders, earning a Pro Bowl visit for his 2015 season. Unfortunately, his reputation is mixed, as some felt he declined during the 2nd half of the 2015 season. Raiders fans especially don’t know what to make of him.
Well, here’s the truth: His stats declined because of injuries to the OL, giving him less breathing room to make plays.
Besides, there was more than enough evidence from last season to show Murray’s playmaking abilities. In the first GIF, Murray shows off his athleticism by eluding a defender after a catch while powering through for a few more yards. For a running back drafted as late as he was, Murray has nice power and vision. In the 2nd GIF, Murray’s power and elusiveness come into play, as he is able to throw off a defender and get a few more yards after the catch and a first down.
In the third GIF, this run looks very easy, but Murray’s vision allows him to make 2 quick stutter steps to fake out the defender in front of him, grabbing himself an even bigger gain (though it would’ve been nice for him not to step out of bounds so soon.). The fourth GIF is the most impressive, as Murray is able to notice a very tiny gap in the middle. Powering through, Latavius takes full advantage as he gets a huge gain on the play. Credit should be deserved here because many runningbacks would hesitate to find such a small gap.
As you can tell, Oakland has excellent WR depth and a really good running game in Latvius, so now we move on.
Flaws Derek Carr Needs To Fix
There has been much to suggest Carr is the next great young quarterback, but I’m here to say you shouldn’t get sold on him just yet. For as many good and great things he does, he also does several bad things.
Carr’s accuracy isn’t great as a whole, but during the first half of the season he was able to stay efficient thanks to his improvements as well as the quality of his receivers and offensive line. When the pass protection declined, Carr’s flaws weren’t masked as much as they were before.
In certain situations in the 2nd half of 2015, Carr converted back into 2014 Carr, making some truly bad reads and surveys of the field. In the first GIF, Carr’s pass on the run is dropped by the defender. #4 threw 0 INT in that game against the Titans, but that would have been a truly terrible one to witness. In the 2nd GIF, Carr’s pass to Crabtree is underthrown and picked off, but the quarterback is again bailed out, this time by a holding call on the Lions defense.
In the third GIF, Carr noticeably panics a bit once he notices a rusher coming for him, and throws a bad interception intended for Walford, who wasn’t open on the play. In the fourth GIF, Carr puts too mark strength into the pass, as his throw for Roberts is too high and intercepted for a touchdown. In the fifth GIF, Oakland’s pass protection holds the fort for a bit until a defender gets by, panicking Carr. No one was open on this play, but Carr made a mistake and threw an interception intended for Cooper. I can’t fault him for trying to make something happen, but he should have noticed the safety coming in across the middle.
Over the course of the 2nd half of the season, Carr managed to take some really dumb sacks. In the first two GIFs, I find it hard to believe that the quarterback could not throw the ball away, because he should have on these 2 plays. In the last two GIFs, Carr doesn’t feel the pressure around him, running into the sacks himself (sound familar?) A healthier offensive line should mask these issues, but along with a few of his reads, Carr must improve his senses and field awareness a bit more if he wants to be in the top legion of quarterbacks any time soon.
I rarely go by stats these days, but even if you do, while Carr finished tied for 8th in TD passes and 8th in TD% (5.6%), he also finished 26th in yards per attempt (7.0), 25th in ESPN’s QBR ranking (49.23), 20th in Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt (6.31), and 23rd in completion percentage (61.1%). I don’t promote any of these stats for analyzing Carr, but those who do should note of them.
So, at the end of the day, what’s the verdict on #4?
Derek Carr took strides in progression last year, but it should be obvious that it wasn’t *as* huge of an improvement as the stats make it out to be. He still is somewhat reliant on 50/50 balls, YAC have taken a significant amount of his passing yardage (he was 23rd in air yards per attempt among all qualifying quarterbacks in 2015, with 3.73 air yards per attempt via Sporting Charts), has erratic accuracy, and can take bad sacks at times. Carr is in a better place than he was in 2014, but it seems as if he needs a great cast to mask some of his flaws.
Still, I like the improvements Carr made in 2015. His footwork is much, MUCH better, and that will help him out in 2016 and in the next few years. His reads are not perfect, but his best ones are very assuring, and he has far more positives than he did in his rookie season. Even when his play declined in the 2nd half of 2015, he offered enough good plays to suggest his best moments were not flukes. Carr was solid in 2015, and will continue to be solid given that the pass protection is healthy (Donald Penn for example will be huge).
With all things considered, Raiders fans deserve to be excited for the future. This is the closest their team has faced to making it back to the playoffs, and with Derek Carr, it appears Oakland finally has the quarterback they can trust.
(Featured Image via cbssports.com)