Why Derek Carr is nearing elite QB status

Analyst and former NFL QB Zac Robinson dives into the impressive play of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr this season.

| 9 months ago
Derek Carr

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Why Derek Carr is nearing elite QB status

With high expectations heading into the season to revive playoff hope for the Raiders, quarterback Derek Carr has not disappointed. Oakland is at the 3-1 mark, the offense sits in the top 10 in nearly every offensive category, and Carr is the No. 2 ranked PFF quarterback (in terms of overall grade) through the four weeks. The year-to-year progression we’ve seen from Carr has been as intriguing as any in the NFL, entrenching him as a top 10 quarterback on the cusp of being considered one of the league’s best.

Last week’s road victory against the Ravens further proved that Carr has become a must-watch QB on Sundays, possessing a unique skill-set unlike many in the NFL. Many of his overall QB traits are among the league’s best, and can certainly be considered “elite.”  The arm talent has always been there, but he’s throwing the ball at a degree we have not seen, with the ability to make every kind of throw on the field with any type of ball-speed/trajectory needed.

While he’s always possessed a strong arm, Carr is passing the ball with effortless power and showing an Aaron Rodgers-like ability to throw from different body positions while still maintaining velocity. His well-noted tireless work ethic and desire to be great are clearly visible, as no quarterback has improved as much as Carr with the nuances required to play the position since he came into the NFL in 2014.

Carr currently sits at No. 2 behind rookie Carson Wentz in adjusted completion percentage this season, at 79.2 (the Raiders are tied for the fifth-most drops in the league, with 10), finding completions in every direction of the field at every level, excelling especially in between the numbers. The offensive scheme run by Bill Musgrave is as good as any in the NFL at route dispersion, forcing the defense to cover every area of the field repeatedly with a variety of formations and route concepts that are not as standard as some of the pro concepts you consistently see.

Derek Carr passing by direction

Stats listed as [targets] – [completions] – [yards] – [touchdowns] – [interceptions].

Carr has always possessed good pocket instincts, but this season, his ability to feel the rush close in and quickly find a checkdown or an outlet have led him to being sacked just twice, a league low. He’s been salvaging plays, and most importantly, maintaining accuracy for yards-after-the-catch opportunities for his receivers. Carr’s passing-under-pressure numbers have been outstanding, with an adjusted completion percentage of 76.0, good for third-best in the NFL.


The most impressive quality Carr has shown this season is decisiveness. He’s a quick thinker, and right now is trusting what he sees and letting the ball go confidently. His capability to get the ball out quickly after he sees a receiver pop into his vision has been on display many times, just like in the play below.

Derek Carr

Carr starts to his right, where out of the picture is a two-receiver route combination that he ultimately doesn’t like. Carr’s eyes move quickly to his backside dig route where he locates Amari Cooper incredibly quickly, with the ball coming out of his hand within moments with good velocity and ball location.

The Raiders have done as good of a job as any NFL franchise in building around their QB with not just skill positions. They currently have the largest offensive-line salary cap hit for 2016, tied up with just over $40 million collectively. They’ve spent the money and are seeing the reward from doing so, as the unit currently ranks sixth in pass protection and fifth in run blocking. Carr has performed well under pressure, but has also been the third-lowest pressured quarterback, with just 22.6 percent of his dropbacks coming under duress.

Nothing has been better for Carr than the presence of the running game. The Raiders made a commitment to help Carr out in that regard after finishing last in the NFL in rushing yards per game in 2014 (77.5) and 28th in 2015 (91.1). They currently sit fifth, with an average of 126.8 yards per game and an impressive 5.3 yards per carry (good for second-best in the NFL).

Every quarterback has his knocks, with just a few in Carr’s game holding him back from entering the next level of the NFL QB hierarchy. The Raiders currently rank 25th in the NFL in third-down conversions, at 35.4 percent, for a few reasons you see on tape. While Carr has done a good job of taking care of the ball (one interception this season) and finding completions, there have been snaps where he has had a little more time to let something develop downfield, given his protection. The fine line of aggressiveness and playing smart is hard to balance, but with his vision, creativity within and outside of the pocket, and tight-window throwing ability, there are a few chances on third-and-longer situations where Carr can help spike those numbers.

Like many young progressing quarterbacks, Carr looks a little unsure at times in pass protection, not knowing when he needs to find a hot receiver, or when protection is picked up and he can hang in the pocket to make throws. After getting hit and playing under pressure so much in his first couple pro years, it’s easy to see why he may be a little hesitant at times, drifting in the pocket. The good thing is this is fixable issue, and will only get better with the more reps and blitz looks he gets.

The offense the Raiders have built appears to be set up for sustainable success, and if Carr can sure up a few things and own the pre-snap protection process as the season progresses, we may have our next true elite quarterback on our hands.

| Analyst

Zac Robinson is a former three-year starting QB for Oklahoma State. He was drafted by the New England Patriots in the seventh round in 2010, and spent time with the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions before finishing his pro career with the Cincinnati Bengals.

  • Jason Williams

    There was a play in a game recently where his receiver dropped a sure fire first down which they really needed. Carr shrugged it off and threw a TD a play or two later. He just keeps coming. Really impressive.

    • crosseyedlemon

      The word impressive is certain apt for describing Carr’s passer rating when trailing with less than 2 minutes to play….131.4.
      To me that indicates a guy who is going to scrap with you to the final whistle and those are the kinds of guys you need to win championships.

      P.S. Cutler’s rating in the same circumstance is 71.1 btw.

      • Jason Williams

        I don’t think Jay is going to be on our radar for much longer. Frankly I’m surprised they didn’t cut him in the offseason.

        • eYeDEF

          This should be his final year in Chicago. With all that dead money now officially off the books he could have been dumped with no dead money charge after June 1st, but will only be on the hook a couple mil as a pre-June 1st cut for 2017. Too bad your FO hasn’t even made the effort to groom a kid to wait in the wings else you could have been rid of him.

          • crosseyedlemon

            A lack of foresight is a big problem with the Bears FO and has been for some years now. They should have had a ‘bell cow’ on deck before letting Forte go and as you mentioned they haven’t got a plan in place to replace Cutler. In about 2 years they will realize Kevin White isn’t working out as a number one pick. Very frustrating if your a Bears fan.

          • Jason Williams

            It’s about time. I’m done with the head shaking turnovers.

  • jdg3

    Carr definitely has great leadership skills on top of all the tangible skills. Look no further than Michael Crabtree raving about him after the last game, could you ever see Crabtree saying anything like that about Kaep?

    • Locorogue

      Right on per Kaep, Kaep was starting to make players stock around him go down. Remember when Crab came to Raiders, and the fans didn’t like it? I was saying whoa, Crab is good, watch what happens with a good QB…

  • Mike Riley

    But Donovan McNabb said he has the worst mechanics of any QB he’s seen? Shouldn’t we take the word of an analyst for a network that said you can’t win if you lose?

    • a57se

      Donovan McNabb saying someone has poor mechanics is like the pot calling the kettle black.

      • Mike Riley

        It was very random. Also for someone who held the ball as long as McNabb & missed the initial read as often as he did only to end up running broken plays every passing down, I don’t think he has any justification critiquiting anyone.

    • Anthony

      I heard McNabb say that and thought that was rediculous considering i had just heard a NFL scout on anothwr podcast say Carrs mechanics are great.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Back in week one PFF heaped enormous praise on Winston with a similar type article and he responded with a 4 pic game while getting blown out by the Cardinals. I sure hope you haven’t jinxed Derek Carr the same way here.

    • eYeDEF

      Temporary setback for Winston. He’s suffering growing pains from the impatience of immaturity and is trying too hard to force things. He’s too good not to bounce back after he settles down and lets the game come to him.

      • crosseyedlemon

        I don’t think there can be much doubt that Winston will eventually be a top QB in the league. I was just pointing out that sometimes too much hype can actually have a negative impact on a players development.

        • eYeDEF

          You really think PFF praise trickles down into Winston’s psyche? He wouldn’t be the first athlete to be susceptible to following his own press while on the come up, but I’d be surprised to learn any of them take PFF as seriously as some in the press and in the general public do.

  • NAJ

    Carr is a very good QB and developing quickly but it sure helps having 1 of the best O-Lines and 2 fantastic receivers who get open a lot. Not sure why PFF points out that 1 play above, it’s a very simple 2nd read with buckets of time in the pocket and a receiver open by 10 feet. There have been way better examples where Carr has made better throws in tight windows

    • crosseyedlemon

      I think everyone accepts that a great supporting cast will help any QB. Not all QBs excel as team leaders though and that is the area where Carr has advanced the most.

      • NAJ

        Absolutely agree with that but some QBs don’t even get the chance to throw upright and others don’t even have the chance to throw to open targets and therefore the grading is lower. I like PFF grades but have to take with a grain of salt because if those restrictions

        • Patrick Fouhy

          You could say that about ALL stats. The fact of the matter is this, every single player in the NFL is an elite athlete as his position. Maybe not elite by NFL standards, but there are only quality athletes in this league. Certain players/coaches in the league have the ability to inspire the players around them to be better, to put in the hours to improve. Carr’s O Line is as good as it is because they all genuinely like and respect Derek, so they are willing to put in the effort and extra practice it takes to protect him. How many offensive linemen are still practicing when their QB is doing his post practice presser with the media? Not many…if any. This O Line is inspired, and it’s Derek who has them playing that way.

    • Locorogue

      He makes the receivers good/better. Example, Crabtree at 49ers, his career was tanking, now in Oakland he is thriving. Carr will make everyone look good, while Kaepernick makes everyone look bad

    • john

      That play showed incredible growth as a QB. Its not the throw nor was that a simple read, he made that easy. He had a 3 wide set, twin right. His progression was probably to the right last resort before checkdown was the dig route by Amari. Check his quick footwork, mechanics, and his intelligence to stay true to the progression, these things are not as easy as you think for a young QB. He also probably noticed the safety being cleared out by the combo route and the middle of the field being exposed and knwoing he had Amari on a route in that exact area. When i saw that play i knew he had arrived. His tight window dime dropping is just something hes had, but to see the growth and patience is something we gotta

  • Patrick Fouhy

    This is certainly a turning the corner kind of year for Derek. It’s great to see a new generation of QB’s leading the charge. Its only good for the league as a whole. Younger players proving they have what it takes to stick around like Russell Wilson up in Seattle, Derek in Oakland, among others. Manning is gone, in reality Brady only has a so many more years he can play, so these younger players need to put not only their teams, but the league on their back. Good guys like Carr have the ability to do that.

  • Ron

    Its Shore up you fucking geek MTF’s

  • MD_in_MD

    I’ve been watching football for over 30 yrs and there have only been about 5-10 QB’s that would routinely make me say “Holy crap, that was a ridiculous throw” as often as I say that about Derek. Yes, I’m a Raiders fan, but I’m blown away at his touch and accuracy on so many occasions. Couple that with how humble and “team-first” he is and you have a great QB/teammate/person. I would say that he’s already elite and easily the best QB of his age right now.
    As a side note……I remember getting into it with Vikings fans a few times over the past 2-3 yrs about Carr and Bridgewater. They were adamant that Bridgewater was a better pick and is a better QB. HA!

    • KloverJane

      Agreed .

  • Anthony

    Dont forget Carrs #1 in red zone efficiency

  • Kason Edell

    I don’t like the new grading system, at least show us how you get the 0-100 grade. No one knows what a 67.8 grade is for example. It could be a -1.0 or +2.0. We’ll never know.

    • Johnny Rotten

      Well a 67.8 grade is ‘below average’. In their point system a ZERO grade is average. So if they’re ranked ‘below average’ they would have to have a negative grade. Any + grades are going to be above average.

  • Vitor

    Interesting to point that Carr’s development really took a step forward when Bill Musgrave (who helped Adrian Peterson win the MVP in Minnesota in 2012) came to Oakland, last year. Carr’s rookie year (without Musgrave) was very bad. If I’m a GM looking for a HC, his name has to be in my list if Carr continues to improve.

    • Bill Yendle

      Carr’s rookie year was not “very bad”. He had a very bad team around him. Watching every Raiders game it was clear he was doing pretty well given the circumstances around him, and had tons of talent.

      • Vitor

        Although I’m with you about the roster’s talent point, he had terrible grades in his first year (he was the 31th QB of 32 starters, only trailing Bortles that year). Just search in the Google for “Derek Carr PFF 2014″ and you’ll see that. I’ve tried to paste here the links of some pff articles about him at the time, but they were not allowed by the moderator I think.

  • DinosaurFaceOverlord

    Damn fine article Zac

  • Dub White

    Carr is definitely elite!! My definition of elite is you have to be top five at your position in my opinion Rodgers, Newton, Big Ben, and Brady the only QBs ahead of Carr now if only the Raiders gave him the keys to the Carr

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      carr is playing way better right now than cam

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    i’d take him over andrew luck if i was starting a franchise