32 for 32: Derek Carr is hoping to avoid another nightmare season
Editor’s Note: This is a part of our 32 for 32 QB Profiles series.
There’s nothing like a good horror movie. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Tremors, Friday the 13th, or Puppet Master. Of course, who could forget Child’s Play? Good old Chucky. The two-foot tall “Good Guy” doll terrorizing humans three times his size. No matter the size of these harbingers of doom, they keep coming back again and again. When it comes to nightmarish seasons in fantasy football, it presents a perfect time to buy the dip. For Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, the hiring of Jon Gruden could be just what he needs to resurrect his career.
In the football world, Chucky (Gruden to some) has also come back from the dead. This time he’s trying to lead the Raiders and their Black Hole to victory. Even in this age of recycled scripts and remakes in film, the idea of Gruden leading this cast of characters to the same success as the early 2000s Raiders seems far-fetched. Think Jason X far-fetched. Then again, his mere presence should provide more entertainment than last season. Besides, Jason X wasn’t that bad.
What doesn’t kill him makes him stronger
Simply put, last season for Carr was that bad. It might have been the worst nightmare of all, condolences to Freddy Krueger. Carr’s 2017 season was a proverbial black hole. He never appeared to be fully recovered from his broken fibula in 2016, then he suffered a transverse process fracture in his back in Week Four. Brittle might be an unfair label, but his trips alone to the infirmary are adding up to match a SyFy channel B horror movie.
If you think Carr is going to run out of gas, or limbs, any time soon though you might be mistaken. He’s tougher than a $2 steak. Just like any movie ghoul, you can knock him down, but it’s going to take a whole lot more to keep him down. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for his yards per passing attempt (that’s already six feet under ground).
Chucky and the Raiders front office are trying to revive their Carr, though. Just this offseason, they made a couple of “splashy” moves at wide receiver. Both Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant joined the silver and black. The Raiders also added Doug Martin to form a very formidable squad in Madden 2014. The Raiders need all the help they can get in the backfield, as they averaged just 97.1 rushing yards per game last season, 25th in the NFL.
Waking up from the 2017 nightmare
The Raiders came into 2017 with Super Bowl aspirations. They finished the season below the Jeff Fisher line. Another Carr injury doomed them early in the season. We all know about the 12-3 record under Carr. Both Cooper and Michael Crabtree topped 1,000 receiving yards that season and scored a combined 13 touchdowns. Looking deeper at the stats, though, it’s astonishing that Carr, outside of his incredible 28:6 TD-to-INT ratio, didn’t have a lot of eye-popping stats. One factor working in his favor was opportunity. Carr had the fifth-most passing attempts in the red zone in 2016. Last season he had the 23rd-most, ranking behind Jay Cutler and Trevor Siemian.
In 2016, Carr ranked outside of the top 10 in completions, attempts, completion percentage, passing yards, and yards per attempt. Despite that, Carr still finished the season as the QB8 in fantasy leagues. In 2015, Carr produced just six fewer fantasy points but finished as the QB13. Are we really choosing to forget that 46.7 percent of his games played for those two seasons were top-10 performances? Better yet, are there any other quarterbacks in that range that offer the upside Carr does?
A popular phrase first coined by Rich Hribar is the “Konami Code” to describe running quarterbacks. There’s inherit value in fantasy football with quarterbacks that rack up rushing yards. It’s why Alex Smith and Blake Bortles are consistently performing well in fantasy football. Carr is not one of those quarterbacks… at least not yet. Several tea leaves from Raiders training camp hint that Gruden will look to move Carr around in the pocket and encourage making plays with his legs.
Jerry notes that the #Raiders would like QB Derek Carr to "use his feet more" this season. In 2017, Carr scrambled only 9 times after dropping back to pass, but he gained 76 yards on those runs, 8.4 yards per attempt. ☠️ https://t.co/XugsjZFOmj
— PFF OAK Raiders (@PFF_Raiders) July 29, 2018
Is a new nightmare is coming in 2018?
The Raiders are an afterthought to many entering this season. The fantasy community seemingly doesn’t care for many of the Raiders players. According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, not one member of the Raiders is being drafted in the top 16 at their respective position.
Oddsmakers, including Bovada, however, peg the AFC West to be highly competitive.
Que Chucky’s triumphant return to the big screen. This time, he has a whole new bag of tricks, too. Don’t worry, you’ll still hear references to the infamous “Spider 2 Y Banana” play call. Just as Jason Voorhees prefers a machete, he diversifies his weaponry here and there. Gruden will likely look to do the same with the plethora of knowledge he’s gained over his course of time with ESPN and Monday Night Football. Sure he badmouths analytics and RPOs, but if we, as a collective, won’t listen to coachspeak about players, why should we listen to it about playcalling?
Surprised at how much slot Rice played under Gruden. I'd expect Cooper to do the same.
Rice running a dig (Cooper's best route IMO) from the slot in Shallow Cross concept. pic.twitter.com/W2va1wPjom
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) January 3, 2018
An Amari Cooper revival could lead to big things for Carr in 2018. Getting him to run more routes from the slot, ahead of Seth Richards or even newcomer Ryan Switzer, would be a good place to start. Recovering from a possible foot injury would also help the cause. That injury, coupled with his weight gain, could explain the contrast in his FUPA/FAPA scores over the last two seasons. For Jordy Nelson, age is his greatest enemy, but he was still on par with the rest of league in game speed.
As noted again and again, Carr’s passes don’t travel that far. Since coming into the league in 2014, only Joe Flacco has a lower yards/pass attempt than Carr among quarterbacks who have started at least 30 games.
There’s plenty of reasons for skepticism when it comes to the Raiders and even Carr. Then again, yards per passing attempt might not be one of them. The addition of Bryant to this offense should open up the playbook a bit more. Of course, that’s if he doesn’t face any discipline from the league. While Bryant struggled to be a reliable deep threat last season, there was one area of consistency among these three receivers last season. They all did exceptionally well on passes that traveled between 10 and 20 yards in the air in 2017. This is also an area where Carr has fared well from 2015-2017.
Also consider how effective Carr has been thus far punching the ball into the end zone. There have been a total of six quarterbacks to have thrown for 100 or more touchdowns in their first four seasons. Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer, Andrew Luck, and Carr. Not bad company to be in.
Given Carr’s cost on draft day, there’s not a lot of room for him to bust relative to ADP. Should Carr’s offensive line stay healthy and perform up to their billing as well, positive regression is due in Oakland. This is particularly true when Carr is under pressure. After all, he has demonstrated the ability to perform well under pressure in the past, despite last year being a statistical massacre. Coming into training camp fully healed from prior injuries will be extremely beneficial for Carr.
Derek Carr's deep accuracy percentage splits
Clean Pocket: 53.2%
— Johnny Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) March 25, 2018
Carr is quietly entering a portion of his contract where he’s financially expendable. Sure, it’s doubtful to happen, but Gruden appears to be flying by the seat of his pants elsewhere. Chucky has already shown he’s willing to slice Khalil Mack out of the equation. What’s to stop him from doing the same with Carr? It’s been a while since the two met at Gruden’s QB camp after all. Carr is 28-34 as a starter. In 62 career games, he’s played in 18 where the Raiders had a winning percentage over .500.
For Carr, he has a lot riding on performing well this season. A successful passing attack in year one featuring Cooper, Bryant, and Nelson would bolster his chances for being a long-term fixture with the Raiders under Gruden. A return to relevancy for Carr, Chucky, and the Raiders might also be the most terrifying tale of all for the rest of the NFL. Carr is being selected as the QB20, according to the July TwoQBs ADP data. In his four-year career, Carr has finished the season as the QB21, QB13, QB8, and QB19, respectively. His current ADP is buying at his floor, and I’m buying in bulk.