As we near the end of the second decade of this century, the NFL is evolving as much as it ever has. Each game has turned into a 60-minute chess match, as coaches unleash more and more strategical wrinkles, forcing opponents to adjust, grow, and constantly improve. This constant improvement has also translated to the players themselves, as they continue to grow bigger, faster, and stronger at seemingly every position. Along with this athletic improvement, the role that each position plays is rapidly changing as the league approaches its 100-year anniversary. No longer are defenders subject to just one role on the field, as we often see defensive ends rushing the passer on one play and dropping back in coverage the next. But, this is not a defensive line website, this is a website about quarterbacks. And, perhaps more so than any other position, the modern NFL quarterback is drastically different than what it was when the sport began, and even what it was in the heydays of the late-1980s and early-1990s. This is no more epitomized than in Oakland’s Derek Carr, the fourth-year player out of Fresno State, who has emerged as one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks, and one of its best quarterbacks in general. Pinpoint accuracy coupled with incredible arm strength and a natural football mind has propelled him into the upper echelon of passers in this league. More so, a happy marriage with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave (whose contract was surprisingly not renewed at the end of last season), one of the best offensive lines in the league, and a top-tier supporting cast have allowed him to flourish in Oakland and become a prized fantasy asset in two-quarterback leagues.
While it often takes many factors to build a successful NFL quarterback, let us first look at Carr himself. Coming out of Fresno State in 2014, Carr was praised for his arm strength, accuracy, and the fact he ran a pro-style offense during his junior season of college. He shined at the Senior Bowl, yet was still placed under the tier of Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, and Teddy Bridgewater due to fears of “inflated production” versus lower caliber competition and a relatively “small” stature at 6’2”. He ended up falling to the second round, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise when he was selected by Oakland to immediately come in and be the guy. And he has done just that in his first three NFL seasons. Showcasing top-tier accuracy, as he currently ranks second all-time in interception rate, Carr has shown again and again the ability to make just about every throw possible, a trait that is imperative to long term success at the position. Look at this Week 4 touchdown to Seth Roberts against Baltimore:
Carr places the ball in the exact spot where only his receiver can catch it, creating separation through accuracy and scoring a touchdown in the process. It’s throws like that that breed confidence into the future of Carr, especially when you consider he was able to make that kind of pass both on the run and without setting his feet. But outside of the big, flashy throws; he also succeeds in all of the little things that encompass quarterback play, which establish a consistency and reliability that is one of my personal requirements when drafting signal callers in superflex leagues. From being able to go through his reads without being phased by oncoming pressure to properly executing the simplest of check-downs or screen passes time and time again, Carr exudes the poise and control of a franchise quarterback week in and week out. He has also improved on one of his biggest weaknesses coming out of college: being able to operate under pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, Carr ranked fourth in the NFL last season among quarterbacks under pressure. While some of this may be attributed to a small sample size courtesy of elite offensive line play, his own ability to navigate pressure was a weekly pleasure to watch and is just another reason why he will likely continue to improve in year four. His 75 percent adjusted completion percentage rating under pressure was good for third in the NFL and it is clear why it ranks so high when he can make plays like this:
Derek Carr the player is one of the best in the NFL at what he does and his skills are only uplifted by the system surrounding cast around him. It takes an army to develop a quarterback successfully in the NFL and GM Reggie McKenzie has taken all the necessary steps to do just that. Let’s start by looking at the offensive line.
Anchored by first team All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele, the line only gave up 18 sacks in 2016 – the fewest of any team in the NFL. In contrast to generally deteriorating offensive line play across the league, which can be attributed to a multitude of things, namely the growth of spread offenses and the choice of more and more larger athletes to play defense starting at a younger age, the Raiders were a welcome bright spot in an otherwise dark state for one of the most valued position groups in football. Their stability offered a solid foundation for Carr to grow from and really opened up Oakland’s offense as a whole. Placing a young quarterback in a situation in which he is forced to grow and develop under constant pressure and an inability to feel comfortable in the pocket develops bad habits and hinders the ability to reach their full potential. By being able to play behind an elite level line, Carr and similarly Dak Prescott, were both able to focus more on playing quarterback and not escaping pressure or throwing under duress. And through this they are able to better develop the skills needed to alleviate players from college into the master’s level course in football that is the NFL and successfully make the jump into successful NFL quarterbacks.
While the offensive line laid the foundation for Carr’s growth and success, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave crafted an offensive system around him that is best built for the modern NFL and tailored towards Carr’s strengths. While Musgrave won’t return in 2017, many around the team believe the offense will remain, “mostly the same” with a few variations unique to new OC Todd Downing. Spun off from coaching legend Bill Walsh’s west coast style, the Raiders offense is predicated on quick passes complemented by a power running game and a litany of motions, routes, and adaptations within a large playbook. Re-watching a few 2016 games, it was obvious the offense was built on quick plays – screens, slants, curls – but where they really soared was in the home run shots. Carr’s accuracy, as previously mentioned as maybe his single best skill, coupled with his arm strength made tough, long throws look easy. By lulling defenses to sleep with a barrage of quick throws and running plays, Oakland was able to exploit and explode through play action and putting receivers deep, a recipe that led them to the playoffs for the first time in a long time.
By compensating for the modern NFL’s biggest strength, the pass rush, through quick plays designed to limit it, and using a unique combination of spread tools and old school smash mouth football, Musgrave and now Dowling have created the example for how to design an offense in the 21st century, and developed Carr as one of the best quarterbacks in the process. Not to mention the fact that the tandem of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have some of the best route running and ball catching abilities in the league, which elevated Carr to another level. Playing in a West Coast style offense with one receiver that is incredibly gifted at getting open, creating space, and securing the ball is a gift, having two is a godsend. The combination of Carr, Cooper, and Crabtree is one that kept defenses guessing all last season and one that will only get better as Carr and Cooper mature and Crabtree ages well into the next stage of his career. When this trio is blended with the aforementioned top-tier offensive line and an offensive system that is built to succeed in the modern NFL, the possibilities are endless.
Carr has started all but one game of his NFL career, and made the transition from college to pro look relatively seamless both on paper and on film. Looking at his “box score stats” courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference, it’s easy to see why Oakland decided to make him the NFL’s Highest Paid Player with a $125 million dollar extension.
Ranking in the top-10 in pass attempts in each of his first two seasons, and likely his third if not for the missed game, opportunity has been fruitful for Carr and. As a potential owner of his in fantasy, the assurance of this makes drafting him feel much safer. Furthermore, despite the high quantity of passes, his accuracy has remained top-notch. While interceptions aren’t necessarily the statistic you look at when deciding who to draft, Carr’s career 1.8 percent interception rate (second-best ever) just injects confidence into his ability to put up points week-after-week and acts as a potential tiebreaker against quarterbacks around his ADP.
Speaking of ADP, Carr’s current Scott Fish Bowl draft position at 35th overall (QB10) seems, well, perfect. Sandwiched between Marcus Mariota and Kirk Cousins, Carr is at a position about where he fits into the current quarterback landscape and I would be perfectly fine to land him at this spot. There seems to be a clear tier drop-off after QB8 Matt Ryan, and Carr, Mariota, Cousins, and even Ben Roethlisberger fit in any order the drafter prefers. Yet Carr’s ability to show year-to-year improvement while the core around him simultaneously improves as well makes him the ideal low-end QB1 for a superflex roster, due to the consistency he offers coupled with the capability to expound on an already solid fantasy outlook.
All-in-all, Derek Carr fits the mold for just about every box you would want checked for a young quarterback, and a potential decade long fantasy investment. He has the individual tools coupled with a strong support system, top-tier playmakers, and an offense in tune with the new age of football. Also, he seems to get better each and every year. His price is still in the second-tier of the top-level quarterbacks and is perfectly attainable for those who like to wait on their first quarterback (waiting in a relative manner for superflex), and let a quarterback like Carr slide to them. His recent mega-extension shows he’s here to stay and the sky is truly the limit.
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