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A Data-Driven Defense Of Derek Carr That Explores Just How Inept The Raiders Organization Has Been Since He Entered The NFL

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I saw Reags responded to my blog about Derek Carr’s tearful press conference from yesterday as the Raiders fell to 2-7. I guess he doesn’t wanna be my friend since he has no interest in harboring any sort of compassion for the bullshit Carr has dealt with throughout his time with the perpetually stupid Raiders.

Seriously I wouldn't not be friends with somebody for disagreeing with me on a sports take. I’m already over starting beef with fellow bloggers. I am not here to criticize Reags or even take personally his implication that I don’t know jack shit about the sport of football. I was just gonna let this whole thing go and let that rebuttal be the end of it. HOWEVER…I decided to do some statistical digging late this morning and thought that in doing so, I'd built enough of a case for a counterargument of my own. 

I've compiled a series of mostly-objective data points about the circumstances surrounding Carr since he entered the NFL. Where you land matters as we all know, and few teams have had more tumult since the Raiders drafted Carr in the second round of the 2014 draft.

I'm not focusing on Carr's own individual numbers for the most part, because those are easily accessible. You can poke holes in them (lackluster touchdown pass totals, underwhelming yards per attempt, etc) as many have to discredit Carr's entire NFL existence, but I'd rather at least try to provide you with something you haven't seen. An angle on Derek Carr that isn't as well-covered and documented.

Some QBs can thrive no matter what sort of dysfunction is going on. I’m not saying Derek Carr is a top-five quarterback, but the fact that he’s even survived and had any sort of success to this point is a feat in and of itself. It’s like the West Coast-ish version of what Matthew Stafford dealt with in Detroit.

This is basically an info dump with some arbitrary additions to each subcategory. To start, we'll look at the Raiders’ draft classes (mostly just their top picks) right before and throughout Carr’s career, how the team around him has complemented him over the years (or, notably, hasn’t) and then we’ll get to a more comprehensive conclusion by the end. Here we goooooo…

Raiders' draft woes

  • 2021: Alex Leatherwood (gone), Trevon Moehrig (80th/85 safeties by PFF grade in 2022)
  • 2020: Henry Ruggs, Damon Arnette, Lynn Bowden, Bryan Edwards, Tanner Muse (ALL GONE)
  • 2019: Clelin Ferrell (bust), Josh Jacobs (one good year, 2022), Johnathan Abram (bust)
    • Also had Maxx Crosby and Hunter Renfrow to be fair!
  • 2018: Kolton Miller (good), Brandon Parker (One of the worst tackles in football)
  • 2017: Gareon Conley (bust)…no one else remaining on the roster.
  • 2016: Karl Joseph (bust), Jihad Ward (Off team after 2 years), Shilique Calhoun
  • 2015: Amari Cooper (TRADED), Mario Edwards (Off team after 2 seasons played)
  • 2014: Khalil Mack (TRADED).
  • 2013: Zero hits on 10 picks unless you count Latavius Murray in Round 6

Derek Carr’s WR1s by year

  • 2021: Elite Physical Specimen Hunter Renfrow
  • 2020: Eagles First-Round Bust Nelson Agholor
  • 2019: Tyrell Williams
  • 2018: Final-Season Jordy Nelson
  • 2017: Amari Cooper with 680 yards
  • 2016: Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree both over 1K yards. Carr finished 3rd in MVP voting
  • 2015: Amari Cooper with 1070 yards
  • 2014: Andre Holmes with 693 yards

- Darren Waller was Carr’s leading receiver in '19 and '20. Has played in 16 regular-season games since then. Jared Cook led the Raiders in receiving in '17 (688 yards) and '18 (896 yards). JARED COOK.

How's 2022 going, you ask? 

The unanimously acclaimed acquisition of Davante Adams has seen Josh McDaniels refuse to make Adams a focal point of the game plan multiple times (12 yards, 36 yards and 3 yards in three separate starts). Although that's improving of late, there's also this…

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Raiders defensive ranks by year (Points/Total Yards/Pro Football Focus grade):

  • 2022: 28/27/22 (30th in tackling)
  • 2021: 26/14/20
  • 2020: 30/25/30 (4th-fewest sacks)
  • 2019: 24/19/29 
  • 2018: 32/26/31 (fewest sacks with 13)
  • 2017: 20/23/24 (28th in coverage)
  • 2016: 20/26/18
  • 2015: 22/22/13
  • 2014: 32/21/27

Average scoring defense rank: 26th

Raiders rushing offense ranks by year:

  • 2022: 24
  • 2021: 28
  • 2020: 14 (Carr records a career-high 101.4 passer rating)
  • 2019: 13
  • 2018: 25
  • 2017: 25
  • 2016: 6 (Raiders go 12-4, Carr is 3rd in MVP voting)
  • 2015: 28
  • 2014: 32

Average rushing offense rank: 21.6

So the "best" all-around teams Carr had were in 2015 and 2016 or so I would think. The numbers more or less say Carr dragged that 2021 team to the postseason amid the chaos of Jon Gruden's in-season resignation. 

Anyway, in 2015, Carr was in only his second year. New coach, new system, new everything and again, the league’s 28th-ranked running game. Of the Raiders’ nine losses, five were by one possession: at Chicago, vs Denver, at Pitt, at Detroit, at KC, who swept the season series. Also lost to Green Bay, Cincinnati, and Minnesota.

- Playoff teams: GB, MIN (div winner), CIN (div winner), PIT, KC, DEN (div winner). Seven of nine losses to double-digit win playoff teams.

…And in 2016, the Raiders went 12-4.

Bottom-line conclusions about all these numbers incoming. First of all, take away all the noise around the Raiders organization, and focus purely on what’s happened on the field.

The overarching narrative: Derek Carr is frequently saddled with bad defenses and inept rushing attacks. That has put the often one-dimensional Raiders in as many obvious passing situations as any reasonably competitive team since Carr’s career began. His wide receiver talent has been below-average at best in said situations, and he’s had to force-feed tight ends since Amari Cooper left.

From 2015 through last season, Carr led the NFL in game-winning drives (29) and fourth-quarter comebacks (23). Seven of those GWD and comebacks came during that 12-4 2016 campaign alone.

You can say, “Well if HE hadn’t played so poorly earlier in games he wouldn’t NEED to come back.” But if you look at all the data that was just laid out, you’d know you were being disingenuous about that lazy take.

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Beyond all that, this franchise has failed to build out quality roster depth for Carr’s entire career, and has whiffed on a dizzying amount of high draft picks. The only ones they seemed to hit on, Cooper and Khalil Mack, were unceremoniously shipped out of town. The assets acquired for both of those players yielded nothing of consequence other than a good year out of Josh Jacobs in 2022 and he’ll probably sign elsewhere as a free agent.

So like cool, blame Derek Carr all you want. I’m not saying a quarterback doesn’t bear ANY responsibility for a team’s success or lack thereof. That's part of the position. You take most of the heat no matter what. Carr has classily done that, never shifted blame and never shied away from saying he can improve or play better. He isn’t a perfect football player and is only a borderline top-10 QB in my opinion. I’ve just always wondered how he’d fare were he not in such a toxic situation.

For reference in case you’re wondering about the “borderline top-10” line and because the whole “ELITE” conversation is so nauseating, below are my current QB power rankings:

  1. Patrick Mahomes
  2. Tom Brady
  3. Aaron Rodgers
  4. Joe Burrow
  5. Josh Allen
  6. Lamar Jackson
  7. Tua Tagovailoa
  8. Justin Herbert
  9. Dak Prescott
  10. Jalen Hurts
  11. Matthew Stafford
  12. Derek Carr
  13. Geno Smith
  14. Jimmy Garoppolo
  15. Kirk Cousins
  16. Justin Fields
  17. Ryan Tannehill
  18. Trevor Lawrence
  19. Kyler Murray
  20. Russell Wilson
Giphy Images.

Some folks will think 12th is too generous for Derek Carr but oh well. You can make arguments for the guys right below him, too. If you’re more into recency bias, you can latch onto one-year wonder Geno Smith. If you’re a "WINS ARE A QB STAT" person, Jimmy G could get the nod. Go on steady production despite a revolving door of play-callers and a similarly dysfunctional if less dramatic Vikings organization, you could vault Kirk Cousins above Carr. Want the best combo of projection/upside/doing a lot with very little? Hell, knock yourself out with a Justin Fields hot take.

My point is, in the event Derek Carr’s days as a Raider are numbered after this season, a not-insignificant number of NFL teams would get better right away by acquiring him to be their starting quarterback. And I think he deserves far more respect than he gets because of that. The whole "so overrated he's underrated" label gets tossed around often among various pro athletes. When it comes to Carr, you could make the "overrated" argument based flatly on what he's accomplished in the NFL. Where I think he's underrated is in all he's overcome just to carve out a solid career to be considered a franchise quarterback.

Twitter @MattFitz_gerald/TikTok

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