What Does Derek Carr Really Have Left?
NFL Offseason - It feels strange to care about Derek Carr at this time of year.
Frankly, it feels a bit strange to care about Carr at all. Carr spent nearly a decade in a well-worn rut of quasi-relevance: too effective for the Raiders to trade or release, not nearly accomplished enough for "elite quarterback" talk-show prattle, and never interesting enough to roast for yuks and profit. His Raiders bosses were bigger personalities than Carr, but they were generally content to extend his contracts, plug him into a mid-tier offense, and sow their chaos elsewhere.
Times have changed, however. The Raiders released Carr last week. The Jets are pursuing him in their quest for a quarterback who doesn't claim that the dog ate his homework. The Saints, in desperate need of financial intervention, are also interested in Carr. At the moment, sheer availability makes Carr the most interesting quarterback in the NFL who is not sitting in a darkened room picking lint from his navel while listening to Joy Division's back catalog on high rotation and calling it a "retreat."
Carr has also spent many years in a time bubble. His third-place MVP finish was way back in 2016. He has been roughly the NFL's 10th- to 20th-best quarterback on its 12th- to 24th-best team for two presidential administrations. Yet he only turns 32 in March.
Carr should still be in his prime, with a few years to go before any significant age-related decline. But his DVOA and DYAR have gone down every year since 2019, and other metrics (Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt at Pro Football Reference, NFL passer rating) have declined in two straight years.
Carr's drop in performance could be attributed to the Jon Gruden implosion, Mike Mayock's malpractice, and Josh McDaniels' uninspiring Raiders debut. But factors such as the arrival of Davante Adams suggest that things should have gotten a little better, not worse, for Carr in 2022.
So what does Carr really have left to offer the Jets, Saints, or anyone else? Let's sift through some data.
Derek Carr and the Deep Ball
Let's start with deep (over 15 air yards) passes. You would expect an aging quarterback to slowly decline as a deep passer as he starts to age: his attempts drop (can't manage the pocket quite as long as he used to), his completion rate drops, his interceptions increase. A truly savvy quarterback could compensate for years, but one of the questions we are trying to answer is whether Carr is a truly savvy quarterback.
Here are Carr's deep passing stats for every season dating back to 2015, his second year in the NFL:
|Derek Carr Year-by-Year Deep Passing Stats|
Carr had a well-deserved rep as a dink-and-dunk guy in the late 2010s, as his low attempt figures and meh rate stats on deep passes suggest in the table above. He became one of the best deep passers in the NFL in 2020 and 2021, however, despite lacking a top-tier WR1 and Gruden's West Coast Offense predilections (and 2021 midseason departure).
Carr got McDaniels and his college chum Adams in 2022, yet he posted his worst deep-ball numbers since 2017. Carr's 10.9 ANY/A ranked 17th in the NFL among passers with 50 or more 16-plus-yard attempts. That's still fine, but slippage would be a big problem for Carr's next team.
Carr's deep-passing decline in 2022 is a troubling sign for would-be suitors. There are mitigating factors, of course: the collapse of the Raiders' interior offensive line, Darren Waller's injury (Waller caught lots of 15- to 20-yard passes in the past), lack of early-season timing with Adams, McDaniels' McDanielsness. But think for a moment about how those factors will impact Carr on a new team. Teams are looking for an instant upgrade from a veteran quarterback, not a "getting to know you" year.
Derek Carr Under Pressure
A veteran quarterback's stats when pressured might not deteriorate immediately, but you would expect them to change as he ages.
A wily veteran—the type teams courting Carr are hoping to acquire—might trade sacks for throwaways and checkdowns, increasing his completion rate and lowering his sack rate but taking something off his yards per attempt. When the end is nigh, the aging quarterback runs out of compensation strategies, and his pressure stats fall apart: Matt Ryan was a prime example last year, and Tom Brady was starting to drive the same highway.
The good news here for Carr is that the end does not appear to be nigh:
|Derek Carr Year-by-Year Pressure Stats|
Carr cut his sack rate despite a revolving-door offensive line and without sacrificing too much else statistically. His under-pressure metrics in 2022 were far better than they were in 2017 and 2018.
Carr ranked ninth in the NFL in ANY/A under pressure in 2022. He had the sixth-best sack rate under pressure among passers with 60-plus attempts. These are encouraging signs that the team that signs Carr will get what they are paying for: a good decision-maker under duress who avoids negative plays.
So far it's Decline 1, Carr 1. Time for a tiebreaker.
Derek Carr Out of Pocket
As a quarterback ages, he should be less effective outside the pocket. First, scrambling becomes a health hazard. Then even designed rollouts get a little wonky. We'd expect a deteriorating quarterback to venture out of the pocket less and get punished for it more as the years go on.
Carr's outside-the-pocket metrics (going back to only 2016, due to the limits of the Sports Info Solutions Database) are something of a mixed bag:
|Derek Carr Year-by-Year Outside-the-Pocket Stats|
Carr's sack rate outside the pocket shot up in 2021 and stayed there last year. Sifting deeper into the data, it turns out that Carr was a pretty effective on-the-run passer for most of his career: zero sacks on passes outside the pocket which were NOT designed rollouts in 2018 and 2019, on 30 and 38 attempts. Carr was sacked on four such ventures from the pocket in 2020, nine in 2021, and six last year. Carr cannot escape pressure like he used to, and he never exactly had a Houdini reputation.
Carr's overall outside-the-pocket throws dropped in 2022, but that's a McDaniels thing: Carr executed just 10 designed rollouts last year, as opposed to 30 in 2019 and 28 in 2020, Gruden's last two full seasons as head coach.
Carr might thrive in the sort of rollout-heavy offense Kirk Cousins performs well in, but the evidence suggests that he is entering the pocket-bound stage of his career. The list of things Carr probably cannot do is starting to grow, which should worry the teams courting him.
Derek Carr's Downside
One thing is obvious when sifting through the splits: Derek Carr is not getting any better.
Carr earned his reputation for dink-and-dunk blandness honestly in the late 2010s: he was a reluctant deep passer who didn't exactly shine under pressure, but he was always efficient enough to satisfy his coaches and DVOA. Carr truly improved under Gruden, but the circus was in town, the Raiders were moving to Vegas, Mike Mayock was drafting out of media guides, and so forth. Carr remained near the top of the quarterbacks a team can "win with," never venturing into "win because of" territory. He slipped last year but did not collapse completely; he (chuckle) made the Pro Bowl, after all.
So Carr didn't really have the same season eight straight times; it only looks that way if you don't examine his career closely. Still, if Carr were still performing at his 2019-2020 peak, we'd expect him to have reacted positively to Adams and McDaniels in some way. Instead, the most encouraging statistical indicator we have is a decreased sack rate under pressure.
Carr may not be at the end of the line, but he appears to be at the beginning of the end, the place where mobility and deep-passing oomph start fading and compensation skills become increasingly important.
So Carr is probably not Ryan, poised to humiliate himself and the organization who signs him. That makes sense: Carr is several years younger than Ryan.
But Carr is not Matthew Stafford either, in part because there is no near-contender looking to sign him to replace their caretaker quarterback. Carr himself is the caretaker. That makes it hard to muster much enthusiasm about which middleweight signs him in an effort to advance to light heavyweight status.
Yet muster we shall!
Three Ideal Landing Spots for Derek Carr
We're not going to include the Saints here because, seriously, the Saints need to cut it the hell out with the deficit spending.
Let's also rule out the Colts meme: no, they aren't going to pursue another veteran stopgap. Are they? No they are not. Are we sure? Almost 75% sure.
Let's rule the Bears out, too: even if they traded Justin Fields for extra draft picks and threw every resource they have at building a supporting cast, Carr would still be running (not too swiftly) for his life and throwing to rookies. And the Bears would still need a quarterback of the future.
With that out of the way, let's round up some suitors.
New York Jets: Carr represents the most cost-effective way to ensure professionalism and baseline competence at quarterback without trading away the draft picks needed to reinforce their offensive line and defense.
Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas need to set the bar at "playoff berth" and then clear it to prevent a typical Jets purge (new coach, then a new general manager, both of whom harbor some mysterious grudge against Sauce Gardner and Garrett Wilson, who are traded for draft picks, who are used on the next Zach Wilson, repeat ad nauseum). A 10-7 finish with Carr at the helm would be a real triumph, and it would buy the Jets time to pursue longer-term solutions.
Carolina Panthers: Carr is not Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, or Baker Mayfield, though the Panthers organization should remain wary of dipping once again into the quarterback aftermarket. Carr isn't quite Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, or Matt Ryan either, though Frank Reich needs to steer clear of any Groundhog Day scenarios involving creaky/derpy veterans. Pairing Carr with C.J. Stroud or Anthony Richardson would keep the Panthers competitive as Reich installs his system while creating a fine succession plan for the future. A real win-win.
That win-win would be costly, however, and the Panthers have some salary cap knots to untie. Carr makes sense from a football perspective, but less sense from a financial perspective,
New England Patriots: OK, hear us out. Mac Jones ain't gonna happen. Noodling around with him for another year just to confirm that is a great way to go 8-9 again.
New offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien is a screamy, high-maintenance guy. You know who has worked well with screamy offensive would-be geniuses in the past? DEREK CARR.
If Bill Belichick really sees a championship window wedged open by his defense, Carr should be his late-career Brady surrogate. The cap numbers more or less work out, the offensive line will look better when it is actually being coached, and Carr operates well in a tight end-happy passing game.
If that sounds a little silly, well, such are the perils of projecting the late career of a thirtysomething second-quartile quarterback. Carr needs a custom fit to perform at his peak. The organization that just spent years trying to create that fit has given up. Carr is a temporary solution for a team with tempered expectations.
Coming Soon: The FO Draft 100
Offseason? What offseason? I have been down in the skunkworks writing and compiling the FO Draft 100, which is exactly what it sounds like: a rundown of the top 100 prospects in the 2023 draft class, complete with profiles, scouting reports, and stats fueled by Sports Info Solutions and (when the data is done cooking) Football Outsiders' draft metrics such as SackSEER, QBASE, and so forth. There will also be a Fantasy 40 with extra information on running backs, wide receivers, and others who may not crack the top 100 but will interest fantasy gamers in 2023. You know, Dameon Pierce and Isiah Pacheco types.
The good news is that the Draft 100 will drop soon, and it will be updated regularly throughout draft season. There is no bad news, but there is some affordable news: you will need an FO+ subscription to access the whole list.
Ah, but you can access prospect rankings and scouting reports all over the Internet for free, right? Sure, if you like reading content that sounds like it was written by ChatGPT. My prospect capsules are heavy on information and insight, light on search-engine keywords and faux-scouting bibble-babble. The FO Draft 100 will help you feel really informed about the players, their strengths and weaknesses, their backgrounds, and so forth without forcing you to skim through scouting drum solos. And of course, you get MUCH more from an FO+ subscription than just my draft musings.
Here's a sample of what you'll get from the FO Draft 100:
Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
Flowers' highlight reel looks like Tyreek Hill playing NFL Blitz at 1.25x speed. If only there were a few more highlights…
Flowers can go from zero to 90 in a heartbeat, and he often catches even Clemson-caliber defenders flat-footed in off coverage. Flowers' over-the-shoulder tracking ability improved in 2022 (better Boston College quarterback play helped), he varies his stem to turn defenders around, and he uses his speed well to set up comeback routes. Some of his open-field moves with the ball in his hands look like deep fakes.
Flowers is just 5-foot-9, 185 pounds: like many of the top receiver prospects of the 2023 draft, he's disappointingly undersized. He's a tiny target over the middle and not much of a bad-ball receiver.
Flowers opted for the Shrine Bowl instead of the Senior Bowl, which had some tongues wagging down in Mobile. (Note: his Senior Bowl invitation was not officially acknowledged, but word on the street was that he turned down the more prestigious all-star game.) Flowers then skipped the first day of Shrine Bowl practice. "It was just a decision me and my representation made, and my Dad," Flowers told Daniel Flick of Sports Illustrated. "We just felt it was safer to sit out and support my teammates."
That got even more tongues wagging. Flowers eventually suited up for practice and played well, though he should have looked like The Flash against Shrine Bowl competition.
Based on pure on-field speed and big-play potential, Flowers should be the first wideout taken in the 2023 draft: all of the receivers in this class have shortcomings, but Flowers looks like the one who can impact the offense just as a decoy running dummy routes. The all-star boondoggle would be nothingsauce if Flowers were a Ja'Marr Chase-caliber prospect, but he's not, and some teams will be understandably wary of a youngster who made business decisions in front of the Patriots coaching staff.
Flowers may turn out to be more of a Mecole Hardman than a Cheetah. But his sizzle reel is absolutely breathtaking, making him a risk that may be worth taking late in the first round, and certainly on Day 2.
Stat Note: Flowers on passes of 20-plus air yards: 12-of-27, 500 yards (fourth among Power 5 receivers on such passes), four touchdowns. Fine numbers when targeted by a pair of Boston College quarterbacks we will never see playing on autumn Sundays.
Not bad, right? Now to whip up 99 more. See you in a few days!
37 comments, Last at 24 Feb 2023, 6:00am
#1 by Raiderfan // Feb 20, 2023 - 10:50am
A very fair assessment of Carr, although I think you undersold how terrible their O-Line was. I think he has always been under appreciated for his maturity and steadiness given the clown shows he has had to deal with at owner/HC level. But the fricking Patriots? Noooo!
#11 by NYChem // Feb 20, 2023 - 3:02pm
EVERY SF QB since Steve Young has had a high injury risk. You know who doesn't? Derek Carr! I think there should be a tleast two more teams added to Tanier's short list, one of them being the 49ers (the other being WFT). I half-agree with the point above, not sure Carr is a fit with NYJ, but NEP might make sense. The pressure of playing in NY is seriously no joke; not sure Car could handle it. Mayfield maybe...
#24 by bobrulz // Feb 20, 2023 - 11:21pm
I don't hate Carr to the 49ers. The 49ers with a mid-level QB is an insant Super Bowl contender. I have a hard time believing Purdy is really the answer, and how much faith do any of us have in Trey Lance? He's barely even thrown a football in a real football game. And for the last few years they've had Jimmy G. They made it to 3 of the last 4 NFC Championship Games (and a Super Bowl!) with that QB albatross. Derek Carr is easily a better QB than Jimmy G, and Kyle Shanahan is 10x better than every coach Carr has had combined. Carr to the 49ers would probably make them instant Super Bowl favorites.
#2 by ImNewAroundThe… // Feb 20, 2023 - 11:10am
2016 Carr was fun to watch. Injury sent him into a shell for a bit but he's come out of it. Unfortunately the Raiders coaching has been inept.
Of the 2014 2nd round QB free agents, if I was forced to sign one of em, I'd much prefer him over Jimmy.
#34 by BSK // Feb 22, 2023 - 5:47am
If memory serves, the narrative at the time was that Carr got jumpy in the pocket after his injury, often going to quick to check-downs and throwaways whenever it got messy near his feet. This is an understandable response to the sort of injury he had... though obviously one that is troubling for an offense. I can't quite tease out from the data if this narrative is supported by the numbers, but if so, it seems reasonable to think about how his mental response to the injury impacted the numbers and his overall progression.
#3 by BigRichie // Feb 20, 2023 - 11:50am
I see where Carr would make sense for Carolina, But why/how would Carolina make sense for Carr? QB for one year, then get pulled for the high-drafted rookie the next one? (or just as likely get pulled in-season if things don't go right enough)
#5 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 20, 2023 - 11:57am
Josh McDaniels' uninspiring Raiders debut. But factors such as the arrival of Davante Adams suggest that things should have gotten a little better, not worse, for Carr in 2022.
Still, if Carr were still performing at his 2019-2020 peak, we'd expect him to have reacted positively to Adams and McDaniels in some way.
Did you miss the part where a former Pats coordinator was attempting to be a HC?
You start with hoping no one dies and go from there.
#9 by theslothook // Feb 20, 2023 - 2:41pm
Derek Carr serves as a good example of the most likely outcome for a team that rides the Tier 3 quarterback wave. The two alternate extremes are SF with Jimmy G/KC under Alex Smith or the Stafford and Goff led Lions.
People have framed the pay Tier 3 QBs as close to a no brainer, but how many would willingly sign up for the last 10 years of Derrick Carr?
No one was phrasing it that way when Murray signed his big extension, but pre injury, I bet that was the most likely outcome headed for the Cardinals.
#13 by occams_pointed… // Feb 20, 2023 - 3:53pm
The Super Bowls won counts aren't at all kind to all the QBs who don't win one in their first five years.
If you toss out Jim Kelly and John Elway then even all the dudes who made it to and lost their first Super Bowl didn't make it back (since the 1970s at least). Elway is the only dude who lost that first Super Bowl (or three) and eventually won one.
So the takeaway is it's probably much better to play the QB Lotto if your guy hasn't gotten to the Super Bowl on his first contract. The main issue is incentive alignment between head coach and franchise.
New York Giants: this message applies to you.
Buffalo Bills: Is Josh Allen good enough to break the trend? I guess we'll find out.
Hey Ravens: is injury prone Lamar Jackson really a good bet?
#14 by GwillyGecko // Feb 20, 2023 - 4:13pm
Peyton Manning didn't win or even goto a SB until his 9th season, ditto for Drew Brees, Rodgers and Favre both in year 6, Brad Johnson and Dilfer won after being dumped by teams, Stafford didn't win his until year 13.
#22 by Run dmc // Feb 20, 2023 - 9:04pm
You could also throw Steve Young in there. 2 Years in the USFL, 2 Years in Tampa, won a SB in his 3rd year with SF as Montana's backup. Won the SB as starting QB, in his 8th year in SF.
However, I believe the stat is no QB - Head Coach Duo has won a SB if they didn't win one in the first 5 years. Even without the caveat of the first 5 years, I believe Bradshaw - Noll and Brady - Belichick are QB/HC combos to win after their first 5 years together. .
Reid - Mahomes you could also count in that group as they have been together for 6 years (although Mahomes just finished his 5th as a starter.)
I believe Seifert and Young were together more than 5 years before winning but Seifert had won with Montana earlier and I believe they won in their 5th year with Young as a starter.
#16 by KnotMe // Feb 20, 2023 - 5:19pm
Isn't Mac Jones upside basicly Derek Carr? Well, they Pats were doomed when they didn't utilize the fact that Brady left and they had Cam Newton's corpse at QB to get a decent successor. Missing at QB dooms you for a while and Carr just keeps you in Vikings land for longer.
It seems like there arn't that many fits for Carr honestly.
#17 by theslothook // Feb 20, 2023 - 6:44pm
One of the predictions I got very wrong was about Mac Jones coming into a second year.
He was fine as a rookie but the Patriots hid him a lot and I thought even with an asinine set of choices to run the offense, stylistically he'd be able to be at least league average. He was far worse.
After Baker, Mayfield had a horrible sophomore year to follow his great rookie year, I didn't know what to make of it. There were excuses made for that season as well; excuses, admittedly that were certainly plausible and compelling.
Mac Jones is essentially in the same position as Baker Mayfield with a lot less success. His physical traits have been derided to death, but there are qbs who can succeed in spite of limited physical abilities. Manning with half a neck was still an MVP and a record breaker. And yet it's really hard not to be overly pessimistic about Mac.
#32 by mrh // Feb 21, 2023 - 4:54pm
I count three hypotheses about QB aging here:
- You would expect an aging quarterback to slowly decline as a deep passer as he starts to age
- A veteran quarterback's stats when pressured might not deteriorate immediately, but you would expect them to change as he ages.
- We'd expect a deteriorating quarterback to venture out of the pocket less and get punished for it more as the years go on.
Is there any research on FO that substantiates them? Or can you link you other sites' research?
#33 by theslothook // Feb 21, 2023 - 7:51pm
Everyone kind of ages differently is the other issue and they don't always get to the end stages where we see it play out that way. Manning's fall was all physical. He couldn't make throws any longer and his arm had turned to dust. Favre, by contrast, still had the arm strength but his body couldn't absorb the pounding.
Technically, neither Brady nor Brees ever hit the terminal point where the dramatic faceplant occurs. The aging had slowly begun to sap their abiltiies, but they cut bait before it ever got really ugly.
I don't know if there are any set of indicators that tell the story. Sometimes the decline happens overnight and the physical deficiencies are quickly apparent(Rivers, Manning, Big Ben?); but other times you just see a slow decay and a quiet exit before anyone notices its truly over.
#35 by eggwasp // Feb 22, 2023 - 8:31am
Having watched every game of Carr's career, I always thought the dink/dunk thing post-16 was a bit of a hoax - he was never gonna be Rogers/Mahomes, but he also had no consistent weapons until Renfrow/Waller, and even then had to rely on Agholor, Zay Jones etc (who's careers he resurrected). Quite simply noone was ever open. He was the scapegoat on a terrible team, generally because he was the only one that stuck around. Clearly his leadership skills thru the playoff run last year were immense.
This year, something was off all-season and I had a hunch it was Carr not being allowed to audible - something which appears to be correct (according to is brother's story now at least). Carr was always good at reading defenses and changing plays, and this was clearly NOT ALLOWED in McDaniels offense - at least not the way Carr wanted to work. I think that played a massive role in Carr not being comfortable in the offense - when things didn't work this year, it wasn't Carr-type reasons - he was careless with the ball (throwing - he's always been a little fumble-prone) and he was poor in the clutch - which was his main skill over his first 8yrs - all those 4th quarter comeback victories added up, but they weren't there this year.
Any "elite" talk was silly, but he was never appreciated for what he was, a top 10 QB who made the most of a terrible situation either in terms of weapons (often, if not recently), O-Line (a while back, but especially in 21-22) and the worst defence in the league during his decade under center. He's better than his rep, but that would never be enough for some. I hope & expect he'll do well elsewhere, he deserves it - much more than the idiot GMs/coaches/OWNER who he played for in Oakland/Vegas.
I guess one thing I'd say is that you cannot extrapolate anything from this season. The whole thing was a bad fit between QB/coach and if Carr is allowed to lead a team, then I see no reason why his numbers can't recover. Its also true that if you are forced to throw to WR1 all season then his numbers will be great, even if you don't complete a decent % of passes. Renfrow and Waller were out most of the year and never fit.