There has been a stigma surrounding Derek Carr since he was a teenager. The little brother of NFL bust, David Carr, the three star recruit had to work harder than most to get his moment in the sun. Even as he dazzled at Fresno State, a rocky performance against USC had critics questioning whether or not he was a premier prospect at the pro level.
Whether it was his “small school” status, his hand size, or his last name, Carr was not the first quarterback selected in his draft class. The likes of Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, and Teddy Bridgewater were all taken before him. The stigma was that Carr was a solid prospect, but that he needed time to develop, with his pro comparison being Jay Cutler, a laughable comp with the gift of hindsight.
Despite that, Carr is, as any pirate flag twitter account will tell you, one of four quarterbacks to eclipse 4,000 yards in the last four seasons, including a 2021 where he set a career high in yards despite losing both his head coach and number one receiver before Thanksgiving. Despite the failings of his franchise to adequately support him, Carr has remained fiercely loyal to his franchise and a competitor.
This is not to say that Derek Carr has always been the perfect quarterback. Criticisms of his pocket presence, conservative playstyle, and performance in cold weather are fair. His record in cold weather games is terrible, he has been flustered at points under pressure, and when Derek Carr threw the ball away on fourth down, Nation Twitter just about exploded.
His harshest critics will point to his professional shortcomings and his staunchest defenders will gesture to how tumultuous the Raiders franchise has been since they drafted him in the second round back in 2014, but the national perception of Derek Carr has remained pretty consistent; that he’s a good, if not great, quarterback who is accurate, smart, and can make all the throws, but falls just short of the elite.
However, I believe that 2022 is the year that Derek Carr changes the stigma about him forever, and truly decides what his legacy will be.
2022 Is the Year Derek Carr Changes the Stigma
I am not a Derek Carr stan. I have been very critical of Carr in the past, even saying “I hope that’s the last pass I ever see Carr throw in a Raiders uniform” after the game-sealing pick against the Bengals. I threatened to ruin Spider-Man on Twitter if people didn’t admit he was mediocre.
So when you read me say things like “All-Pro caliber” or “MVP consideration,” understand that this is not a fluff piece from a fanboy, but a premeditated gamble about a breakout season from a 31 year old quarterback that will completely reshape his legacy.
The “Patriot” Way
When the Raiders were being linked to Tom Brady in free agency, the obvious subsequent move would be for the Silver and Black to trade #4 to the New England Patriots. Carr is unique as a quarterback who possesses the physical tools of a vert-first passer but has a penchant for shorter, safer throws, something that then-offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels loves. Even after
Jon Gruden said no Tom Brady signed with Tampa, Patriots allegedly still tried to trade for Carr.
It goes without saying that Carr is still a Raider, but interestingly enough, McDaniels is no longer a Patriot. After a disastrous stint with the Denver Broncos and a PR nightmare with the Indianapolis Colts, Josh McDaniels is a head coach once again in the NFL, this time replacing Jon Gruden in Las Vegas. A playcalling poet, McDaniels loves creating mismatches and scheming players open, and in many ways, the Raiders roster is a better fit than the Patriots one was.
In their prime, the Patriots had a field general quarterback, the aforementioned Brady, who could dissect defenses before the snap. Their biggest weapon, an imposing tight end named Rob Gronkowski, truly embodied the cliche of being “too fast for linebackers” and “too big for defensive ends.” Assuming the defense banded together to stop Gronkowski, a shifty undersized receiver named Julian Edelman turned short catches into big gains underneath.
In Las Vegas, the Raiders have many similar pieces. Darren Waller, arguably the best player on the Raider offense over the last few seasons, is 6’6, 250 pounds, and ran a 4.46 40 at the combine. Like Gronkowski, he’s a matchup nightmare that must be addressed every time he steps on the field. Assuming he’s addressed properly, the Raiders have their own Julian Edelman, the hero of the 2016 National Championship game, the shifty Hunter Renfrow. Carr, who has been watching NFL film since he was 12, is more than qualified to diagnose defenses pre-snap. But there’s one wrinkle the Raiders have that the Patriots have been missing for over a decade.
For all their success over the last 20 years, the Patriots have not had a ton of success finding a true number one receiver. The only time New England had a WR1, to speak, was at the end of the 2000’s, when Randy Moss was nearly uncoverable. That’s not for a lack of trying. The likes of Chad Ochocinco, Josh Gordon, Antonio Brown, Brandin Cooks, N’Keal Harry, and Brandon Lloyd all tried and failed to be the alpha of the Patriots receiver room.
The Raiders don’t have that problem.
This off-season, a fantasy held by many, including the player himself, came true. Davante Adams, a lifelong Raiders fan who has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of the last five seasons, been named First-Team All-Pro in both of the last two seasons, and averages nearly 10 touchdowns a season, took less money so he could be traded to his favorite team. And that’s not even the best part.
Because Davante Adams didn’t just take less money to be a Raider, he took less money to play with his college quarterback, Derek Carr. Carr and Adams terrorized defenses together at Fresno State, and indeed spent many off-seasons in the NFL practicing together. In a time where the new coach of the Raiders is installing a scheme that perfectly fits his strengths, Derek Carr has been gifted not only the league’s best wide receiver, but one who he already has chemistry and a deep friendship with.
The stigma has been, nearly since the beginning, that Carr is good, not great, and that the Raiders would move on when it became convenient. This isn’t based in any reality, as we saw with the team picking him over Tom Brady two years ago, but the stigma remains. In my own quarterback ranking, I couldn’t justify listing Carr in the top ten. Derek Carr, like Metallica and the Star Wars prequels, lives in that realm of somehow better and worse than you think he is. All praise of Carr seems to precede a “but.”
Here’s why that’s changing in 2022.
Too Many Poisons
Everyone in Raider Nation has heard “no excuses this year” a time or two, but really, it’s hard to imagine a better situation for Derek Carr. It’s true, the offensive line leaves a lot to be desired, but as we saw with the Cincinnati Bengals last year, a bad OL doesn’t have to be a death sentence, especially understanding what the Raiders hope to do on offense.
Imagine a play where the Raiders come out with Davante Adams, Josh Jacobs, Hunter Renfrow, Darren Waller, and Foster Moreau. By stepping back into the shotgun and setting Waller in motion, the Raiders can change a run-first two-TE set into what is essentially a three receiver passing play. The versatility of their weapons alone makes life difficult for defenders. But beyond that, where does the defense place their focus?
Davante Adams isn’t known for speed, but with his ability to create separation with route running, he is a threat to take a ball to the house, and there isn’t a corner in the league who can silence him one on one. But Waller, as we stated above, is too big and fast to be left in man coverage with a defender alone as well. Last season, with the loss of Henry Ruggs and Waller injured, Hunter Renfrow proved to be a perfectly capable number one receiver, and his crisp routes humiliated some of the league’s best corners last season. Despite how he was used last season, Foster Moreau is no slouch as a receiver either. Cover all of those guys, and the Raiders might just run it with any of their backs.
Derek Carr finds himself in a scheme that is so consistent with his strengths that you wouldn’t be wrong for assuming they made it for him with weapons that are equally perfect in their roles. The defense looks to be the most competent it’s been in his career, and the Raiders have a wealth of talent in the backfield. Many experts are sleeping onthe Raiders because they don’t believe Carr can compete in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Justin Herbert, but I’m going on the record in August saying that’s why I’m not sleeping on the Raiders.
I believe this is the year that Derek Carr defines his legacy. Career highs in yards and touchdowns be damned, this is the year that Derek Carr gets All-Pro and MVP consideration. This is the year that Derek Carr cements himself as a top ten quarterback, and, yes, this is the year that Derek Carr wins a playoff game.