NFL Draft: Can Derek Carr Escape the Shadow of His Brother David?

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NFL Draft: Can Derek Carr Escape the Shadow of His Brother David?
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Derek Carr has never tried to separate himself from David, his older brother and former No. 1 draft pick. The two are so close-knit they have even dreamed of being reunited at the NFL level.

Conversely, NFL teams are trying to figure out the differences between the two. They are spending countless hours trying to decide whether Derek is worth a first-round pick or if he's going to repeat David’s failed promise.

The quandary over Derek is complicated by the fact that the brothers have so much in common. Unlike Peyton and Eli Manning, who possessed distinct-enough skill sets to make them less comparable, 23-year-old Derek is strikingly similar to 34-year-old David. From throwing mechanics to personality, their senior-year stats at Fresno State (David's and Derek's) and even their looks, they are nearly mirror images of each other.

Thus, the question becomes scary for those who look at David’s 11-year career and see a man who eventually was broken by early struggles.

“What it really comes down to is how Derek handles adversity,” said an NFL team executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to reveal to other teams his team's opinion of a potential draft pick. “Is he going to get through it, or is he going to be like his brother and get beaten down by it? I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t answer that.”

In fairness to David, eight coaches, scouts and executives who were interviewed for this story said his situation was almost unfair after Houston selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2002. That was the first year of the expansion Texans, and David was placed on a team that could do little to protect him.

AP Photo
David Carr takes a nasty spill as he's being sacked as the QB of the Texans.

In three of his first four seasons, he was sacked more than any other quarterback in the league. That included 76 sacks as a rookie and another 68 in 2005. 

The 2005 season was especially damaging. David’s average yards per attempt (a critical stat for measuring the effectiveness of a quarterback) had climbed to 7.6 in 2004. That number is in line with many of the top quarterbacks in the game at the time.

However, it dropped to 5.9 yards per attempt in 2005 under the barrage of hits. Many observers believe that Carr’s confidence was in lockstep with his statistical regression. By 2007, Carr was out of Houston, landing in Carolina for a season and then with the New York Giants. He never became a starter again, a victim of almost Pavlovian fear, one coach indicated.

“By the time he got to us, you could just tell that he had been knocked around too much,” said Denver coach John Fox, who was in Carolina with Carr in 2007. “He was looking to get rid of the ball quick. His arm angle was dropping and dropping. You could see it in his eyes that he just didn’t trust that the protection was going to be there.”

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In essence, David was ruined through little fault of his own. Still, the question comes up with Derek, whether that is fair or not.

“Choosing a quarterback is a complex decision,” St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead said. “Who your brother is should be a small part or the smallest part of the equation, especially since they are two different human beings. Derek should be evaluated as Derek, not as David’s brother.”

True, but…

"His brother (David) didn’t succeed, and there is a perception out there among football people that there could be common traits," former Indianapolis Colts vice chairman Bill Polian said. "It’s a fact: His brother did not succeed. You try to push that away and judge this man on his own merits, which are very good. But that doesn’t mean you completely forget the other part."

Polian said he's sure every club has asked him about it. "What the answer is and how clubs judge that, I don’t know. But I do know this: There is a tendency among some players who have not succeeded to blame others, to say, ‘I didn’t get a chance, the system was bad, the coaches didn’t know what they were doing,’ or that, ‘Management didn’t put the right players around me.’

“From every person I have encountered who has worked with him at the professional level, that is not the case with David. He doesn’t harbor any negative feelings around what he went through, and he has worked really hard to make himself into a good backup quarterback.''

AP Photo
David Carr

Polian said people who have been around Derek also really like and respect him, and they think he has a similar attitude.

Both of the Carrs have tried to steer clear of the subject of how Derek will separate himself from David’s inadequate legacy. How exactly do you distance yourself from someone you admire, particularly when he's your older brother?

Moreover, is getting drafted a few spots higher worth the risk of throwing a loved one under the bus?

Or as their agent Tim Younger put it in a text message, “The guys are a bit weary of it.”

NFL personnel people see Derek as an extremely mature young man. He got married in June 2012 and dealt with serious health issues suffered by his son Dallas, who was born in August 2013. Dallas was born with tangled intestines, a condition that required three surgeries to correct.

All of that happened just as the season was starting at Fresno State. Derek kept his composure and posted the best season of his career, leading the Bulldogs to an 11-2 record.

Then again, that only narrows the comparison between the brothers in the eyes of some people.

“They are wired the exact same,” an NFC scout said on condition of anonymity since he didn’t have permission to speak from his team. “They are almost too perfect. They never do anything wrong; they are great in the community. I’m not knocking any of that, and I think Derek has a chance to be really good.

“But it just makes you wonder what happens if he goes into the same situation as his brother. Will it turn out the same?"

The scout said of Derek: "He's smart, he studies, he’ll be in the weight room, he’ll do it all. He’s a programmed athlete.

"The problem with a programmed athlete is: What happens when it goes off-program? If you tell him to take a five-step drop but the play breaks down and he can’t run it the way it’s drawn up, will he be able to change? His brother couldn’t, and that’s one of the reasons it fell apart for him."

So goes the process of trying to separate the brothers who are divided by more than a decade in age, yet joined like Siamese twins in so many other ways.

At least in the eyes of many NFL folks.

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