Despite Challenges Ahead, Raiders Naming Derek Carr Starter Was Right Move

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystSeptember 2, 2014

USA Today

On Monday, the Oakland Raiders announced that rookie second-round draft pick Derek Carr would be their starting quarterback this season, per the team's official website. For anyone who watched the Raiders play this preseason, it was clear that Carr performed better than Matt Schaub, but performance isn’t the only factor the team had to consider.

Rookie quarterbacks face unique challenges, but the Raiders still made the right decision naming Carr the starter.

When general manager Reggie McKenzie selected Carr with the 36th overall pick in May, the hope was always that he would eventually win the starting job. Carr has exceeded expectations so far, but the true test is yet to come.

The team must believe Carr can overcome the steep learning curve for rookie quarterbacks with its support, that it was going nowhere fast with Schaub, or both. In any case, Carr is the first rookie quarterback to start Week 1 for the Raiders in their 54-year history, so the team is entering uncharted territory.

Head coach Dennis Allen said of the move, via

After watching him all throughout training camp and in the preseason, you just see a guy that continues to develop and continues to be mature beyond his years as a quarterback and a guy that we feel very comfortable putting him out there and helping us win football games. ... We’ve seen him grow by leaps and bounds, and I think he’s ready to accept the challenge.

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and offensive line coach Tony Sparano all have experience starting a rookie quarterback, so the staff knows there will be some growing pains for its young signal-caller.

Rookie undrafted free agent Matt McGloin started six games last season for the Raiders, and the team scored 23.7 points per game during that span.

The only difference is that Carr is a Week 1 starter, which will be a first for most of the Raider coaches and front-office personnel. The Raiders also open on the road in Week 1 against the New York Jets, which isn’t an ideal matchup for a rookie quarterback. Jets head coach Rex Ryan will surely try to rattle Carr with pressure from exotic blitzes.

The Raiders did a good job preparing McGloin for Ryan’s defense last December, and he completed 18 of his 31 attempts for 245 yards in a 27-37 loss. McGloin threw two touchdown passes and just one interception in that game, but he couldn’t overcome Oakland’s defense and special teams allowing 37 points.

Rookie Week 1 starters on the road over the past five years are 3-3. Robert Griffin III, Andy Dalton and Mark Sanchez were able to lead their teams to victory, while Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton fell short. Only Griffin and Newton threw more than one touchdown (two each), and only Griffin and Dalton avoided throwing an interception.

Four of the six teams to start a rookie quarterback Week 1 on the road over the past five years ran the ball more than 30 times, and those teams were 3-1. Four of the same six teams had their rookie quarterback attempt 30 or more passes, and those teams were 1-3.

Another major contributing factor was the performance of the defense for rookie quarterbacks Week 1 on the road. Sanchez was the only starter to attempt more than 30 passes, but the Jets allowed just seven points.

Rookies on the Road in Week 1 (2009-2013)
QuarterbackComp./Att.YardsTD/INTTeam Rush Att.Score
Robert Griffin III19/263202/04240-32, W
Andrew Luck23/453091/31521-41, L
Russell Wilson18/341531/13316-20, L
Andy Dalton10/15811/03327-17, W
Cam Newton24/374222/12721-28, L
Mark Sanchez18/312721/14224-7, W

As recent history shows, the Raiders can win with a rookie quarterback on the road in Week 1.

The Raiders will likely have to give Carr help both in the running game and on defense to be successful while he acclimates to the speed of the game, but he’s already proved he can adjust quickly.

While preseason statistics are deceptive, Carr was able to do just that in his three appearances. Carr completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 326 yards, four touchdowns and one interception this preseason. Opposing defenses also only sacked Carr 4.3 percent of the time this preseason, a testament to him getting the ball out quickly and the play of the offensive line.

OAKLAND, CA - 2005: Rich Gannon #12 of the Oakland Raiders poses for his 2005 NFL headshot at photo day in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Getty Images)
NFL Photos/Getty Images /Getty Images

If Carr can carry over his preseason performance to the regular season, the Raiders may have finally found their first franchise quarterback since Rich Gannon and their first young franchise quarterback since Ken Stabler. Carr’s performance has been tough to ignore and was a big reason the Raiders named him the starter.

“I’ve been calling him Baby A-Rod since he got here,” said wide receiver James Jones, a former Green Bay Packer, Monday via “He throws it natural, so I hope he takes advantage of his opportunity.”

No one hopes that Carr takes advantage of the opportunity more than Raiders fans, who have been waiting 11 years for a winning season. It’s been such a long time since the Raiders had a young quarterback to be this excited about that they might not know what to expect.

No rookie starting quarterback has ever thrown for three or more touchdowns Week 1 on the road. Simply put, the Raiders are going to be cautious with Carr as they drive him off the lot. There will be a time to open it up and see what Carr can do, but the Raiders need to be very comfortable with their new toy first.