Derek Carr Can Squash Doubt About His NFL Future—and the Raiders—in 2020

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMay 28, 2020

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) passes against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

Is Derek Carr the Las Vegas Raiders' long-term answer at quarterback? That remains unclear for now.

Over the past two years, the Raiders' rumored interest in quarterbacks Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Tom Brady have raised questions about Carr's future with the team. In April, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. noted Las Vegas "isn't tied" to Carr or backup quarterback Marcus Mariota beyond the 2020 season. 

The 29-year-old can quash all questions about his future with a breakout performance in 2020.

Head coach Jon Gruden (left), general manager Mike Mayock (middle) and quarterback Derek Carr (right)
Head coach Jon Gruden (left), general manager Mike Mayock (middle) and quarterback Derek Carr (right)Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Although the Raiders went 1-5 down the stretch last season en route to a 7-9 record, general manager Mike Mayock praised Carr in late February.

"I try to tell people that, you don't understand how good a quarterback Derek Carr is," Mayock said. "... I'm very happy with Derek Carr."

Meanwhile, head coach Jon Gruden didn't want to talk about swirling rumors and gave his quarterback a vote of confidence.

"I'm not going to answer every media rumor that's out there—just can't do it," Gruden said. "... I love what Derek Carr did—love what he brings to our team. [I'm] anxious to continue building around him."

Critics may find it difficult to believe Mayock and Gruden after the Raiders averaged only 15 points per game after Week 10. Nevertheless, Carr made some improvements despite losing top wideout Antonio Brown before the start of the regular season and Tyrell Williams' being limited by plantar fasciitis throughout the year.

Gruden wanted Carr to think on his feet and make plays outside the pocket. He fumbled near the goal line in Week 7, but his offseason scrambling drills otherwise paid off. The six-year veteran ranked fifth in passer rating (100.1) outside the pocket going into Week 14, per Pro Football Focus

Carr also finished with a career-high 100.8 overall passer rating, which ranked ninth leaguewide. That put him ahead of well-respected signal-callers such as Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz.

Carr made those strides with rookie fifth-rounder Hunter Renfrow as one of his primary targets. Darren Waller had a breakout campaign in his first full year converting from wide receiver to tight end.

Looking at the inexperience and lack of quality depth within the Raiders' 2019 pass-catching group, Mayock shouldn't have to explain why he's confident in Carr's ability going forward.

But we can't ignore Carr's faults, either.

The Raiders struggled to finish drives last season. The offense ranked 22nd in the red zone with a 52.8 percent touchdown rate, some of which falls on Carr's shoulders. He has ranked 15th or worse in red-zone rating in each of the past five seasons, per Josh Dubow of the Associated Press. 

The Raiders offense ranked 11th in total yards but finished 24th in points last season. That's inexcusable for a unit that moved the ball fairly well. The Raiders can't settle for three when they're capable of six.

As a California native, Carr is accustomed to warm weather, but he has to find a way to thaw out in the cold. He's been relatively ineffective in temperatures below 50 degrees, per Dubow.

Josh Dubow @JoshDubowAP

#Raiders have 2 potential cold-weather games with trips to Jets on Dec. 6, Broncos Jan. 3. Derek Carr ranks 48th out of 49 QBs (min 150 att) in passer rating in games played below 50 degrees since start of 2014. His 68.9 rating tops only DeShone Kizer's 63.9

The Raiders will go to Kansas City in mid-October during the regular season. If they become playoff contenders, they should expect some frosty January matchups at Arrowhead Stadium in the future. 

Speaking of the Chiefs, Carr has a career 2-10 record against them. He has yet to beat the reigning champions at Arrowhead, and he has five consecutive losses against them. Circle both Kansas City matchups and potential cold-weather December contests versus the New York Jets and Denver Broncos as possible statement games in 2020. 

Fortunately, Carr will have three years of experience in the same offensive system for the first time in his career. Mayock and Gruden bolstered his skill-position corps this offseason, too.

Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III
Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs IIIJohn Amis/Associated Press

Rookie first-rounder Henry Ruggs III can turn a short pass into a big play with his elite speed after the catch. In 2019, he converted a nation-best 38.2 percent of his receptions into 15-plus-yard gains, per Pro Football Focus. The Alabama product provides an explosive component that the Raiders sorely lacked last year. 

Meanwhile, South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp put rookie third-rounder Bryan Edwards' impact into perspective. 

"He's a big, physical guy," Muschamp said. "He's a difficult matchup on smaller corners and certainly inside on safeties. He's a mismatch type of guy. Because of his physicality, his length, his athleticism, it's not a 50-50 ball with Bryan Edwards. It's more of an 80-20 ball when he's going up to get the football."

Rookie third-rounder Lynn Bowden Jr. should make Las Vegas' offense more unpredictable, too.

"Ultimately, he'll probably be what we call a 'joker,' which is what I love in Jon's offense," Mayock said, per ESPN's Paul Gutierrez. "It's somebody who can do multiple jobs."

Going forward, Carr has to trust his receivers, and Gruden must push his quarterback to throw downfield. According to Next Gen Stats' intended air yards, which measures the average distance a ball travels on every pass attempt, Carr has become more conservative every year since 2016. The rankings include quarterbacks with at least 128 pass attempts.

  • 2019: 6.3 (38th out of 39)
  • 2018: 6.7 (T-39th out of 39)
  • 2017: 7.9 (26th out of 41)
  • 2016: 8.4 (T-26th out of 39)

However, Carr has been one of the most accurate deep-ball passers in the league since 2016, per Pro Football Focus: 

PFF Las Vegas Raiders @PFF_Raiders

#Raiders QB Derek Carr was the most accurate deep passer (targets 20+ yards downfield) in the NFL in 2018, and ranks 3rd in deep passing accuracy since 2016 🔽 https://t.co/0V3cml9geL https://t.co/vzw3hVNihj

Subconsciously, Carr may pull back because of missed opportunities. Raiders pass-catchers have dropped 216 of his passes, the most of any team since 2014, per Dubow.

The offseason upgrades should be a huge help in that regard.

"We're trying to be more aggressive," Gruden said last offseason. "The better your receivers are, the more aggressive you are. The better your line is, the more vertical shots you can call." 

With a strong offensive line—the Raiders ranked sixth in pass protection last season, per Football Outsiders—and a bolstered receiving cast, Carr and Gruden can let it rip in 2020. Running back Josh Jacobs, who ranked eighth in rushing yards (1,150) as a rookie last year, will round out the offense.

The stage is set for Carr to silence doubters and provide hope for the Raiders franchise as it starts a new chapter in Las Vegas.