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Player Faceoff: Derek Carr, Oakland

Two staffers go head-to-head and discuss Derek Carr

The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.

High Side: Andy Hicks

Last year, I was very cautious about where the career of Derek Carr was trending. Was he evolving into an Alex Smith like game manager or did he have enough scope for improvement as he became more familiar and comfortable in an NFL offense? He was considered a borderline starter for fantasy drafts last year and after an extremely progressive season, Carr has become a player that will be an elite quarterback, sooner rather than later. The Raiders feel comfortable enough in his development to make him the highest paid player in the league, for now. The fantasy stats will come with that progression.

Derek Carr, while adding the deep ball to his repertoire, was able to take care of the football better than any of the prolific passers in the NFL last season. Of the 19 quarterbacks with more than 320 completions, Carr was the only one to post six or fewer interceptions. If he didn’t break his leg in the second-to-last game of the season he would have passed 4000 passing yards for the first time, cleared 30 touchdowns for the second consecutive year, and been a top-10 fantasy quarterback. He has further improvement to make this year and beyond.

The Oakland Raiders offense has not lost a player of note. The developing rapport Carr has with his receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree will be center stage for the 2017 season. Cooper is still an ascending talent and ready to join the elite receivers this year. Michael Crabtree will be one of the best WR2s in the league and will continue his consistent production since joining the Raiders in 2015. Jared Cook comes on board as one of the better receiving Tight Ends in the league. Stints with the Packers and Rams were below the talent level Cook had displayed previously, as opportunities weren’t as prevalent as they should have been. When the Packers finally unleashed him in the playoffs the results were there to see - 6 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys and 7 for 78 with a touchdown against the Falcons. Cook will be a prime reason why Carr will climb into the top group this year. Cook will be able to exploit the center of the field with his speed, while Crabtree and Cooper will be more than a handful for defensive backs.

Due to the wear and tear on Marshawn Lynch, despite a year off, he will not be the focus of the offense. He will be there to keep opposing defenses honest, behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. The Raiders will ensure that whatever Lynch has left in the tank, will be utilized to maximum efficiency. The team have solid backups in Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington for keeping Lynch fresh. This will allow Carr to control the offense and as such spread the ball to an even better effect.

Consistency on the line, coaching staff and receiving group will mean that Carr will have stability, surety and a comfort level that few quarterbacks in the league will be able to rival. All the pieces are in place for Carr to take that final leap into NFL and fantasy stardom.

Low Side: Justin Howe

Carr is widely looked at as a rock-solid QB1 candidate. He’s currently being taken as the QB6, often between Rounds 6 and 8 and ahead of the likes of Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. I like Carr moderately as a real-life passer, and I see room for fantasy growth, but there’s no way I can get on board with that ADP. In fact, I’m not even treating him as a top-15 quarterback option. He faded noticeably down the 2016 stretch, averaging 25.2 standard fantasy points through Week 8 but just 18.6 after, before breaking his leg in Week 16. Some of that dip can be blamed on his receivers – Michael Crabtree became a drop machine late in the year, while Amari Cooper (again) posted a marked decline in production over the final few games. But Carr will be throwing to nearly the same receiving corps in 2017, so I can’t project much of a boost.

It was also discouraging to see Carr’s already mediocre rushing production tumble so mightily in 2016. His per-game yardage was cut nearly in half (despite more attempts than in the previous year), and he’s still without a rushing touchdown as a pro. In fact, he’s yet to register a rush from inside the 5-yard line as a pro. That may not strike us as a major deal, because we like to judge most QBs by their passing production and treat rushing stats as gravy. But meaningful rushing numbers make a huge splash in projecting our way through a QB2 tier that’s usually bunched tightly together. By most projection models, Carr comes out with similar passing numbers to the likes of Andy Dalton, Kirk Cousins, and Marcus Mariota. But those guys tend to produce more on a per-carry basis and find themselves game-planned on sneaks and draws near the goal line. Carr’s general inferiority in those rushing columns keeps him markedly below them overall.

Perhaps most damningly, Carr doesn’t project very well from a touchdown standpoint. Touchdowns are king in this game of ours, and the red zone is typically where they come from, so I tend to chase guys whose opportunity and efficiency project well in close. And Carr just can’t seem to get it together in the red zone. Over the past two seasons, only two full-time quarterbacks (Russell Wilson and Jameis Winston) have posted lower completion rates from inside the 20 than Carr. Looking forward, I don’t see that as some wonky fluke that will self-correct anytime soon. Amari Cooper seems allergic to the ball from that close in, and new tight end Jared Cook can’t find the end zone from anywhere. Their primary sources of short-yardage touchdown catches of late have been either marginalized in the offense (Seth Roberts) or cut loose (Andre Holmes). The addition of Marshawn Lynch could even further doom Carr’s red zone outlook; his 32-score line from 2015 is starting to look like the wonky fluke.

Simply put, it would be extremely difficult for Carr to return on a QB1 investment without some sturdy trends reversing themselves. It’s hard to project him beyond about 4,200 passing yards, 25-28 touchdowns, and objectively paltry rushing totals, and I don’t see where the upsides could come from. If I’m hunting a quarterback in his ADP tier, I’m looking toward Andy Dalton, Kirk Cousins, or Matthew Stafford every time.