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 by Chris Kuczynski
After over a decade of futility, last year we started to get a glimpse of the Raiders’ resurgence, and to find the most significant reason why, we don’t have to look any further than the 2014 draft with 36th overall pick Derek Carr.
In his rookie season on the Raiders, Carr quickly secured the starting job in preseason and was able to start all 16 games, the first rookie to do so in franchise history. Unfortunately, his offense offered very little help around him. This was centered around a poor coaching staff and conservative play calling by OC Greg Olson, along with average journeymen James Jones and Andre Holmes as his top targets in the passing game, and a totally non-existent run game that ended up being bottom 3 in the league. With all of these factors working against him, he was still able to put up a respectable 3270 yards, with 21 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions.
Oh how things can change in a single offseason! In his second year, the entire cast around him was drastically improved: he had a completely new coaching staff, a new starting running back in Latavius Murray, and new targets in the passing game in rookies Amari Cooper and Clive Walford, as well as veterans Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts. He also had one of the most stout pass blocking units in the league that included tackle Donald Penn, guard Gabe Jackson and newly signed center Rodney Hudson, which only gave up 12 sacks in the first 11 games of 2015. This allowed Carr to improve his stats to 3987 passing yards (a 22% increase), 32 touchdowns (a 52% increase) to only 13 interceptions (only increased by 1), and a 61 percent completion rate (up from 58 percent), all with throwing 26 less passes than in 2014. Combined in these two seasons, Carr threw for a total of 53 touchdowns, which is second only to Andrew Luck for most TD passes in a player’s first two seasons in the league. The most evident stat that shows his improved efficiency is his yards per attempt average increasing a full yard and a half from 5.5 to 7.0.
When determining what to expect this season, it's important to see what is different about last year, and the best part is so much is staying the same. This is the first time in 3 years that Carr will not have to learn a completely new offensive scheme, as he will be in year two under the tutelage of OC Bill Musgrave; there are talks that only about half of the playbook was used last year, and Carr will be given even more opportunities to command the offense in the huddle and line of scrimmage. Every key contributor to the offense is returning. Cooper and Walford are in their second years, back to full health with an entire offseason to build chemistry with their quarterback. Both were hobbled at times last year and Walford specifically lost out on a lot of valuable reps in the preseason and beginning of the regular season but built momentum in the second half. Cooper had a foot injury that slowed him down in the second half of the season, along with his 10 dropped passes, but as an athletic and polished route runner, he will be an even more effective weapon with the gained experience. And we can’t forget about Crabtree who signed a big extension after bringing his career back from the dead, and proving to be a very reliable number 2 target in the offense when everyone has to account for the big play potential of Cooper. Add all of this to his offensive line that is now arguably the best in the league with the addition of prized free agent guard Kelechi Osemele, Carr will have a clean pocket and a long amount of time to find the open receiver. He will also be playing in a wide open division as part of the easiest schedule of his career, being middle of the pack in difficulty this season, as opposed to 7th hardest in 2015 and hardest in 2014.
So what does this mean for your team in 2016? Going off of last year’s stats, Carr landed just outside the top 10 in passing yards (only 179 less than #10) and was tied for 7th in passing TDs, which was only 4 less than the league leader. With almost identical number of attempts, Carr threw 166 more yards and 1 more TD than Aaron Rodgers. Now, by no means am I saying Carr is on the same level as Rodgers, as Aaron has the long resume to back up his elite status, but it's interesting that Rodgers is a consensus #2 ranked QB, while Carr is hovering around #11 and a full 6 rounds lower in average draft position. To get Carr in the 9th round in a 12 team league with proven top 8-10 stats from last season, and no reason to believe those numbers will go down this year, Carr is one of the biggest bargains in the draft to be your every week starter at quarterback.
Low Side by Andy Hicks
Many will have Derek Carr trending upwards into becoming a borderline starting fantasy quarterback this season, but it may be best to proceed with caution for a number of reasons. We need to see if he can make that next step and has the quality on offense to become a reliable fantasy option. Oakland put a lot of money and resources into improving their defense during free agency and the draft, but invested nothing on offense. The offense itself is more likely to be conservative and Carr himself projects more as a game manager than a gunslinger.
First of all we need to see what Oakland did to improve an already decent defense. They spent their first three picks on Karl Joseph, Jihad Ward, and Shilique Coleman. All defensive players. Even their fourth pick was on a backup quarterback in Connor Cook. In free agency they added Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin and Sean Smith, all big signings and all on defense. The only addition of note on offense was on interior lineman Kelechi Osemele. This massive investment on defense, at the expense of any skill position means that it is hard to see improvement on offense and there could even be possible regression. Amari Cooper tailed off badly in his rookie season, while Michael Crabtree also declined after week 9. Add in an average starting back in Latavius Murray and it is hard to see where this offense is going to make a significant leap. The defense on the other hand, should develop into one of the best in the league.
Talking more about the skill players in Oakland and for Carr to make that leap into justifying his draft slot we need to see Amari Cooper develop into an elite receiver. The signs are promising, but was the significant decline in the second half of the season the result of a rookie wall, injury or other reasons? Michael Crabtree similarly also declined in the second half. After 591 yards in his first eight games, he fell to 331 yards in his last eight. The lack of production at running back and tight end also was a concern. Latavius Murray went from 5.73 yards a carry in the first of the season to 3.25 yards a carry in the second half, while the tight ends averaged less than 10 yards a catch and barely featured. Before I would be comfortable in drafting Derek Carr at his current draft slot I would need to see the offense trending upwards and not massively downward as this unit did over the last half of the 2015 season.
Is Derek Carr capable of breaking open a game or is he more the game manager type? His yards per attempt was one of the lowest in the league and he often took too long to get rid of the ball. He also seemed to be reluctant to throw the ball deep and instead took the safe option. Until Carr is willing to take risks and improve his yardage numbers then he will disappoint fantasy owners expecting 300 yard games on a consistent basis. Until we see the skilled offensive players improve and remain consistent, then they will disappoint the owners of Derek Carr. Until the Raiders look to give Carr more options at receiver and a better running game, then the Derek Carr owners will continue to be disappointed.