The 2014 draft class is littered with prospects that are one small flaw away from being "can't miss" quarterback prospects. Every year team scouts look for the Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck type of quarterbacking prospects; guys that have the quarterbacking pedigree and are easily identified as being the best in the class. Unfortunately, in the last 15 years, no more than a handful of these game-breaking types of talent have entered the draft, and some have proven the waves of prognosticators completely wrong by failing to meet those lofty expectations.
Derek Carr may be the best representation of this draft class, in that he may offer the best physical capability of the class, combined with underrated mobility and good size. (He was listed at 6-3 and 210 lbs at Fresno state but measured closer to 6'2" at the Senior Bowl) During the 2013 season Derek exhibited some less than desirable characteristics that may influence teams to pass on his fantastic arm.
The first part of this review focuses on what Carr does well. The Bulldogs offense lit the scoreboard up like an arcade game in 2013, producing an 11-2 record and ultimately only losing to San Jose State (in a game where Carr rang up a bizillion points and yards) and to a exceptionally far more talented USC squad that was playing angry and fast. Derek threw for 4866 yards and 48 touchdowns this season, which is an exceptional set of numbers even after adjusting for the fact that Fresno State doesn't even pretend to run the ball. He engineered big comeback wins against Rutgers and Boise State, and did not shrink from the challenge of being the sole engine of a BCS candidate offense.
Derek Carr has an exceptionally strong arm, easily in the top two or three in velocity in all of college football. He can make NFL level stick throws from a stationary position or on the run, and can throw the ball over 60 yards without really even exerting himself. His game film is littered with multiple "wow" throws where you can see him fit balls into tight coverage, especially in the 10-20 yard range. For all of the game scouts that denigrate Carr's level of competition, one must note that his receivers are also Mountain West Conference level talent, and many of the throws he made into tight coverage were NOT to Davonte Adams. His ability to adjust the offense and read what the defense is trying to do is exceptional, and he's shown an ability to fake out defenses who are loading a side of the field in anticipation of the many screen passes he throws during an average game.
Do not, under any circumstances, watch David Carr play against San Diego State or Nevada. It may ruin your perspective on professional football. It will certainly reinforce all of the poor images left in the viewers mind from the USC debacle.
The most stunning examples of Carr throwing NFL quality passes is during his tilt vs. San Jose State, which can be seen here courtesy of the DraftBreakdown guys. I recommend that anyone who would like to see the positives Carr brings to the table take some time to watch this tape.
At 00:02, watch Carr nearly overthrow his receiver on a 50ish yard go route. He doesn't even step into the throw, and hits Adams where only he can get it.
At 00:11, he releases a fade route to Harper before he beats the press coverage. Perfect placement.
At 1:03, he runs the option, takes it straight up the middle with a shifty move, pitching at the right moment. Also, this game reminds everyone how awful both of these defenses are.
2:24, 15 yard out route with great anticipation.
2:38 Another delicate end zone fade. He's now thrown more of them in this game than Brandon Weeden has in his NFL career.
3:45, another smooth 10 yard burst of acceleration for a first down.
4:15: Bucket throw, TD.
5:34: They changed out Carr with Johnny Manziel, to see if anyone was paying attention.
6:20 Casual 20 yard strike.
7:50 Bullet, in traffic, 20 yard-ish TD.
8:27 Yawn, another 20 yard whip.
A bunch of boring underneath Fresno State staples, then at 11:32 Carr gets LEVELED as he throws, yet still completes a mid range out route.
11:56: Carr throws an AWFUL interception, which basically ended this game.
13:03 Back shoulder rope, when everyone in the stadium knew where the ball was going.
14:15 Another back-foot throw, but he lobs it nicely for the TD.
Other great games for evaluators looking to see Carr make NFL caliber throws are the Fresno/Rutgers games. At the end of regulation, Carr puts the team on his back, and then seals the deal in overtime. Also, some impressive throws can be seen at the 00:45 second mark (bucket throw) and the 13:10 and 18:18 marks.
Carr is FAR more mobile than he's given credit for, featuring top of the class athleticism. He's been clocked in the mid 4.5's in the 40 yard dash, and has run the read option periodically in his last 2 years of college games. The offense he's been running at Fresno State is a quick-hitting style that utilizes multiple receivers running screens, and only takes shots downfield to keep the defenses honest. When defenses begin to sink and sit on the multiple receiver sets on the outside, Derek can burn defenses with his feet, which he shows off a few times in every game.
Dan Kadar (At SB Nation's "Mocking the Draft") writes a great piece here about how hard Carr worked at the Senior Bowl, and the positive impression he created. Carr knew that he had to show up well, and he was clearly the best prospect in every practice and in the game. It was critical for Derek to show an ability to both improve his footwork and adapt to the tips and coaching he'll be receiving as he operates a pro-style NFL offense. Carr wowed scouts and the coaching staff of the south team (Jacksonville) and left folks impressed with his "maturity and football intelligence."
On the negative side, running a gimmicky offense has stunted Carr's development as a pro prospect. During his Freshman and Sophomore years, he was introduced to pro-style concepts and was learning the ropes in these offenses when the coaching staff and offensive play styles were completely revolutionized. Tim DeRuyter (Fresno’s HC) may have completely hamstrung Carr's ability to develop a feel for the pocket and a quality deep ball by having him get the ball out immediately on every play, eschewing proper footwork and progressions for lightning fast out routes and screens. Carr continued to rely on his ability to throw the ball without getting his feet set, and found it far easier to throw the ball off of his back foot than to evade the rush and keep his feet set/shoulders square. Watching just moments of any film from 2013 highlights will show even the most casual football fan that Carr rarely moves his feet, shifts his weight, and puts everything into a throw. When he does, it’s almost like watching a completely different quarterback.The debacle against USC highlighted his inability to "climb the pocket" and find receivers downfield, instead featuring a dozen throws just out of the reach of his intended targets. USC dared him to beat them downfield all game long, and he consistently was unable to rise to the challenge. Unfortunately for Carr, this was a repeat of what was seen from his 2013 clash with SMU. He made the correct reads, but often times rushed his throws and "saw ghosts" in the pocket.
Rotoworld's Greg Peshek recently published a fantastic article that highlighted what individuals in the 2014 quarterbacking class have done well this season and where they fall short. Derek Carr's accuracy within 20 yards is beyond reproach, and he puts an exclamation point on that evaluation when watching his film. His velocity is incredible, and he hits guys in positions where they can avoid defenders and get yards after the catch. When he throws the ball downfield, however, he is easily the worst of the "Big 4" quarterback prospects, and that is in large part due to the problems he's exhibited in the pocket and his awful footwork.
"’s accuracy on 20+ yard throws is poor, coming in nearly 7% below-average. In addition, his accuracy on NFL type throws (11-20 yards) is just about as expected at 64%. His only redeeming category is in the 6-10 yard range where he is slightly above average."
Another great bit of work on Carr was done by Brendan Leister at Draftbrowns.com, who charted Carr's passes from this season and found his lack of consistency downfield and footwork consistently lacking.
Derek Carr is a prospect that will likely need time to work with a quarterback coach and refine his game before starting for an NFL team. His arm talent is reminiscent of Jay Cutler, a quarterback who played for a small school and developed bad habits in the pocket from playing against high level of competition. (For Carr, those bad habits came from the style of offense he was in) He will have to learn to use his mobility to buy time within the pocket and keep his eyes downfield, instead of taking off on the run, which is a skill he has yet to develop and will be required at the next level.
NFL comps: After Johnny Manziel, Carr has the potential to be one of the biggest busts in the 2014 draft. Many times coaches and front office executives are enticed by the allure of a gunslinger like Carr, and are let down when the prospect inevitably is unable to learn the nuances of the pro game or the ability to throw with touch and under pressure. With the senior bowl showing, Carr's interviews and workouts will have to convince coaches that he is able to correct these flaws, because his talent is undeniable. If he can learn these skills, he could easily have a similar pro career to Jay Cutler; if he can't, he'll repeat a lot of the lessons that Brandon Weeden has learned the hard way the last two years in Cleveland. There's also a touch of Matt Stafford in the evaluation of Derek Carr; expect him to have a similar growth curve in a team that starts him from day one.
How the Browns could acquire Derek Carr:
Derek's stock took an enormous hit from the loss to USC. He wont hear the crescendos of boos over the fact that he lost to a team that outclassed him at nearly every position, but rather the way he lost the game. A top 10 quarterback is expected to hit those downfield receivers when the gameplan shifts, and Carr lost points in the scouting community that was already questioning his NFL readiness.
That being said, the week of practice at the Senior Bowl and the incredible collection of talent he bears should keep Derek in the first or second round of the draft. Once free of the gauntlet of QB needy teams in the top 10, Carr could easily slip to the Browns at the end of the first round or top of the second, where they could snatch him as a consolation prize if the QB they've identified in the top of the draft is gone. Carr could spend 2014 working with QB guru Dowell Loggains, and could easily be considered the steal of the draft in future years if he puts it all together.
Writers Note: I try to remain objective during these articles, discussing pros and cons. To be frank, i'll be happy to see the Browns use a top pick on the guy they identify as having "It" and being able to lead the team at the next level. That being said, i'm a huge fan of the value of Derek Carr; he's not a blog/twitter favorite, and is rightfully bashed for the mistakes he's made and the areas he needs to grow in. He's got "wow" talent, though, and it will be interesting to see if the team that drafts him is able to polish off the rough edges and utilize it.