Derek Carr's sophomore season will dictate Raiders future
For the first time since Rich Gannon, the Raiders have a franchise quarterback... possibly.
Since Gannon's retirement after the 2004 season (he may have retired afterwards anyway, but getting injured against the Bucs in Week 3 probably sped that decision up), the Raiders have seen the likes of Kerry Collins (okay), Daunte Culpepper (or a shell of him), Andrew Walter (who?), JaMarcus Russell ("The Pariah"), Jason Campbell (who wouldn't have been too bad for a bit), Carson Palmer ("The Stopgap") and Terrelle Pryor ("budget Cam Newton").
No Raiders quarterback since Gannon has lasted more than two years with in Oakland which makes now second-year quarterback Derek Carr's sophomore season that much more interesting.
He burst onto the scene in 2014, shocking everyone individually by snatching the starting job from both Matt Schaub, who was brought in originally to start, and Matt McGloin, who had a decent game or two with Oakland in 2013. Carr started all 16 games for the Raiders in 2014, the first Raiders quarterback to do so since Gannon in 2002, throwing for 3,270 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Carr was also the first rookie in the history of the franchise to start Week 1 and was first among rookies with eight touchdowns under pressure (sixth overall in the NFL), 21 passing touchdowns (tied fifth all-time among rookies), a 2.0 Interception percentage (seventh among all NFL quarterbacks), and led rookies in completions (348) and passing yards (3,270).
His 72.4 red zone touchdown percentage was the best in the league and his 104 third down completions were second best. Carr was sacked or pressured just 10.3 percent of the time (the lowest in the league) and his 76.6 QB rating was second in his rookie class.
However, the Raiders only went 3-13 in 2014 – with the then-rookie Carr under center.
"Carr has been the surprise of his class, producing and performing at a surprising level despite playing with an inferior cast," Bucky Brooks of NFL.com said of Carr.
The record does come with a catch though.
Oakland started the season with an abysmal 0-4 record under Dennis Allen, before he was canned when the Raiders came back from London and Tony Sparano took over with the Raiders showing a sense of fight, let alone a heartbeat against the Chargers in Week 6. Carr had the best game of his rookie campaign against San Diego, throwing for 282 yards with four touchdowns, but threw the game-ending interception on the final drive in Oakland's 31-28 loss.
They didn't win their first game until Week 12, 24-20, in a nationally televised Thursday night matchup against Kansas City - fittingly.
The Raiders scored a total of 253 points in 2014 with Carr at quarterback, their lowest since scoring just 197 in 2009 with JaMarcus Russell.
They scored over 300 points in three of the last four years, but the biggest sign of progress for this team will be if Carr can consistently lead the offense down the field on numerous scoring drives per game.
It'll be interesting to see how much the Raiders really open up the passing game for Carr in 2015.
Last year, he didn't really throw downfield as much as his yards-per-attempted pass was just a mere 5.4 ypa, well below NFL average.
Another report also suggests that Carr may not be the future of the franchise.
In a report by JJ Zachariason on Numberfire.com, Carr's poor Net Expected Points stat, a statistic that measures each play and calculates how many points an average team would be expected to score in that situation, considering down, distance to go and yard line. The average NEP for an NFL quarterback in 2014 was 45.17. Carr's was minus-40.94, the fourth-worst in the NFL.
Zachariason mentioned that NEP scores by rookie quarterbacks can be a good sign of future success and that Carr's NEP ranks among the same busts like Geno Smith, Joey Harrington and Josh Freeman.
It's worth noting that Carson Palmer and Matt Stafford had low NEP's in their rookie years and have had solid careers. He also mentioned that despite the numbers, "Carr can still succeed. He can still be a top-tier quarterback."
"Carr's a special young talent," new Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio mentioned. "He's got a really quick release, good decision-maker, he's shown some of that grit we're looking for, some of that toughness, so he's a guy that we feel like we have an opportunity to build around."
That's going to be the key to the Raiders progressing back to the playoffs in 2015, or at least even a .500 record: building around the young signal-caller.
With around $50-$60 million available in the salary cap, the Raiders are expected to go after several top-tier free agents, most notably receiver Randall Cobb and tight end Julius Thomas, two weapons that could instantly improve the Raiders offense.
The offense could be more explosive than the mere pop they provided in 2014 if they can effective run the no-huddle. With Bill Musgrave now running the offense in Oakland, the Raiders are expected to install the no-huddle, something Musgrave helped install and worked with in his time as the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia.
"Sometimes, the games were really slow for me," Carr mentioned. "It was almost like I was waiting for it to speed up.
"My last two years at Fresno State were 100 percent no-huddle, and I love it. I'm very comfortable in it. They are building this offense around me, and I'm really excited about it. I lit up when they told me."
These Raiders, under new head coach Jack Del Rio, will only go as far as Derek Carr goes. If Carr can improve on his 2014 performance, there's a good chance the Raiders do better than 3-13 or 4-12 and possibly finish 8-8 or better.
The ultimate realistic goal for this team in 2015 would be a wild card spot at the end of the season. It would show a solid, legitimate step in the right direction, although finishing over .500 would do the same.
Carr's got a few miles on him now and drove decent in 2014. Now, it's time for the real road test.
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