NFL

Derek Carr Emerging Into An Elite Quarterback

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by Chris Boyle

Oakland fans, enjoy Derek Carr while you have him. And Las Vegas residents, cross your fingers the Raiders’ rumored move to Sin City comes to fruition.

Because at the halfway point of 2016, Carr has blossomed into not only a franchise quarterback but a legitimate candidate for the league’s Most Valuable Player.

On Sunday, Carr shattered a franchise record with 513 passing yards in a 30-24 overtime victory at Tampa Bay, tossing four touchdowns without an interception and completing 67.8 percent of his attempts. In the process, the third-year pro led the Raiders to a 6-2 start with a fifth consecutive road win.

“I’m not going to lie to you; I was so overcome with emotion when someone told me that out there I almost started crying,” Carr said of the record. “Not in a weird way, just that is stuff you dream of as a kid.”

Asked if it was the best he’d seen Carr play, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio replied, “I don’t know if I would say the best game throughout, but it was awesome. … I think we’ll continue to see good ones from him. He’s very confident, he’s got some weapons that he’s utilizing and he had a heck of a performance today.”

Huge stats, and comeback wins, are suddenly becoming the norm for Carr.

Carr is on pace to throw for more than 4,600 yards and 34 touchdowns. Most importantly, he’s committed just five turnovers in his first eight games, posting a 100.9 passer rating.

Having started all 40 games since being drafted in 2014, it’s easy to forget Carr was the fourth quarterback selected that year – in the second round. Blake Bortles has regressed severely due to mechanical troubles, Johnny Manziel partied himself out of the league and Teddy Bridgewater is nursing a devastating knee injury suffered a week before the start of the season.

The Raiders are reaping the rewards of Reggie McKenzie’s 2014 draft class, which also includes dominant pass-rusher Khalil Mack and starting right guard Gabe Jackson.

Oakland’s passing game has been dynamic and dangerous, and it all starts up front. The Raiders have surrendered a league-low nine sacks, a combination of Carr’s quick release and excellent protection across the line. Oakland invested heavily in its offensive line, re-signing left tackle Donald Penn and splurging on left guard Kelechi Osemele and center Rodney Hudson over the last two offseasons.

Carr rewarded Penn for protecting his blind side with a touchdown pass against his former team. He joked he could have scored his first career rushing touchdown instead.

“It is funny because, in the week of practice, we ran that play and I ran it in to mess with him,” Carr said. “He just laughed. He was like ‘Man, whatever.’

“He ran a great route. Wide open. He did a great job.”

The receivers have done their part, as well. Amari Cooper, whose fine rookie season was plagued by dropped balls, has caught 52 of 80 targets for 787 yards (228 after the catch). Michael Crabtree ranks 12th in the league with 569 receiving yards, along with six scores. Seth Roberts, Andre Holmes, Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera have stepped up when called upon.

And the Raiders have absolutely needed Carr to take a huge step forward. Oakland’s defense ranks 31st in the league (410.4 yards allowed per game), and the team set a far more dubious record with 23 penalties in Sunday’s win.

“I can’t believe it, but it just shows the resilience of the team,” said Cooper, the primary beneficiary of Carr’s breakout performance with 12 receptions for 173 yards and a score. “We just have to work to clean it up. We can’t be a championship team like that.”

Let’s not jump to conclusions just yet. While five of the Raiders’ remaining eight games are at home, they still play four against the rugged AFC West. That includes a pair of head-to-head showdowns with Denver’s championship-level defense, beginning on Sunday night.

It’s seemingly been an eternity since the phrase “championship team” has applied to the Raiders. With three more victories, Oakland can guarantee its first winning season since 2002.

Sure enough, that team, anchored by fellow MVP quarterback Rich Gannon, reached the Super Bowl.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.