By Jack McKessy
It’s been a long year for the Las Vegas Raiders. They’ve had to deal with relocation to a new city and stadium, underperforming rookies, and a head coach without a winning season three years into his second stint with the team. Not to mention the ongoing pandemic. At first, it seemed like the Raiders would finally get over the hump this year. They started 6-3, including a win over the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City. From there, they dropped five of their last seven games, missing the playoffs yet again.
Among all the changes and disappointment, Derek Carr put together one of the best seasons of his NFL career. With Tuesday’s news that he may be a “hot commodity” around the league in this year’s abundance of available quarterbacks, let’s examine some takeaways from his career year.
Carr’s numbers this year were solid, even in a vacuum. He had the 11th-most passing yards and touchdowns of all quarterbacks—4,103 and 27, respectively—and was 10th in overall passer rating, just barely behind Tom Brady. The numbers only look more impressive when considering the offensive weapons he had around him. The Raiders invested heavily in giving Carr options in last year’s draft. They selected wide receiver Henry Ruggs III out of Alabama with the 12th overall pick, then Kentucky RB/WR Lynn Bowden Jr., and South Carolina wide receiver Bryan Edwards with back-to-back picks in the third round. Ruggs and Edwards underperformed, and Las Vegas traded Bowden to the Miami Dolphins a week before their first game.
“I was disappointed in the productivity of our rookies, I’ll be the first person to admit that,” said Raiders GM Mike Mayock.
Without much help from the first-years, Carr had to look elsewhere for offensive production. His favorite targets this season were emerging tight end superstar Darren Waller and newcomer receiver Nelson Agholor. Agholor, you may remember, was notorious for dropping passes in Philadelphia, but he’s already put up some career-high numbers in his one year with the Silver and Black. With Agholor and Waller responsible for almost 45% of Carr’s completed passes, the quarterback finished 2020 with career-highs in passing yards and yards per attempt.
Carr has also shown significant development under Gruden’s system since the latter returned in 2018. Despite a rough first season that we’ll call an adjustment period, the last three seasons have been Carr’s best as far as completion percentage and yardage. His touchdown totals have trended upward each year while his interceptions have steadily decreased. He’s also taking fewer sacks. What’s more, only Ryan Tannehill had more game-winning drives than Carr—six to Carr’s five—in 2020.
The difficult parts about Carr’s situation in Las Vegas are both impressive quarterback play within the AFC West and the Raiders’ situation on defense. It’s hard to stand out as a quarterback in the NFL to begin with, but when you’re in the same division as Patrick Mahomes and up-and-comer Justin Herbert, it’s even harder. The Chiefs are playing in the Super Bowl for a second straight year, and Herbert is the favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile, the Raiders had one of the worst defenses in the league this year. Only the Lions and Jaguars had worse scoring defenses, according to Pro Football Reference. Without a winning season, let alone a playoff appearance, it’s easy to see why Carr’s performance this year would fly under the radar.
He isn’t free from blame for this season’s disappointing finish, though. Yes, the defense gave up more than 25 points in each of their last seven games. However, it’s also true that Carr threw seven of his nine interceptions this season in those games, and two of those were pick-sixes in the second half. As his interception rate went up and his completion percentage went down, the Raiders slipped down the standings and out of playoff contention.
Still, Carr did show flashes of greatness in those final games, but sometimes he just got unlucky. The Raiders were already the only team to beat the Chiefs when Patrick Mahomes started, and their second matchup was just as competitive. Carr threw for three touchdowns and 275 yards, but the defense couldn’t stop Mahomes from running the two-minute drill offense to perfection. Las Vegas’ defensive issues also allowed the almost impossible no-look pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick that nixed the impressive fourth quarter Carr had—two scoring drives of more than 70 yards, including an 85-yard touchdown bomb to Agholor. At least we’ll always have that Gregg Williams all-out blitz/Carr “Hail Mary” highlight.
Whether the Raiders trade him or upgrade their offensive talent around him, Carr will have an opportunity to build off a great 2020 season. He’s looked more comfortable in the Gruden system each year. Even if he were to leave, he’s proven he can adapt. A move to another team might be an opportunity for Carr to make a stronger impression and potentially escape the AFC West, where Patrick Mahomes’ shadow looms large. Alternatively, continued improvement as a quarterback under Gruden plus defensive development in Las Vegas could equal a Raiders squad contending for the division.
- Jun 24, 2022
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