Derek Carr: Don't Believe The Narrative
A highly intelligent quarterback who is afraid of the pass rush, but has all the arm talent in the world. This is how Derek Carr has been pigeonholed, and it is incorrect.
No, he isn't Blaine Gabbert, who seems to be the go-to punchline when discussing recent quarterback busts. No, he isn't his brother, David, who broke the wrong kind of sack record as a rookie. The narrative that Derek Carr is "afraid" of the pass rush is actually downright lazy and against all sense.
I've seen plenty of Derek Carr this year, charting six of his games for a DraftBreakdown piece that will come soon after this piece. If he really was "afraid," it would show up on tape with him leaving the pocket too early, as it did with Gabbert. Instead, my study showed that he only threw on the run and/or outside of the pocket an average of three times a game, mostly on designed roll-outs.
For a quarterback averaging north of 50 pass attempts per game, that doesn't seem like much of a trend, and it isn't. Not once watching him did I think that he left the pocket too early.
Hypothetical Rebuttal #1) Well, maybe Carr's taking sacks when Gabbert would have ran or left the pocket.
There is actually a 162.1% greater chance that Gabbert would have taken a sack on a given play his final year at Missouri than Carr would this year. Derek Carr has actually vastly improved in that aspect of his game. I would be inclined to guess it has to do with the fact that he's willing to take a hit when throwing, instead of sheilding himself off, since he no longer is playing through a torn ab like he was in 2012.
Blaine Gabbert, sacks per 100 drop-backs: 4.43
Derek Carr, sacks per 100 drop-backs: 1.69
Hypothetical Rebuttal #2) Okay, if he's not throwing outside of the pocket or taking sacks, maybe he's just running the ball on those plays.
The tape and numbers don't support that theory, either. Listed below are the true rushes (rush attempts minus sacks) for the two quarterbacks in their final seasons.
Blaine Gabbert, true rushes: 90
Derek Carr, true rushes: 23
Again, remember, we're talking about a nine game sample size consisting of an average of fifty-plus drop-backs a game for Carr. So even if all of those were scramble attempts for Carr, it would average out to be fewer than three per game. They aren't all scramble attempts for Carr, though. He's running draws and zone read plays with the Bulldogs. Gabbert on the other hand scrambled a lot more at Missouri. There's a 291.3% greater chance that Gabbert would have ran the ball on a given play his final year compared to Carr this season.
Hypothetical Rebuttle #3) Well, if Carr isn't throwing on the run or running, he must be staying in the pocket and making some bad decisions.
That would be another incorrect assumption. Unless Derek Carr throws five or more interceptions (one more than he has in the other previous nine games combined) in his next ten pass attempts, he'll have a better interception percentage when he hits 475 (Gabbert's junior season attempt mark.)
There's a 291.9% greater chance that Gabbert would have thrown an interception on a given play his final season compared to Carr this year. Not only that, but Carr (69.5%) has a higher completion percentage when compared to Gabbert (63.4%.)
Blaine Gabbert, Interception percentage: 3.37%
Derek Carr, Interception percentage: 0.86%
So if he's not making bad decisions, running the ball, or leaving the pocket due to the rush, how in the world could someone come to the conclusion that he's "afraid" of the rush? Part of it is narrative, but part of it is actually based on what people have seen, though they've drawn the wrong conclusion.
Derek Carr was recruited to Fresno State to play under Pat Hill. Before Carr's junior season, the Fresno State staff was replaced, and with the new coaches came a new system. A system that is as spread as spread can be. The "heaviest" it'll consistently go is 11 personnel.
This is where some of the problems stem. Carr feels the rush coming, where does he go? He can see it pre-snap, but if he's facing a X and long situation, he can't expect a new set of downs calling the two yard slant the defense will give him.
Fresno State generally is equal in the number of pass blockers compared to pass rushers on the plays Carr looks "afraid." Sometimes, the team is even outnumbered. If he holds onto the ball, the pocket will collapse from all sides, leaving him no option but to move backwards to buy himself some time. This is the "afraid" look that everyone misinterprets.
Below is a gif from the San Diego State game (video via DraftBreakdown.) San Diego State used the rush against Carr in a much more effective way than anyone else has in 2013. Below is one of those X and long situations I was talking about. It's 2nd and 18, and Fresno State is in empty. Not only that, but six men are on the line-of-scrimmage. The five defensive backs show man. If Carr wants it, he can have it, but he'll have to buy time.
The offensive line cut, Carr quickly gets himself five yards deeper than where he started to buy himself time, and nearly connects with Devante Adams. This is him "relying too much on his arm and cowering against pressure," if that's what you wish to take out of it.
This was an extreme case, but reflects the issue at hand. Instead of grading Carr on what his system and situation is asking him to do, it seems like many are grading him on what he should do in a vacuum.
It's time to put yourself in the shoes of the prospect. Let go of the narrative.