NFL Underrated Series: Quarterback Edition
Updated: Jan 4, 2021
By James Pike.
NFL’s Most Underrated: Quarterback
If there is one thing you need to succeed at the highest level in the NFL, it's a quarterback. General Managers for teams who have an elite player at the position do everything they can to hold onto them. While teams without a star under center spend most of their time trying to find one. Whether that be through free agency, trying to lure away a superstar from a rival, or spending years scouting prospects in college and deducing whether or not their play at the academic level will translate to success in the professional game. It is an old cliche, but franchise quarterbacks don’t just grow on trees.
If you look throughout the history of the league it is very rare you will find an example of a team making their way to the Super Bowl without an outstanding signal caller running the offense. There have been exceptions to the rule, such as the 2000 Baltimore Ravens; a team led by veteran journeyman Trent Dilfer who despite putting up modest numbers all season long was able to guide the Ravens and their smothering defence to a Super Bowl title.
This is one of the very few examples of a team achieving ultimate success without an elite quarterback steering the ship. There have been other teams who have won the sport’s biggest prize without a star at the position, but life would have been much easier for these franchises if they did.
The search for a quarterback who can turn the fortunes of a franchise around has become even more desperate in recent years, as evidenced by owners and GMs alike coming to the difficult decision to intentionally lose to give themselves a higher position in the draft to acquire a future star. #tankingforTua wasn’t just an excuse used by Miami Dolphins fans last season, it was their mantra. Their trust of the front office to deliver their franchise savour was so great that they were willing to accept overwhelming mediocrity if it meant they got their man.
There is of course a certain individual currently honing his craft at a college in South Carolina who has become NFL fans new favourite hashtag. This shows just how desperate supporters and front offices alike are willing to go in order to have a superstar quarterback guiding their team to the future.
However, as is always the case throughout the league, there are players who divide opinion as to whether or not they deserve the title of a franchise quarterback. Some signal callers are young up and comers trying to prove themselves as “the guy”. Others are veterans on a career renaissance of sorts. Determined to prove that they have always had the talent, but just needed the right environment to reach their potential.
Our case study for today falls somewhere in the middle of both of these categories.
Raider Nation has its franchise QB
Derek Carr; quarterback of the recently relocated Las Vegas Raiders is in an entirely unique situation in the NFL. If you ask fans of the Black and Silver as well as fans of other teams, most of them will have a different opinion of the seven-year veteran. Many will point to the fact he hasn’t led the franchise to much success in terms of postseason appearances.
In fact in his career so far, Carr has only led the team to the playoffs once in the 2016 season and they were swiftly eliminated in the first round by the Houston Texans despite the Raiders entering the game with a 12-4 regular season record. Of course, the blame shouldn’t go entirely to Derek Carr as the reason why they were eliminated so swiftly from the playoffs that year. Number 4 didn’t in fact even play in that game, as a week 17 injury completely derailed their chances of success that season. Many will ask the question if Derek Carr was healthy would the team have been able to put together a deep playoff run?
It is true that Carr has only been able to lead his team to the postseason once in his career, however this isn’t entirely his fault. The Las Vegas Raiders have the misfortune of playing in the AFC West, a division that in the past seven years since Carr was drafted has had a team represent the AFC in the Super Bowl three times; winning two of them.
When Derek Carr was just starting his rookie season in the NFL, the Denver Broncos had future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning running their offense. Granted this wasn't the same Peyton Manning that led the Colts to overwhelming success during his years in Indianapolis, but he is one of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of cleats, who just so happened to have one of the greatest defenses in NFL history on the opposite side of the ball.
Both the Kansas City Chiefs and the then San Diego Chargers haven’t exactly been pushovers during Carr’s time in the league either. The Chiefs would go on to make Derek Carr’s job of leading the Raiders to glory that much tougher when they selected Patrick Mahomes; a once in a generation talent at quarterback in the 2017 NFL draft. All of this makes me look at Derek Carr’s career as a whole with a completely new perspective.
Now I know what many fans and experts alike will say as the counter argument to these hurdles that have been laid in front of the former Fresno State standout. That the great ones are able to overcome them. They will point at a player like Tom Brady, whose Patriot teams would have an annual meeting in the AFC Championship game with the previously mentioned Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. However, in most years Brady was able to out duel Manning and secure his team a place in the Super Bowl. Brady faced off against a juggernaut Colts team almost every season and more times than not he was able to come out on top.
Others will argue that Carr hasn’t been able to lead mediocre teams to success like other former greats have in the past. That great quarterbacks work with the tools they are given in order to achieve greatness. Bear in mind though that it’s not as though the Raiders franchise has always been one that has made smart decisions in the front office.
Before Mike Mayock took over the helm on New Year’s Eve in 2018 the Raiders have often made poor decisions when it comes to acquiring talent to put around Carr. Hue Jackson and Reggie McKenzie made some questionable decisions for the franchise during their tenure; including the infamous trade of superstar pass rusher Khalil Mack back in 2018, and some of the draft picks during their time as talent evaluators.
It is safe to say that up until recently Derek Carr hasn’t necessarily been given the correct tools to apply his trade in the most effective manner. Nevertheless, Carr has always been someone who has done a good job with what he has worked with. In fact, the only star wide receiver Carr has had during his time with The Men in Black is Amari Cooper – the current Dallas Cowboys number one receiver, and even then Cooper was wildly inconsistent during his time with the franchise. Often going missing in big games when Carr needed him the most. However, despite recent struggles with talent acquisition in Las Vegas; things look like they are starting to trend in the right direction.
The Black and Silver now have playmakers on both sides of the football which have been acquired in the past two off seasons, and it finally looks like the franchise are putting together the pieces of the puzzle to give Derek Carr the opportunity to win games and make a playoff run.
The question now turns to whether or not Carr is the man for the job. There have been rumours and speculation even as recently as this season that Head Coach Jon Gruden doesn’t think that Number 4 is up to the task, with recent rumblings suggesting that he wants to look at other potential options at QB. This season though, Derek Carr has once again solidified himself as one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league.
Stats tell the story
So far in 2020; Carr has put up a stat line of 196 completions on 283 attempts for 2,156 passing yards, an average of 11.0 yards per completion. He has thrown 16 touchdowns for just 2 interceptions and a passer rating of 107.4, which is a career high. His completion percentage is also 69.3% which is the second highest percentage of his career.
Simply put: Carr has been killing it in 2020. This has been a truly spectacular season for the veteran signal caller, moreover it appears he has taken his game to the next level this year. On his current trajectory he is on his way to have a career year across the board in statistics. He has been fantastic for lack of a better word.
Putting up excellent numbers has rarely been an issue for Carr though. Just like his idol and the man whose number he shares, Brett Farve; the former Fresno State star has always been able to move the ball down field and guide his team to victories. What has been missing however is probably part of the reason why Carr isn’t in the conversation for the top-10 quarterbacks in the league as often as he should be: the location of his franchise.
The Las Vegas Raiders are rarely talked about in American mainstream sports media, and when they are it is sparsely in a positive light. The consistency that Carr has shown over the years has been overshadowed by storylines at big market teams. The media made a huge deal of the historic start to the season that Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott made to the season, and regardless as to how much Prescott deserved his gaudy praise it still goes to show the lack of emphasis has been put on Carr and the Raiders in general.
Taking all of this into consideration, I simply ask you these questions: If he had better talent around him at the beginning of his career, if he had a more competent front office, if he didn’t play in one of the NFL’s toughest divisions or if he played in a market which is given more attention by the media; would we be considering Derek Carr as one of the top quarterbacks in the league?
Is Derek Carr one of the most underrated players in the league?