Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (HT: 6’2⅜”, WT: 214 lbs)
Second Round: 36th Pick
+ Very good arm strength; the ball jumps out of his hand
+ Charismatic leader with excellent intangibles
+ Accurate passer who can fit the ball into tight windows
+ Routinely makes big-time throws
+ Extraordinarily productive three-year starter
- Sloppy footwork at times, often throwing off his back foot
- Occasionally appears flustered by a muddy pocket
- Questionable anticipation
- Lacks experience in a pro-style offense
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Making it Rain
While many factors such as intelligence and pocket presence contribute to successful quarterbacking in the NFL, the ability to throw the football stands out as a critical prerequisite. It is in this area, actually throwing the ball, where Carr stands above most if not all of his peers in the 2014 draft class. Simply put: If you give him a clean pocket and time to throw, he can make it rain.
He possesses a live arm, and the ball appeared to jump out of his hand when I observed firsthand at the Senior Bowl. On tape he is often seen stretching the field vertically with his arm strength, forcing defenders to be mindful of his ability to strike in an instant. His effective range may be greater than any quarterback in this class, as he is capable of pushing the ball over 60 yards downfield.
This type of pass is nearly impossible to defend. With Utah State stacking the box against the Bulldogs, Carr drops back to throw out of his own end zone. As he releases the ball, Davante Adams is crossing the 15-yard line. The ball is caught in stride at the 42, demonstrating excellent timing between quarterback and receiver.
The ability to throw the deep ball with perfect trajectory and take the top off defenses helps separate him from others in this class. He may fit ideally in a vertical offense that emphasizes his ability to throw downfield.
While his college system limited small-window throws, Carr demonstrated the ability to beat tight coverage with velocity and impressive synergy with his receivers. He drives the ball outside the numbers with ease and is capable of placing the ball in an ideal location. Anticipation is a bit of a question mark and mechanical deficiencies limit consistency, but he is a very accurate passer who can make any throw.
On a 3rd-and-10 play earlier in his meeting with Utah State, Carr displays this accuracy. Given a clean pocket against a four-man rush, he stands in and delivers a beautiful pass from the far hash to his tight end on a corner route. It is a perfect throw against man coverage, as the safety has no chance to make a play on the ball and his target does not need to adjust to make the catch. What’s more, it looks effortless for the quarterback.
He primarily threw screen passes at Fresno State but impresses with precision to every level of the field. With some work on his mechanics, of which I will delve into more later on, he should be able to routinely make tight-window throws.
Despite possessing considerable arm talent, Carr has his fair share of doubters. His harshest critics cite his struggles under duress, picking apart his reactions against pressure. Upon further review, there are both truths and myths surrounding his poise and pocket presence. He may not shut down like a frightened turtle as many seem to suggest, but mechanical issues and erratic accuracy are abundant when opponents bring the heat.
To get a clearer picture of his pocket habits, one must highlight both positive and negative plays.
During their October meeting, San Diego State was able to challenge the Bulldogs with multiple fronts and various blitz packages, making it difficult to decipher before the snap. On this particular 2nd-and-10 play, Carr is isolated against a blitzing linebacker in space after faking the handoff.
This is where we see him struggling to improvise. He retreats from the defender and winds up digging himself quite a hole as he is promptly dumped for a 14-yard loss, forcing 3rd-and-a prayer. His protection was outnumbered here, but taking that significant a loss is never an acceptable result.
On 3rd-and-10 against Boise State, he displays a little more poise. This time the defense only rushes three but is able to generate pressure quickly. As the Broncos' strong-side end beats the right tackle around the edge, Carr is forced to make a quick decision.
With the edge-rusher breathing down his neck, Carr climbs the pocket, quickly resets and delivers a strike across the middle of the field. His footwork may not have been textbook, but that is sure to be addressed at the next level. The result of this play is a 22-yard gain rather than a sack due to his poise and comfort in the pocket.
Increased emphasis on his pocket movement in a pro-style offense should allow him to make strides. I fail to see anything athletically or mentally that would hold him back from improving in this area, so long as he receives adequate protection early in his career.
One major drawback of playing in a pass-happy college spread offense is that Carr has not developed refined footwork. He has a tendency to throw either flatfooted or while retreating in the pocket. Due to his arm strength, he is able to compensate for these lapses to a degree. In the Mountain West Conference, he may have been able to get away with sloppy footwork, but to reach his potential in the NFL he must make this an area of focus.
He made strides as a senior, but this play against Oregon in 2012 helps illustrate how poor footwork limits him. On a 2nd-and-7 from just outside the Ducks’ 10-yard line, Carr’s favorite target is aligned in the slot on the near side. Adams beats his man at the line of scrimmage and gains optimal position against the cornerback.
With a blitzing linebacker coming at him unblocked off the edge, Carr fades away from his intended target and throws flatfooted. He fails to put the proper amount of touch on the ball, and the pass falls incomplete. If he had stood in and made the throw, this probably would have been six points.
Expect his footwork to be overhauled by an NFL coaching staff, as it is sure to be an emphasis of his development early on. But while not impossible to fix, many revert back to old habits with defenders in their vicinity.
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