Reality check time for Derek Carr’s stock

Derek Carr struggled today against USC

One of the more peculiar things we’ve witnessed during the 2013 college season is the sudden rise of Derek Carr.

He’s always been a productive, prolific quarterback working in an offense that puts up big passing numbers. But this year he’s been that little bit more productive.

And that, apparently, is the difference between a mid-round grade and a place in the top ten.

More and more mock drafts are putting Carr among the elite. And it all seemed to be tied to Fresno State’s unbeaten season and Carr’s statistical improvement.

After all — what’s the big difference really between his 2012 and 2013 tape?

Today, unfortunately, was a big reality check.

Carr struggled mightily against USC in the Las Vegas Bowl, completing 29/54 passing during a blow out 45-20 defeat.

The Fresno offense relies heavily on quick hitting passes to the outside — essentially extended hand off’s. There’s a lot of short stuff, and the occasional deeper shot. It’s pretty basic, but it can be effective when executed well.

Carr has really mastered his offense this year and credit to him. But what happens when you defend those short passes well? What happens when you’re forced into a lot of ‘and long’ situations and you can’t keep throwing it out there and relying on YAC? What happens when the other team can actually rush the passer?

Suddenly your offense becomes very limited. And it’s when Carr’s forced to press that he struggles. Look at his interception in the game. He just fires it in there like a bullet. It’s antsy, where’s the poise? When he’s not in rhythm, he pushes things a little bit too much. He loses his accuracy. He was off target badly on a fade early in the game and had a very shaky first half overall.

It really set the tone.

At the next level he’s going to need to prove he can make all the throws, have the range to go through progressions and hit receivers downfield with touch. And he’ll need to do all of that under pressure.

Fresno State haven’t faced too many challenging opponents this year. The USC pass rush is without doubt the best they’ve come up against, and Carr did not look comfortable dealing with pressure. He overthrew Davante Adams twice in the second quarter and had trouble re-setting his feet.

Those footwork issues will be a cause for concern. If you’re not the type of quarterback who can scramble and make things happen when a pass rush is rocking, using your feet to re-set is vital. Again, it’s not something Carr has had to work on too much this year because the quality of opponent just hasn’t been there. But today it was there for all to see.

Make him move and you take away a decent percentage of his effectiveness.

He has a severe technical flaw where he leans back, shapes his body to the target and basically telegraphs the pass. Safety’s can just sit and wait on this, before making a play on the ball. It turns up time and time again on tape and needs to be addressed. We saw it plenty today.

I’ve said many times this year that I like Carr as a guy you can bring in, work on some of the issues and develop into a starter down the road. At worst he’ll be a solid backup for a team that runs a quick-hitting, pass-friendly system. Off the field he has all the intangibles you want and he seems like a good guy. A big time family man and a hard worker.

No issues with the arm strength either, which is good enough. He has nice size.

But a top ten pick?


That’s not down to one bad game either. I’ve never felt any differently. I said a few weeks ago he could keep rising if he continued to improve, but today wasn’t an improvement on anything. In fact it reminded me a little of his last Bowl performance — a crushing 43-10 defeat to SMU last year where he also struggled against Margus Hunt and a strong pass rush.

I think as a draft community we’re overly keen to pump up these quarterbacks and slot them into high positions. It’s not that long ago everyone was raving about Tajh Boyd as a first round pick. Remember when Geno Smith was locked into the #1 overall spot? Or Tyler Wilson? Now we’ve got guys like Derek Carr being moved up above their station.

We need to use the 2013 draft as a serious lesson. Teams are not going to reach for QB’s. They’ll grade these guys like everyone else. We certainly don’t need to start forcing players into slots in the top ten.

When I’m reading mocks with 3-4 quarterbacks in the top six — there’s a reason why that would be unprecedented. And this class of QB’s simply isn’t good enough to justify that kind of mad rush for the first time.

Carr will make a good pick for someone, probably in round three. Whoever takes him will get a QB they can work with. And the investment won’t be so high that it’ll be make or break for a GM or Head Coach if he doesn’t succeed.

But let’s take a step back from the hype, which got too big.

Now if we want to talk about a player who deserves to go early — USC’s Marqise Lee is a legit top-15 prospect. It’ll be a travesty if he goes in the latter part of round one. All power to whoever lands him if he does drop that far. He’s a total stud. Today he had seven catches for 118 yards and two scores and looked every bit the competitive, technically gifted, athletic receiver we’ve come to know.

If he links up with a good quarterback at the next level — watch out.


  1. Kyle

    Nice post, Rob. I do think Lee has gotten lost in the shuffle this year.

    I like that your thinking on this site continually evolves–before Russell Wilson, I remember you and Kip taking a position much closer to the we-have-to-gamble-on-a-franchise-qb crowd than now. There were also a lot of really bold predictions that have been scaled back, and a lot more cautions that this is entertainment, not some sort of genius matching game. I think the site is better for it–you get less over the top and more and more technically precise each year. (And please note this is not intended as a criticism–I’ve followed you for four years and am grateful for it, when others have come and gone.)

  2. CHawk Talker Eric

    I thought the same thing. After I read your rhetorical question of whether Carr is a top-10 pick (but before reading the final paragraph), I thought the only player in that game who could possibly go that high is Marqise Lee.

  3. Michael (CLT)

    UDFA. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  4. Emperor_MA

    I actually thought Davante Adams looked as good or better than Marqise Lee. Adams was going against a legit NFL-talent CB and was open more often than not, and had 9 catches on the game including a nice TD. Carr missed him twice .. one was certainly a TD and another could have been with his ability to shake tacklers.

    Lee was going against third-string backups from the MWC……

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