NFL Draft 2014

2014 Minnesota Vikings NFL Draft: Scouting Derek Carr

In my re-review of Derek Carr, I was fairly positive I would change my mind on him. A lot of the things I thought about him were definitely wrong, but for the most part I’m OK with him as a Vikings fit. I think he requires a lot more caution than Bridgewater or Bortles in terms of evaluation, and as you’ll see, there are a lot of pitfalls.

Carr is best known for being an extremely productive, statistics-friendly passer with over 5000 yards this season, and a 50:8 TD/INT ratio. He has one of the strongest arms in the draft and a brother who was a previous flame-out in the NFL. The statistics won’t matter, but he’s certainly an intriguing prospect.

Again, we’ll use the lens of Accuracy, Delivery, Ball Velocity, Field Sense, Pocket Presence, Scrambling/Running and Intangibles.

Accuracy: In terms of getting the ball to the receiver, Carr is a very accurate quarterback. I’ll be talking about his system a lot, and it makes sense to add the normal caveat that most statistics will be skewed by the high degree of screen passes. Knowing that, it’s important to find ways to adjust for his scheme.

The high amount of screen passes (28.6% of his passes were behind the LOS) was sort of a neurotic decision by Dave Schramm to reduce sacks and turnovers, something he highlighted before the season as the focus. The year before, only 19% of his passes were behind the LOS (same as Manziel this year, and less than Bortles), which is relatively typical for a college passer. (It helped—Fresno State finished first in the country in sack rate and eighth in interception rate. The year before, they finished 39th and 11th).

People forget that even though Carr threw nearly 30% of his passes before the LOS, he still threw more passes at every distance than any other quarterback considered the top of the draftable class. Isolating those plays gives people a good idea of his anticipation, accuracy and timing.

We can go back to the passing charts to get a general sense of his ability at different distances. While Bortles and Bridgewater have better numbers at the “sweet spot” of 5-14 yards, Carr’s numbers are decidedly average and Manziel’s are subpar.

Here is a case where I think that the numbers tracked and the general accuracy do not quite match up. There are two specific reasons that he and Bortles differ in terms of accuracy (and what it means for an evaluator). The first is related to ball placement and the second is schematic.

As much as I think Carr’s issues with pressure are overblown, not enough is said about his ball placement. I understand that, because it’s not extremely damning most time, but it is an issue enough times that I would call it an “area of concern” even if it’s not exactly a weakness. It’s still, however, superior to Bortles’ on a general basis.

Carr overcorrects for ball safety, and it creates far too many issues in terms of enabling his receivers to gain extra yards, but it does mean they are almost always the only ones with access to the ball. His cautiousness from this perspective is distinctly at odds with his aggressiveness in other areas, and it will be interesting for any coach to reconcile.

The ball will be given to the receiver in a catchable position where only they can get it, but they often have to stretch far more than they should in order to get to it.

In looking at 2012 tape to see if the new emphasis by Schramm caused the majority of this problem, I was left with some signs for positivity as well as some signs for negativity. His ball placement was much friendlier to receivers that year, but that doesn’t mean it was necessarily good on a consistent basis.

The second concern—schematic—mostly has to do with the type of intermediate and deep throws you’d see in his offense instead of the distribution of throws by distance. He’s better than his peers on a number of routes in terms of his accuracy: slants, fades, backfield routes and several more. On intermediate crossers he’s very iffy (a place where Bortles has him beat, hands down) and his plays in seam routes are incredibly inconsistent. Sometimes they are extremely precise, while at others wildly off.

Finally, it is important to note that Carr throws with anticipation but doesn’t have the same ability that David Fales, Keith Wenning and especially Teddy Bridgewater show on a consistent basis, or Bortles flashes when his mechanics are sound enough. That said, he’s clearly currently better than all of the “upside” quarterbacks—Manziel, Bortles, Thomas, Savage, Boyd, etc. Whether or not he will continue to be better than those quarterbacks when they develop is a question that still needs to be answered, but I think only Bortles and maybe Savage can pass him in this department.

Carr clearly does better on routes that have a clear timing element or break than he does with free-wheeling routes or when there aren’t well-established timing elements. He would have been a better fit in a rhythm offense, where he can use his other skills to artificially (but effectively) boost his accuracy.

Carr happens to be an extremely poor thrower on the run, especially to his left. I’ll talk about this in the next section.

Delivery: Carr can demonstrate ideal mechanics, but usually doesn’t. Generally, he almost always has good rotation with his shoulders and through his hips, but doesn’t consistently step into his throws.

The largest issue with his mechanics has more to do with what he does with his lead leg than anything else; it will occasionally lock and remove some power from his throws. At these times, he can reduce his shoulder/hip rotation as well. It’s really a simple fix—throw on a bended knee. Working against an elastic band may be all that’s necessary.

Sometimes he does set a more solid base and the ball comes out like a cannon.

His release is a little inconsistent, which is odd. It doesn’t get worse as the game goes on, or under pressure. It mostly comes when he feels he has to throw over a defender on a sideline route (generally this is a positive as the quarterback will be throwing from variable platforms, but here it is not).

Normally, he keeps the ball high and tight, and when he cocks back to throw, keeps the tip pointed up. But on those deeper sideline throws against tight coverage, the ball will drop. He doesn’t need to do that and it hurts his ball placement as well as his release time.

Sometimes (not often and usually on screens) he’ll throw outside of his frame. He needs to keep the ball closer to his body throughout the throw to reduce stress on the elbow so that the release is over the top instead of angled.

From a mechanical standpoint, his issues are more nitpicky than they are significant problems.

There are situational mechanical issues as well. His base will get narrower within ten yards of the end zone, though it may contribute significantly to what looks like excellent touch in the red zone—he throws the end zone fade as well as anyone in the draft class.

In fact, this gets to some of the other aspects of his delivery, and something that may intrigue people: Derek Carr has the best completion percentage by ten percent of any of the top quarterbacks in the draft class within ten yards of the end zone. He also has the highest adjusted net yards per attempt by an entire yard. In the 2013 class, the best quarterback (drafted in the first three rounds) was Geno Smith. In 2012 it was Russell Wilson (second was Andrew Luck) and in 2011 it was Colin Kaepernick (followed by Cam Newton).

If you include rushing data, Carr remains at the top in AY/A, with Wilson and Smith. Dalton jumps ahead of Kaepernick in the 2011 class.

If you expanded the 2014 field to include every quarterback with at least 18 passes within ten yards (the median within the set) and is draftable, Carr ranks second behind Brett Smith in AY/A and completion rate. The same holds true if you expand it to include rushing and 25 attempts.

There’s clear sample issue here to make definitive conclusions from the data alone, but it really does look like from a film perspective that Carr has unusually good touch and presence in the red zone. He also happens to have the most action-plays (passes or runs), so his number is more stable (sort of) despite being at the top.

If Carr is allowed to slow down and play in a rhythm offense, I think a lot of these issues will generally go away. An offense that will force him to install three-step and five-step drops before his throws will massively improve his footwork and stop him from rushing his throws.

In fact, in 2011, his footwork on the drop was excellent and showed a talent for hitting those routes that he had trouble with in 2013 despite being a clearly worse overall passer.

Ball Velocity: Has a superlative arm. Sometimes, the ball leaves his hand so quickly that a batted pass barely alters the trajectory of the ball, and he’ll throw the ball on a rope at any distance. He also understands when high-arc passes are necessary to get over defenders, without putting the ball at risk from aggressive defensive backs.

Like any strong-armed quarterback, there are moments where he fires throws into his receivers when he doesn’t need to. It doesn’t happens as often with him as it does with those other passers, but it’s something to watch out for. He still throws the “bucket” passes that receivers love, as well as the “frozen rope” passes that are so difficult to defend.

The bigger issue is at intermediate distances, as the short and deep speeds are contextually appropriate, and it usually isn’t on a crossing route (which were relatively rare in the offense anyway) that you’ll see too much velocity, and more likely a comeback route.

When in a mechanically poor position, Carr’s throws still exceed NFL speed when they need to, and it will probably bail him out for years to come.

Field Sense: Carr clearly demonstrates situational awareness, and he knows to avoid passes if they won’t get the yardage he needs.

He regularly goes through progressions and hits the second read. I have never seen a quarterback who plays so aggressively and overeager also pull back so often on bad throws. He absolutely won’t force it, but he loves taking shots against favorable looks. Carr’s play is marked by an odd mix of aggressive and cautious play.

By that I mean he’ll get too excited when he sees a defensive hole to exploit, rush his throws, and hurt his accuracy. But that aggressiveness turns into cautiousness when he sees a hole close or a defensive look change, and he shows extremely impressive ball control when he pulls back on a throw to go somewhere else.

I do think that despite his ability to get to his second read, he locks on to his primary receiver far too often, and like Garoppolo will overrely on pump fakes in order to prevent defenses from keying in on that tendency.

The thing is, he knows when someone is open, which is why he so rarely throws interceptions and bad passes. But without a natural instinct to move on to other parts of the field, he’ll simply wait for his receiver to beat his defender until it becomes obvious he won’t.

Far too often, it seems like Carr plays against an opposing defense instead of with his current offense. In many ways, I think this is frustration with his offensive system and coordinator.

He does try to extend plays a little bit too often, like Rodgers (this is not meant to be a good comparison) but without the escapability of players that are typically as mobile as he is. To make one positive Rodgers comparison, he does throw where there are likely to be flags, meaning he’ll intentionally throw an inaccurate ball in order to get the penalty yardage. This is an uncommon presence of mind for a young quarterback if I’m right about that.

Carr is brilliant at preventing negative plays, pressure or not. The fact that he was pressure on over 30% of his snaps but only took 12 sacks (on 694 passing attempts) is crazy. It doesn’t matter that he had a lot of screen passes—the vast majority of screen passes I logged, he didn’t have pressure. Almost all of the pressure recorded came from more traditional passing distances with the real threat of a sack.

He was one of the most pressured quarterbacks in the FBS and still produced gaudy numbers. Regardless of competition, that’s an incredible feat and well worth noting. Add to that the fact that he had one of the highest drop rates among draft-eligible quarterbacks and it’s fairly clear that Carr’s statistics don’t speak to who he is, even after taking into account average time in pocket (2.4 seconds) and distance of passes thrown. On snaps thrown past the LOS, Carr’s time in pocket averaged 2.7 seconds, the same as any NFL quarterback.

Carr is judicious in his use of third-read checkdowns and throwaways to prevent those turnovers and interceptions, and even quarterbacks with impressive pocket presence produce many more negative plays under pressure.

When you adjust his numbers for distance thrown to a traditional NFL offense, Carr still leads the class in INT rate, an astonishing 1.7%.

In general, Carr is very good at diagnosing coverages, even when they grow complex and specific. He adjusts his throws in man vs. zone coverage, and keeps his route checks specific to the habits and general look he’ll see on the field. Carr is very, very good against zone coverage but needs to do more to help his receiver against man coverage. That said, playing man coverage against him doesn’t automatically put him at a disadvantage, he’s simply very good at finding seams.

He has full control of the protections, and has done an OK job with that despite the high number of pressures coming his way—he usually correctly identifies the blitzer or blitzers and can even recognize line twists before they happen. He has a lot of control at the line in terms of audibles and route adjustments, but the nature of his offense didn’t seem to include route packages—meaning it seems like he could change individual routes but not whole plays, which really limits the effectiveness of his on-field smarts.

His ability within that context is fantastic, though. His ability to recognize defenses has allowed him to attack things he specifically sees and eviscerate defenses if he feels he has a matchup advantage. This enthusiasm for receivers he feel will be open creates the issue with his eye discipline and locking on to receivers.

Carr diagnoses defenses very well and will go for the throat when he sees something, but he doesn’t force passes or make careless football decisions. He makes his decisions quickly in some contexts (his presnap read is almost always right and very quick) but slowly in others (waiting for a player to get open instead of moving on).

In the NFL, it will be important for him to be able to look off of safeties and make the play. I’m somewhat confident Carr can do it; he occasionally reads the middle-of-field coverage in his dropback post-snap before picking a side (when he hasn’t been predelegated a presnap read) and can hold the safety. Because his offense asks him to throw when the opportunity rises instead of in time with things, it doesn’t behoove him to look off the safety as much as for most quarterbacks and he uses the general defensive read to determine his throws. That said, he needs to do hold his eyes much more.

Sometimes, he’ll stare down one receiver and throw to another, which at least says something to his peripheral ability to hold a defense, and may mean that his ability to hold the middle of the field with his eyes is underrated. When he was a redshirt sophomore, he was slightly better at this, which at least implies he doesn’t need to see his receiver to see if he’s open.

Like Bridgewater, Carr plays in a progression system that prioritizes the short routes and climbs up the field, instead of the reverse or outside/in or inside/out reads (or clear key progressions). I really am beginning to dislike the system in terms of what it does for NFL evaluation, but I understand why teams do it: it’s easy and creates high-percentage plays.

For Carr, because the offense is so substantially different than Bridgewater’s, the evaluation challenges are different as well. Teddy didn’t have as many screens and 1-4 yard passes in the route packages and therefore had to make more difficult reads. For Carr, the screen was almost always open and almost always the first read. When he pulls back on that read, though, his quick decision to move to the next receiver is on-point.

To belabor the argument, if Carr is in a rhythm offense and his reads systemized, I imagine he’ll be much better.

Pocket Presence: I don’t really understand the meme involving his issues under pressure. He clearly has some issues with pressure, but they are well overstated. He has more snaps with a poor reaction to pressure than most draftable quarterbacks, but he also has more snaps with an excellent reaction to pressure. There are two reasons for this: he threw more passes than anyone else in the draft class, and his offensive line was a dumpster fire.

It’s rare to see top college quarterbacks under that much pressure that often. It does happen at around that rate in the NFL, so it’s not worthy of “excuse-making,” but it does provide context.

The issues are there, but he often leans back as he throws, and is willing to make throws as he’s walking backwards. A lot of his throws under pressure look like the following:

It’s a bad process that puts too much air on the ball and could be ripe for interceptions. His response to this issue is to be extremely risk-averse (see above, in accuracy) and throw away from the defender, though this doesn’t always create a catchable ball for the receiver. In general, leaning back is bad because it hurts velocity, creates inaccuracy and is a proxy for other issues with a QB who is scared of pressure.

In addition to that lean, he’ll narrow his base and throw with a locked front leg against pressure far more often than he will without pressure and throw off his back foot much more often.

Carr also occasionally rushes the throw. Many times he will do the same thing without pressure, which to me is more a symptom of the fast-paced, hurry-up offense than it is the desire to remove pressure from the equation (he will do it when it is obvious that there can be no pressure). These hurried passes are often his most inaccurate.

He also has plays like this:

That’s absurdly impressive and it happens from time to time. More often his “good” plays against pressure look like this:

Has run away from phantom pressure, but it isn’t as frequent as Garoppolo, Manziel or other QBs projected in the first three rounds (Bridgewater and Bortles aside). It was easy to see twice for sure in the Rutgers game (one was an end zone interception, one was a thrown away pass after extending the play), and one or two times where he rushed a throw, but could simply be overeager to attack really favorable defensive looks.

He did it thrice against San Diego State, the worst regular-season game in terms of pressures given up. He produced one mediocre play (run for two yards), one spectacular play (44 yard sideline throw that bounces in and out of his receiver’s hands) and one good play (overtime catch-and-run for 27 yards).

In most games, he does not do it at all.

The frequency with which he abandons clean pockets with free receivers is nothing like Manziel, who many have pointed out since I wrote my report has a record of constantly abandoning kill-shots or good open receivers across the middle in favor of scrambling.

Derek Carr is difficult to diagnose in this context. For all the trouble Manziel caused in evaluation, it was easier to argue that he was good at diagnosing pressure but overreacted. For Carr, I don’t think he is scared of pressure (although he certainly was as a redshirt sophomore), so much as hurried by game context. When the game is moving at his pace, his reaction to pressure is pretty good. When the game is moving very quickly for no real reason, he accelerates the clock in his head. Many times, watching the film, I feel that If Carr went 5% slower, the offense would move 10% more efficiently.

Further evidence for his variable pocket presence can be captured in a small part with this image gallery, which includes every snap Carr took under pressure in three games, when they would upload (about 75% of the GIFs recorded were uploaded).

They are in chronological order in those games, and the general sense I’m getting is improved pocket presence over the course of the game. Later in games, he’ll step up into the pocket (with a good base and a bended front knee), throw down the barrel of a gun, and even take the time to reholster and choose a different target before throwing with defensive tackles nearly draped over him.  Those aren’t the qualities of a quarterback scared of pressure.

This doesn’t mean it’s not a concern. You don’t want your quarterback to react poorly to the two-minute drill with the game on the line. But it is far more manageable and correctable than a quarterback who is simply afraid. In the first case, you tell the quarterback to stop dropping his back shoulder. In the second case, you draft a new quarterback.

The fact that Carr had the highest percentage of his throws dropped of the quarterbacks I’ve taken a look at in this class really kills the ability to parse out specific numbers and look at why he’s necessarily done worse under pressure.

For a long time, when breaking down Carr’s specific skills under pressure, I dogged his ability to sense edge pressure. Upon further analysis, it’s more complicated than that. He actually does a fairly good job at sensing pressure from the edge and the interior and reacts organically to it.

He manages edge and interior pressure with mixed results, and is probably worse than the average NFL quarterback in this way. While he’ll occasionally have brilliant moments of sidestepping or stepping up, at times it seems like his film is dominated with less than ideal responses to that pressure.

Carr isn’t particularly talented at resetting before his throws, unlike Bortles and Bridgewater. If he gets moved off of his spot, he’ll rely on his arm strength to bail him out, and it hurts his accuracy. In that sense, his pressure management is subpar. Giving himself that kind of time could have hurt him at Fresno State given the porous line, but that’s no excuse—he needs to do a better job of figuring out when he needs to fire the ball away and when he has time to re-establish good mechanics.

One last note: Carr’s progression in terms of pocket presence has improved massively every year he’s started. In 2011, he was almost cowardly. In 2012, he was tense and far too nervous. This last year, he was inconsistent, but definitely willing to take hits. He’s tough in the pocket, has developed a sense for rushers and gets more comfortable over the course of games.

Scrambling/Running: Derek Carr is an extremely underrated runner, with speed, functional agility and decent vision. The best example comes from when he was slower, but just looks so damn nice:

Carr - On the Run

Carr’s athleticism has been extremely underutilized in his time at Fresno State, which is fine because he was a deadly efficient pocket passer. His scrambles downfield and designed runs have been largely very effective, and he could integrate option running or packaged play concepts as well as any other quarterback in the class.

He doesn’t possess the insane vision and preternatural running ability of Johnny Manziel or the fundamental build and balance of Blake Bortles, but his running ability could very well be the focus of an offense (although I would really recommend against it, just because of the efficacy of those offenses).

At the NFL level, this could make him the kind of quarterback that can be given the permission to damage a defense that sells out too much for the pass or drops too deep to respect his arm.

Unfortunately, his inability to throw on the run really limits the use value of this trait and he doesn’t really move laterally with a great amount of speed, so it’s an occasional weapon.

Intangibles: Carr’s intangibles are evidently through the roof. There’s not much to say besides the fact that he continues to will his team, even in completely lost games (2012 Oregon, 2013 USC) and let his team to a win in overtime against SDSU. His work ethic is supposed to be one of the best in the class; better than Bridgewater, Bortles, Murray or McCarron. Of course, it is sort of an impossible thing to quantify and compare, so let’s just stick with a much more reasonable evaluation of “great.”

It is difficult to speak much to Carr’s on-field intangibles largely because his off-field character positives overshadow most reports and discussions of his on-field ability to lead teammates. In case you didn’t know, he’s very Christian and is extremely devoted to his family. This doesn’t likely translate into any additional on-field success, but at least his character is probably not a concern.

Primary Concerns: The Las Vegas Bowl against USC seems to be the first thing that detractors talk about in regards to Derek Carr. With some high profile misses and inaccuracies, it certainly looks bad. His statistics from the game: 30 for 54 (54!?), 55.6%, 217 yards, 4.0 yards per attempt, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception and 3.9 adjusted yards per attempt (same as adjusted net yards per attempt because there were no sacks).

I’ve catalogued a lot of Derek Carr’s passes under pressure, like I mentioned before. Again, not all the GIFs uploaded, but if you look at the USC game, 7 of the 11 passes (that uploaded) hit his receivers in the hands (and one was a throwaway). That doesn’t mean he had the best ball placement (he didn’t), but his performance under pressure was far better than his detractors say and better than some starting quarterbacks in the NFL.

In total, 11 of the 16 aimed passes under pressure in that game hit his receiver in a catchable position. 13 of all of his catchable passes throughout the game were not hauled in—the highest total number and percentage of dropped passes I’ve seen in a single game I’ve tracked. 41 of the 50 eligible passes (one throwaway, two receiver miscommunications and one rocket sweep that is really an extended handoff but is counted as a pass in the box score) hit their receiver.

That isn’t quite the proportion of passes that had good ball placement in a position that is easy to catch, and some of the drops were more his fault than his receiver, but the story of the game is overstated. Hitting receivers on 82% of throws in a game where they were under pressure as often as they were is impressive, not poor.

There are a lot of issues people have with his system, and it makes sense. Like Manziel, Carr’s system did not include the same keys or progressions as an NFL offense typically would. He didn’t have the same rhythm or footwork system he will likely be asked to operate out of at the next level and theoretically little experience commanding those systems.

He did, however, play in a pro-style offense in 2011 under Pat Hill. His 2011 film is kind of what you would expect for his first season as a starter (it was his redshirt sophomore year). His issues with pressure were much worse (and consistently worse) and his accuracy was frankly awful.

But his ability to go through reads was impressive and he regularly hit his second and third read, making the correct decision at a rate that far exceeds those with his experience level. He wasn’t Peyton Manning, but it was good, though he trusted his arm too much in tight windows. He no longer forces throws, and hopefully a system change won’t bring him back to that.

Carr is generally accurate, and he has long stretches of play with surgical strikes, but when he misses, sometimes they are enormous misses. The nature of the misses makes you think he is more inaccurate in general than he usually is, but wild misses still raise eyebrows. The good thing is he always errs towards safety and away from defenders.

Conclusion: Carr is a bad fit for the offense he was in, despite the gaudy stats Fresno State put up. It’s not just that they hid his strengths, they magnified some weaknesses, removing rhythm from the game and creating an awkward read system without implementing an easy-to-audible route package system.

That’s not to say it was a bad offense in general; it clearly worked for Fresno State and Dave Schramm. But Carr in a system where the coaches can manage him for a year or two will be good. If given clear directives on his reads and priorities, he can do very well before being let go and potentially have a lot more leeway.

This is somewhat of a knock on Carr, but there are honestly very few unmanaged quarterbacks in the NFL. Brady and Belichick meet weekly to discuss changes and Brady therefore has a lot of control over the way he makes progressions (though he had very little control early on in his first two Super Bowl wins). Peyton Manning famously manages himself and Rodgers is a highly managed quarterback that might do better when unmanaged.

But there is a long history of quarterbacks who have been built within their systems and managed, like Joe Montana. Notably, Turner quarterbacks (and in general, Coryell passers) were highly managed as well. Carr also projects well, to me, to an Erhardt-Perkins offense with modular route packages that he can sub in an out at will with clear keys.

For Bridgewater, it is easy to see that an NFL system is a good fit, even if it comes in a different flavor. But Carr requires an offense that runs with completely different principles than the one he’s currently in; Carr is not a fit for his own offense at the NFL level.

His talent-level depends on your interpretation of my characterization of his weaknesses. If you agree with what I said, he’s a first-round level talent (after correcting for the fact that quarterbacks are pushed up in the draft), but not a top-ten type prospect. But if you don’t think there’s a good explanation for his pressure issues, he’s a late-second round prospect.

If you also happen to think my conjecture about the improvements to be gained from a system change are wrong, then he is probably a fourth-round prospect. If you agree with my take on his pocket presence but not about the immediate benefits of a system change, then I think he is a high-second round prospect for the right team and a high third-round prospect for a generic team.

Show More

Related Articles


  1. Do you have any comment about how far down Matt Waldman puts Carr, behind 4 other guys who are normally regarded as Rounds 2-4? You both seem to talk about roughly the same flaws (rush plays, some mechanics concerns), though you are a bit more positive about his reads and progressions.

    Either way, it seems apparent that anyone the Vikings draft- other than Bridgewater- should sit for 2 years. That’s probably what should have been done with Ponder as well. It seems that you have a running QB or Andrew Luck, otherwise you should sit the rookie in the film room till season 3.

    1. I think the difference for me vs. Waldman is that I see the issues as specific and situational and he sees them as systemic and repeatable. We also differ on the reasoning for his pocket struggles and what they imply. He thinks they are a sign of general unease and discomfort, and I do not.

      I agree on sitting all these guys, though.

  2. Thank you, Arif. Your scouting reports and CCRNorseman’s articles at DN on picking a winner and avoiding a bust have been invaluable. Bridgewater is the only guy in the class who warrants a Top 10 pick but I’d be okay with the Vikes trading down and getting Carr later in the first round or with our #2. The high bust potential of Manziel, Bortles and Mettenberger scares the hell out of me.

  3. Excellent breakdown, Arif! I agree with the basics of everything that you stated, but I have to side with Matt Waldman when it comes to Carr under pressure. When you combine his general tendency of getting rid of the ball at the first sign of pressure, along with his lack of a tendency to reset himself before throwing when he’s moved off of his mark, it just screams to me that Carr doesn’t have the consistent ability to control his own internal clock when he’s pressured; regardless of system or situation.

    It’s one of the reasons why I like Zach Mettenberger, because his internal clock generally stays the same whether he’s pressured or not. Pressure just simply does not seem to phase him very much. Obviously this means he’ll be more susceptible to hits, but it also has allowed him to complete some throws that most QBs wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to attempt.

    With all of that being said, I’d take Carr in the 2nd round only if Bridgewater, Bortles, and Mett are already off the board.

    1. I really can’t agree with the assessment that he tries to get rid of the ball at the first sign of pressure. His cautiousness at throwing bad balls overlays everything he does, and he has often rather chosen to throw a ball to the “right” receiver at the cost of getting hit versus the “wrong” receiver to avoid the hit.

      He pulls back on a lot of throws.

      1. I’ve been doing some charting on Carr with a stopwatch — what I notice is that he’s much better on time than early or late. He’s a rhythm passer: when he’s in rhythm, he’s awesome (even when his footwork is technically poor or he throws leaning away from pressure), but when his timing is disrupted, he often struggles badly. Everything is done very quickly, he’s getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less almost all the time, and in 2.2 or less more than half of the time (much higher percentages than pro QBs).

        Most of his bad plays (and he has some *horrible* looking plays, at least as bad as the stuff people complain about with Manziel) come when he has to rush a throw (or worse, when he doesn’t *have to* but rushes the throw anyway — a tendency in him that seems more related to impatience than fear of pressure, as many of his misses are on potential big plays where it seems he can’t wait to let the moment develop before pulling the trigger), or when he has to pull back from plan A and figure out what to do next (even when pressure’s not really a factor).

        I’m coming to the point of seeing Carr as a guy who has almost maxed out his potential, a very productive player when he gets to play his game, but one who isn’t sure what to do when he’s forced to adjust. I can see why almost everyone who hates Manziel loves Carr, they’re almost polar opposites (though I think Manziel does better and makes fewer mistakes playing within the system when he limits himself than Carr does playing beyond the system when he tries to stretch himself or is forced to do so).

        Carr might be an amazing QB in a similarly spread-based pro offense, like with Chip Kelly, or a system that gives him a high-yield single read (like what RG3 was doing with play action as a rookie). I think he’ll have a hard time being the guy who sits in the pocket to read defenses, manipulate coverages and make decisions in real time (when people talk about Carr’s football IQ, calling protections and adjusting plays, they’re talking about pre-snap reads — he’s comparably terrible at making post-snap adjustments).

        I’d be very hesitant to draft him #8, because I don’t think QBs can learn what he hasn’t learned yet — how to be creative in real time, how to improvise — and as good a first-read passer as he can be in rhythm, I think he’ll have a very hard time dealing with NFL defenses disguising coverages and breaking on the ball, unless he ends up in a system with a lot of misdirection that gives him a favorable first read on most passing plays.

  4. (apologies in advance for the length here)

    Arif, I love your work but I think you’re off base here in a couple of important respects.

    To start with, you’re charting Carr as “under pressure” when he’s throwing quick passes to his first read. Yes, frequently there were rushers nearing him as he delivered the ball, but he was in no danger of taking a sack and it’s hard to believe the pressure affected the throw. That’s the system with the spread offense — throw the ball to a defined first read on a short pattern (so many screens, so many 5 yard stop routes in the seam, so many quick outs) — and you don’t have to worry about pressure.

    I pulled apart the Rotoworld “under pressure” stats from the “QB conundrum” article on a forum awhile ago — they chart Carr at 50% accuracy against pressure, but his overall accuracy only drops from 80% without pressure to the 77% overall — meaning they’re saying he was hardly ever pressured (I did the algebra and it came out to only 10% of his dropbacks). Which I think it why you’re seeing so much better performance from Carr “under pressure” than they are, because you’re including a whole bunch of accurate throws on quick hitters that weren’t really affected by the OL tire fire.

    I’d also say the “tire fire” aspect of his problems is also hugely overstated, especially in the USC game. His OL wasn’t very good but the scheme is designed to limit the effect of that. How many sacks did USC have in the bowl game? (zero). How many solid QB hits? (one).

    If I go through the gifs you uploaded from the USC game with my own comments:

    He has no particular pressure (1 on 1 blocker vs rusher) on this designed rollout. His WR at the 5 is wide open after the DB falls but Carr has already stopped looking downfield. The blocker checks off and Carr has an easy completion to the wide open checkdown. Throw takes the RB to ground, poor accuracy.

    Definite pressure and an excellent job standing in a collapsing pocket and finding the checkdown, lots of YAC on this play IIRC.

    This is designed to be a screen to the WR running along the LOS (and there would’ve been no pressure if he’d made that throw, not the OL’s fault here) but Carr pulls it down and aims deeper. Difficult throw but definitely too high even though DL hasn’t touched him yet, WR probably should still make this catch. Is this pressure? Only because he’s looking for his second read (a LB is waiting for the screen pass, because this is a solid defense for a change).

    Pressure here is the RT’s fault, Carr hurries the throw but delivers an accurate ball downfield, nice work. This is the one solid hit he takes all game, he gets up favoring his left shoulder. The WR pushes off but then drops the ball anyway.

    This isn’t pressure! Designed rollout with DL 5 yards away. He has time and space to plant his feet or look downfield but throws across his body to a receiver at the LOS with no separation. I don’t understand the play call, there’s only 1 WR on that side and he runs a screen pattern.

    Fairly late pressure from a blitz, not really the OL’s fault. He had time to throw to his first read but looked for a checkdown, Stepped back and still threw accurately, well done.

    Hard to know what the play call is. Looks like a quick screen/slant to the right that he doesn’t throw for some reason (the LT fires forward and blocks the MLB, other OL are running hard to the right. Carr doesn’t pull the trigger on his first read and then throws it away. No one tries to block the backside DE — this isn’t a play where Carr’s supposed to sit in the pocket and find an open man.

    I wouldn’t chart this as pressure. He throws on time from a fairly good pocket, has room to step up and does. Accurate throw but not really affected by the DL/OL.

    This is a screen pass, he’s in no danger throwing to his first read, ball’s out before the DL get 3 yards upfield. OL are chop blocking. Again, I wouldn’t chart this as pressure.

    I’d only chart #2, #4 and #6 as clearly pressured throws where the OL is responsible (that’s 3 of 54 throws in the game). DL are in the picture on rollouts in #1, #3, #5 and #7 (and #3 and #7 definitely affect the throw/decision) but they aren’t the OL’s fault.

    I did a post elsewhere with a series of screenshots from the USC game that shows how many terrible throws he made there that weren’t affected by pressure at all:

    So I really don’t think the idea that the USC game was due to the OL’s tire fire performance holds up.

    My concern is that Carr’s struggles there had more to do with tighter coverage (most of his 2013 games are full of ridiculously open WRs), better defense (many of his other 2013 games are full of ridiculously bad downfield tackling) and the pressure of the moment.

    I’ve been doing my own analysis of Carr and my basic problem with him as that he gets worse the longer the play goes on. He’s very good as a rhythm passer, throwing on time, almost always to his first read. These include predominantly but not entirely short patterns and screens — but he’s also quite good at first read intermediate throws (like the throw to the left sideline against Rutgers where you posted 2 gifs in this article as if they were separate plays — again a good throw on time from a tight pocket but not really affected by pressure), and deep patterns (where his tendency is to lob the ball up early in the pattern, which hurts his accuracy and sometimes leads to leaving huge plays on the field (his INT against SDSU is a great example, as is the horrific overthrow to the left sideline that would’ve been a TD against USC).

    Carr is much, much less impressive at making something happen later in the play. And when he gets moved off his spot (forced to scramble, not on defined rollouts), he’s often terrible. Despite his impressive speed at the combine and a couple of nice highlights including the one you included here, he’s not usually a good scrambler, and is prone to getting into trouble when he tries to maneuver through pressure (to run or reset and throw) instead of away from it (by falling back and throwing it).

    As a predominantly first read thrower, he’s also very prone to staring down his target. That leads to most of his INTs and a whole host of passes defensed and dropped picks. (I think you were the first person to notice how prone Carr is to have passes defended, but that’s disappeared from your analysis at this point). I really doubt his ball security record will survive in the NFL unless he becomes a purely dink and dunk passer, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he throws more picks in his first few years than Manziel.

    I started out as a defender of the Vikings taking Carr at #8 (assuming 2-3 of the top QBs were off the board), having seen only his stats and his highlights. Watching him in more detail, I’ve become less and less of a fan of taking him before #40. He does lots of good things too (many of which you’ve highlighted here, and I agree with) but I think he’s a real project QB until he learns to make things happen more reliably later in plays and to deal with better defenses and (physical and mental) pressure.

    1. I love when you comment, Krauser, but I don’t really see how we see the same things and come to different conclusions. Whether or not a play was designed to put Carr in a position of vulnerability (like #1) or not, doesn’t mean there’s no pressure. In that first GIF, the free rusher clearly has the ability to hit Carr and affect his throw if he hesitates at all—even if he makes the throw. He has a different decision-tree because of that rusher than if that rusher wasn’t there.

      For the third GIF, there are no downfield blockers, so it is not a designed screen, the pass in the flats is simply the first read. The receiver on the playside does not set up to block, and it is clearly a play designed to allow Carr more than one choice. That doesn’t mean the OL is at fault on this one, you’re right—the “backside” DE on the playfake was supposed to be taken in by either the WR or the RB, but it’s still clearly pressure.

      I charted the fifth GIF as pressure because Carr clearly changes his path as he rolls out. QBs very rarely throw on the run while moving laterally and backwards. That he successfully avoided the pressure his RB gave up does not mean it wasn’t pressure. He’s running along the 50 yard line, then hitches out suddenly in response to pressure.

      The 7th GIF I blame the LT for making the wrong read and allowing the edge rusher free room. Even if you don’t agree with me (it could be slide protection on an outside zone run fake, which would mean it is difficult for him to justify kicking out), you could just as easily blame on the RB for not picking up on his protection (or it would be in most systems; I suppose I do not know if it is in this specific play). And more, even if you don’t blame the backside pursuit on somebody, there are other free rushers getting to him.

      I charted the 8th GIF as pressure because the LOLB had won. His hips have lined up with the RT and he turned the corner and was long-arming the RT. It’s a QB hit waiting to happen:

      9th GIF: the LG misses his block. Free rusher up the middle. Clear pressure, in Carr’s face, OL’s fault. He got rid of the ball quickly, but I don’t see how the fact that it is a one-step slant makes it any less useful in evaluating his “fear” in the pocket or performance under pressure.

      I charted any dropped picks as picks when I recorded things in the tables, so any dropped picks are just as part of my analysis of his INT rates as the recorded ones.

      I do mention his tendency to fixate on his primary read, like you mention, but I don’t think it’s that big of an issue given that he consistently moves off that read when it’s a bad play and has shown an ability to read defenses instead of players at different moments as well (the second part being significantly more important than the first).

      Every QB is predominantly a first-read thrower, but his first read is almost always open. When it isn’t, he goes through his progressions. He has looked off safeties and held defenders with his eyes, so the number of quick reads in the offense does not concern me. He is doing what he is supposed to do. When you remove the screens and short slants from his game, he shows what you want from a QB.

      We agree he needs work, but I think he needs less work and is easier to fix than Manziel or Bortles; a year inside an offense with rhythm and routes aligned with drops would do wonders for him.

      1. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Arif.

        I do think it matters for the concept of pressure that Carr targets quick routes as frequently as he does. His OL is obviously not very good but I don’t know that he’d even be concerned about the DL coming through the line in for example the 9th gif, when he’s already determined the read pre-snap and is delivering the ball on time and in rhythm with the rusher still several yards away.

        Your interpretation is reasonable, of course, but I would point out again that Carr has previously been charted as not taking much pressure (at least by Rotoworld, 80% accuracy percentage without pressure, 50% with pressure, 77% overall –> only ~10% of total attempts occurred under pressure, once you weight the percentages). If you’re including a bunch of plays like the 9th gif, where he throws in 1.5 seconds from the shotgun (so fast that it’s physically impossible for a defender to reach him, even completely unblocked), as charted pressures, then Carr will perform better under pressure for you than he has for other analysts.

        For my money, that play is not what I think of as a QB “under pressure”, so I wouldn’t want to take Carr’s success on plays like that (and he has many, many completions just like that to WRs who were way more open against SJSU than USC) as predictive.

        Going through my charting project (now done 5 of a planned 10 games), I did find one game where Carr performed very well late in the play — Boise State (2013), where he looks like a #1 overall pick in the 2nd half. Conversely, I found a game where he looks even worse than vs USC, and for reasons that were more in keeping with what I expected to see in the USC game and didn’t — vs SDSU (2013), where he takes a lot of pressure and looks utterly flustered and outmatched early on.

        The SDSU game is another concern: they disguised their formations, lots of stuff that looked like Dom Capers’ psycho formation, with only 1-2 down linemen and everyone else standing, making it hard to tell who was rushing and who was dropping back. Carr finally finds a rhythm near the end of the game, but it’s all short patterns, screens and hitches to receivers who are open against SDSU but won’t be against the Seahawks, or even against the defenses of the NFCN.

        You see that pattern in the USC game, (and not just there, in many of the other pressures I’ve charted for him) — when the defense rolls up and takes away his quick pass 1st read, he pulls the ball down and is suddenly under pressure (because the play isn’t designed to give him time in the pocket to make another read, the OL are often chop blocking). The 2012 Oregon game is a very good example of that.

        I have found lots to like about him as a passer: beautiful touch and placement on fade routes, some amazing stuff to the sidelines even off balance, usually quite accurate on short routes, but I’m worried that the best of that will only be limited by better NFL defenses, and he won’t have the cognitive post-snap skills to break down coverages to find opportunities and limit mistakes.


          ^^ forgot to comment on this in my ramblings

          I’m charting plays like that as “close” (under the pressure tab on my spreadsheet), but I don’t think the delivery or the timing of that pass was affected by the OLB being about to win on the pass rush as Carr steps in the other direction while looking the other way.

          Maybe you’re charting “pressure” by watching the OL miss blocks and I’m watching what (I imagine) Carr is seeing/thinking/doing, and only marking down the former if it significantly affects the latter.

          That way we can both be right 🙂

          I will take your point about the 5th gif, he’s running back away from the DL on the rollout, even if they’re a couple of steps away when he throws.

          And for the record, I don’t think of him as “afraid” of pressure, but as a quick draw artist who’s best when the ball comes out on time and he doesn’t have to think too much.

  5. Thanks for the analysis, Arif. (And more generally for the “thinking man’s” football articles you’ve been posting for the past few years). I’m curious in your evaluations if you were able to determine how effectively Carr and his fellow prospects are able to take advantage of play action. Seeing that the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, I always try to make a few notes on whether a prospect is able to take full advantage of play action opportunities. In 4 games, I think I saw Manziel attempt one play action pass, whereas I enjoyed Bridgewater’s ability to sell run to manipulate defenders. With Carr, however, I don’t have any notes.

  6. I hope we pick Teddy at 8 if he is available. I could see Carr being above league average in the NFL if given a year or better to study and practice. If we can get that for a second round pick I could live with that. For some reason the first time I saw Mettenberger throwhe reminded me of Phillip Rivers in stature and delivery. Since then I have read some reviews that have me down on him. I am really curious to see how the Vikings rank Mett, Carr, and Garappolo. Hopefully we never find out because we take Teddy at 8. Anyone but Manziel.

  7. I’d say Carr is the #2 QB in the draft, after Bridgewater. Carr has the stronger arm, but also weaker when it comes to mechanics/footwork, poise under duress, reading defenses/making adjustments. If some team drafts Bridgewater ahead of the Vikings, Carr would definitely be my second choice.