Much has been said about Oakland Raiders starting quarterback Derek Carr after his 2015 rookie campaign, both good and bad.
There were certainly things that Carr could have done a lot better, but also things that he did very well. In reality, he sat somewhere between Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater given the statistics he produced.
One thing Carr did do well, especially for a rookie quarterback, was taking care of the football, giving up only 12 interceptions in 16 games and 599 passing attempts. Rookie quarterbacks on bad teams (and the Raiders were certainly that in 2014) often go down in flames, but Carr didn’t. He held it together, provided some leadership, and won the respect of his teammates. The lack of even a moderately talented supporting cast will hamper any quarterback, and Carr had little to work with in 2014
How bad was the Raiders offense? They were historically bad, finishing dead last overall, last in rushing, and 27th against the pass. Already without a running game, Carr had to cope without a number one receiver, as well as no on the roster who could qualify as a reasonable number two guy (especially after Rod Streater went down in week three). Despite a useful contribution from Mychal Rivera, there was also no genuine starting tight end on the roster.
Given that, Carr had poor accuracy on his deep passes (23.9 as per PFF) compared to higher level players (Matt Ryan 56.5% PFF) and struggled to find receivers when under pressure, where his completion percentage dropped to 54.2% (PFF). He was considerably more accurate (63.2% PFF) when he could get the ball out of his hands quickly (under 2.6 seconds), no doubt reflecting the type of college offense he ran at Fresno State.
From the very start of the offseason though, one thing was clear, Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders have gone all in on Derek Carr, and their free agent and draft strategy was geared almost solely to providing him with the tools he needs to develop.
Their biggest free agent signing was center Rodney Hudson to upgrade the offensive line, and they selected wide receiver Amari Cooper with the fourth overall pick of the draft, despite some excellent defensive players being available at need positions. Oakland went offense with three of their first four picks, selecting Miami players Clive Walford (TE), and John Feliciano (OG) in the third and fourth rounds respectively. They also signed Michael Crabtree to further upgrade the receiving corps, and added a blocking tight end in Lee Smith.
The Raiders offense has undergone a major overhaul in terms of personnel, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was brought in from Philadelphia, where he had worked in Chip Kelly’s high octane offense. So Oakland has clearly decided Carr is their guy, being happy not only with the talent he displayed on the field, but also with his work habits and character off it.
If the Raiders offense can field a viable running game, that will be a huge help to Derek Carr. Even given his troubles last year and the Raiders awful running game, he was considerably better off the play action than in the other areas of his play.
Carr’s quarterback rating jumped from 78.09 To 93.3, and he threw for eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
The worrying thing statistically, is that his average gain of 5.46 yards was the lowest in the League for starting quarterbacks and also reflects his inaccuracy on deep balls.
Going forward, you would have to expect a significant increase in Carr’s performance, especially in terms of completion percentage (58.1 in 2014), & average gain. All this while continuing to take care of the football as he did as a rookie.
This would reflect both the significant increase in talent surrounding Carr, and also his own development as a quarterback. An increase in deep ball accuracy (he doesn’t lack arm strength) and performance under pressure would be evidence of his development as well.
The talk coming out of camp already is that this Raiders coaching staff is ‘the best since Gruden’, and that better things are expected of the team this year. If Oakland is to achieve those things, it starts with Derek Carr. But If Carr fails to produce and make a noticeable step forward in his play (given the many factors acting in his favor), then his detractors will have a far stronger argument for their criticism.
When NFL training camps open in late July the evaluation process of the current team begins. The process varies from team to team, but there are some similarities. One similarity is that all 90 players on the roster are evaluated on a daily basis.
During the first seven to ten days of camps most of the college scouts are in town as they prepare for the college season. At many NFL camps the college scouts help evaluate their own team while in camp. A scout will be assigned to a specific position and then will evaluate each player in that position group before they leave camp. These reports often go to the general manager and help the GM when they are in player meetings with the head coach.
In many cases if a coaching staff has been around for a few years the emphasis will be on the young players, especially the rookies. The veterans are still being evaluated, but the coaches already know what those players can do. They are evaluating the veterans to see if there has been a significant drop off in play. This can be difficult, as a veteran knows how to mask their abilities. Coaches trust players who understand their assignments — so if a veteran player comes into camp and plays mistake-free football, even if he is losing some of his physical skill set — he can fool the coach into thinking he can still play. This is where a second set of eyes is needed to help the coach with the evaluation. This can be a scout from the pro or college scouting department and/or the GM and scouting director.
Many veteran players whose play is on the decline know how to get through camp without letting evaluators know their skill set is eroding. This can be dangerous for the club because that vet may play fairly well for a few games during the season, but as the season continues, their level of play declines. Many head coaches and general managers believe it is better to get rid of a player a year early than a year late. Keeping a veteran too long can be costly.
On teams with a new coaching staff the evaluation process is a little different for the coaches. Besides watching tape from the previous season, the position coach is unfamiliar with the players in his group. The veteran player must work harder in camp to show his new position coach that he can play. Often in new coaching situations the first camp is a little more physical than others because the staff needs to find out the talent level of all of their players. It can be a lot harder for a veteran to fool a new staff.
With rookies, the process is a little different. Coaches know that they are new to the system and are often lost mentally at the beginning of camp. Coaches and scouts want to see daily improvement in the rookie. With almost all rookies, there will be a time when improvement levels off. After a few days of leveling off evaluators want to see improvement again at each practice. If they don’t see improvement, then the player has most likely hit his ceiling and it’s time to move on.
Before game tape was digitized clubs often sent scouts to many of the pre-season games to watch younger players who were at risk of being cut. While scouts still may attend some pre-season games, they don’t attend as many as they used to. With digitization, clubs often have the game tape of every pre-season game played within 24 hours, which makes viewing the game tape extremely efficient for scouts. As long as they are somewhere with an internet connection, they have access to game tape. This makes the evaluation process of young players much easier than it was even 10 years ago. Not only is it easier, but much more thorough and there is no reason a club doesn’t have a good “look” on just about every player in the league…young or old.
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We all hear about the pending magnetic resonance imaging. Sometimes the test is needed and helpful. Often, especially on the big injuries, the team doctor already knows the diagnosis and has passed it on to the club.
Done correctly, physical exam is extremely accurate for major ligament and tendon tears like ACL, PCL, MCL, Achilles, shoulder labrum and distal biceps. MRI are not needed but often players and their agents still rely on them. Other times, it is away for the medical staff to be absolutely sure of the diagnosis or provide the team with a little extra time to ponder roster moves.
Let’s take two examples from Sunday’s injuries: Ravens safety Matt Elam and Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson. Both were announced to be waiting for MRI before any official word.
Elam injured his biceps near the elbow and the team was worried about a distal biceps tendon rupture which would mean surgery. Reports surfaced of either a complete or partial tear and the team was waiting for an MRI. Complete distal biceps tears are an easy clinical diagnosis. In fact, I indicated such a rupture for Prince Amukamara based on broadcast video during a Giants game last year.
Expect the formality to be announced soon of a full distal biceps tear and surgery. Recovery is minimum three to four months. Although Elam will likely go on injured reserve, there is a chance the team could elect to designate him for return.
Johnson went down with what looked like a severe knee injury, casting a pall on Bengals practice. Two team doctors were present to exam him on the field prior to being carted off. Based on that evaluation, the team was confident that it was not a season ending ACL tear.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis acknowledged his confidence in the medical evaluation being the better than MRI, stating the doctors have “always been 100 percent with me from wherever it stands on those battlefield exams. They’re pretty accurate and I feel pretty good about it.” Expect the MRI to make it official that the injury is to his MCL and not his ACL which will allow an early season return.
When it comes to major injuries, as a former head team physician, we typically knew on the field what the severity was. An MRI is certainly helpful in diagnosing nuances of injuries. For example, my hands can immediately tell me the ACL is torn, but an MRI is helpful to determine associate meniscus tear or bone bruise.
I used to say to players “I hope I am wrong, so let’s wait for the MRI”. All the while, I was essentially sure of the bad news. This served to let the player come to grips with the diagnosis before it became official.
Over a decade ago, we were ahead of the curve in getting all post-game MRIs done and information to team executives by my scheduled 11am Monday morning meeting. Nowadays, some teams are even getting MRIs immediately after the game, although the announcement of results comes later.
Essentially the MRI is a confirmatory second opinion. When it comes to major injuries, the team already knows the outcome.
MMMD 1: Failed physical and failed conditioning tests
Last week, we covered active and reserve PUP and NFI. What does it mean to fail a physical or conditioning test?
Ladarius Webb and LeGarrette Blount failed initial conditioning tests and were placed on the NFI list. Not being in shape to pass a coach’s test can be considered grounds for not passing a physical.
Brodrick Bunkley failed his physical based on last year’s quad injury and no conditioning test was needed. The Saints have clearly moved on but in some ways the team was protecting itself and in others it was protecting the player. You can’t cut an injured player in the season he was injured, but you can cut last year’s injury. By not passing Bunkley on the physical the team limits its loses. He doesn’t get any 2015 money, even if there is residual injury. The move makes the player eligible for injury protection monies. Being released is never good but the team may have been looking out for themselves and the player here.
MMMD 2: Inevitable injury parade starts despite non-contact practices
Justin Jackson of the Cowboys and Stephen Hill of the Panthers both tore their ACL while Kyle Williams of the Broncos tore his Achilles. All three are season ending injuries and will require surgery.
The new CBA limits practice and contact, yet there is no drop in ACL or Achilles tears. Both ACL and Achilles ruptures are predominately non-contact injuries that occur at full speed. In fact, I feel like Achilles is so common that it has become the new ACL.
MMMD 3: Last week was PUP watch
The significance of Physically Unable to Perform designation was explained last week. As expected, Jadeveon Clowney and Earl Thomas were placed on active/PUP. Both are expected to come off soon. Marques Colston and Carlos Hyde were on the PUP list but were removed quickly, preserving the team’s ability to use reserve/PUP if needed for the regular season.
The PUP news was good for Todd Gurley, Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford, Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Albert. Being left of the PUP list is no guarantee of being ready week one but it does mean the team has no worries about the possibility of missing six weeks.
MMMD 4: JPP pictures are worrisome
It is always said that you “can’t judge a book by its cover”. One can’t judge an injury based on the dressing either. However, the way Jason Pierre-Paul’s hand is wrapped as he approaches one month out from injury is worrisome.
All along I have feared there may be more damage than what has been reported with the index finger ray amputation and thumb fracture. The way his hand is bandaged indicates damage to other fingers too. The question now is to what extent.
Some have speculated his thumb looks shorter, but that may not be the case based on the bulkiness of the entire dressing. Also the use of a sling in a significant hand injury doesn’t necessarily mean shoulder or elbow issues. In any case, we can now assume there is additional damage. I hope he can still make it back quickly.
MMMD 5: Defensive line is harder return from back surgery
The Chiefs’ Dontari Poe had surgery for a herniated disc. Any back surgery is hard to come back from put it may be even tougher playing his position.
Playing any sport coming off back surgery is hard but when you have to leverage against two or more 300 pounders while twisting and using core strength, that makes the task much more difficult. As a 350-pound nose tackle, Poe’s spine is not twice the size of the average 175-pound male, thus the backs of larger players endure more force.
I would anticipate a three-month recovery, making him a PUP candidate. In the short term he should ultimately return to full football form; however, he may have long-term problems after football.
MMMD 6: Eric Berry cancer free and returns to practice
Kudos again to the Chiefs medical staff for discovering a chest mass after a routine post-game complaint of chest discomfort. The early diagnosis was key and eight months later, Berry is cured of his lymphoma (blood cell tumor)
Beating cancer is great news but he was also cleared to return to football practice. He may have a ways to go before he returns to his Pro Bowl form, but the news couldn’t be any better.
MMMD 7: ProFootballDoc scorecard
Previously the self-graded injury prediction/assessment record was at 9-0. The hope is by providing weekly updates, by the end of the 2015 season, there will be meaningful vetted numbers.
This week there was one injury caught on film. In between seeing patients during my regular day, several followers notified me with frame–by-frame injury video on Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland. He was carted off with a non-contact knee injury and the worry was season-ending ACL. Based on this video alone, my impression was MCL, which later proved correct.
This one was relatively easy as there was great video showing the injury and the 17 years of analyzing NFL injury video paid off. With the current record now at 10-0, I fully expect to be incorrect soon as there is no way to be perfect based on video without examination.
Follow David on Twitter: @profootballdoc
Dr. David Chao is a former NFL head team physician with 17 years of sideline, locker and training room experience. He currently has a successful orthopedic/sports medicine practice in San Diego.
The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots have won the AFC East six consecutive years, but they are poised to be knocked off the division’s top perch.
They have lost their top three cornerbacks from last season, and the NFL upheld a four-game suspension of QB Tom Brady.
Two of their challengers in the division — the Bills and Jets — are similarly constructed teams with the same strengths and problems.
Both the Bills and Jets have very good defensive units, something that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the main link between the franchises is Rex Ryan, the son of Buddy Ryan, who popularized the 46 defense.
After six years with the Jets, Rex Ryan enters his first year coaching the Bills. Ryan’s replacement in New York, Todd Bowles, actually employs a very similar gameplan involving a blitz-heavy 3-4 D.
Bowles, though, inherits the same problem that plagued Ryan in New York and still negatively affects him in Buffalo — poor QB play.
Although both teams have two of the most uncertain QB situations in the league, their defensive lines are two of the best.
The Jets’ D-line took a hit when defensive end Sheldon Richardson, who was just charged for resisting arrest after driving 143 mph, was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. But even without him, the Jets have Muhammad Wilkerson, a 6-4, 315-pounder with 16 sacks the last two years, and rookie Leonard Williams, who was regarded as the best defensive player in the draft before dropping to No. 6 overall because of rumors of a lingering shoulder injury that he claims were unfounded.
Buffalo’s version of Richardson is Marcell Dareus. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has the versatility to play nose tackle, 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end. The talented Dareus is stout versus the run, and his 28.5 sacks in his four years in the league demonstrate his pass rush ability. His issues come off the field where he has numerous incidents, including ones involving drag racing and drugs.
On the Bills’ four-man line, Dareus lined up next to Kyle Williams, a high-motor player who has 16 sacks the past two years, last season.
Ryan will likely go with three down linemen this year, moving defensive ends Mario Williams — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft — and Jerry Hughes to 3-4 outside linebackers. Williams has 91 career sacks, and the duo combined for 24 sacks last season.
The Bills had the third best pass defense in the league last year not only because of their ability to get to the quarterback, but also because they have two former top 11 picks — Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore — starting at cornerback.
Ryan will love having those corners. He can trust them in single coverage, allowing him to blitz multiple defenders.
His penchant for doing that is why Ryan lobbied the Jets front office to re-sign Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, the cover cornerbacks who shut down receivers while the Jets advanced to the AFC Championship Game in 2010.
Unfortunately for Ryan, the Jets re-signed them only after he left.
Those secondary additions — and the free-agent acquisition of CB Buster Skrine — should drastically improve a New York defense that ranked sixth in the NFL last season but only 14th against the pass.
And the Jets D will have to be outstanding to compensate for an anemic offense.
The offensive woes begin at quarterback where New York has error-prone Geno Smith, who has turned the ball over 41 times in 30 career games.
Rookie quarterback Bryce Petty, drafted in the fourth round, has potential, but he is somewhat of a project because he needs to adjust from the spread offense at Baylor to the Jets’ pro-style attack.
There’s a reason Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is on his sixth team; he is whom you want as your No. 2 quarterback but not your starter.
One of Fitzpatrick’s former teams, the Bills, have similar QB issues. Matt Cassel, the odds-on favorite to win the job, is like Fitzpatrick. An excellent backup, he could not hold onto the starting job in Kansas City or Minnesota.
EJ Manuel, the first quarterback selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, is not dynamic enough. He has completed under 59 percent of his passes in both seasons and never averaged more than 6.44 yards per pass.
Tyrod Taylor also has a shot at the starting job.
Whoever quarterbacks the Bills will at least have LeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson at running back, potentially allowing Buffalo to play a ball-control attack, which puts less pressure on the passer.
McCoy has 2,926 rush yards over the last two seasons, and Jackson has surpassed 925 rushing yards three times.
The Bills have young talent at receiver. Sammy Watkins enters his second year while Robert Woods enters his third. They combined for 1,681 receiving yards last year.
They also signed WR Percy Harvin to a one-year contract. Harvin played for Ryan last year in New York after the versatile receiver previously wore out his welcome in Minnesota and Seattle.
The Jets took on another talented — but somewhat troubled — receiver in Brandon Marshall to complement Eric Decker.
But like the Bills, the Jets would be better off taking the game out of the hands of whichever dubious quarterback wins the QB job and relying on a deep RB group.
The Jets ranked third in the NFL in rushing last year and are even deeper this year. Though lacking an elite back, New York has Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy. Each has at least one 697-yard season to his name.
Time will tell if strong running games and defenses will be enough to make up for poor QB play — and enough to finally unseat the Patriots.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin
No position in football is more important than quarterback and this is reflected in their contracts. Nineteen quarterbacks average more than $10 million per season in salary, according to Over The Cap.
The latest quarterback to sign a mega-extension was Russell Wilson, who inked a contract worth $21.9 million per year in new money just before the start of training camp.
It is only a matter of time before the next extension is signed. So, who are the next quarterbacks to have the Brink’s truck parked outside their house?
Eli Manning, New York Giants
A veteran of 11 seasons in New York, Manning is entering the last year of his contract. The two sides have been talking about a new deal and had hoped to have an agreement in place before the start of training camp. Obviously, this didn’t occur. It wouldn’t be surprising if the 34-year old was waiting to see what happened with Wilson. Now Wilson’s situation is resolved, Manning has a new number to base his negotiations off. A two-time Super Bowl champion, he had one of his best seasons in his first year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system. The Giants are trying to find their way back to the postseason and there is no way they can do it without Manning. Expect a deal to get done soon.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Around the draft, rumors swirled that the Chargers might trade Rivers. San Diego decided to keep their starting quarterback of the past nine seasons and now they want to sign him to a new contract, allowing the 33-year old to finish his career in San Diego. Rivers has made it known that he doesn’t want to play in Los Angeles, where the Chargers could potentially relocate to and most talk of him not signing a new contract is based off this thought. Jason Cole of Bleacher Report recently reported that Rivers hopes to have a deal in place in a few weeks. This is good news for the Chargers. A contract for Rivers would probably fall slightly short of the deal Manning will eventually receive.
Nick Foles, St. Louis Rams
Acquired early in the offseason in a trade with Philadelphia, the Rams are hoping Foles can be the quarterback to lead the team to the postseason for the first time since 2004. In 2013, the 26-year old put up astonishing numbers, throwing for 27 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He quickly fell back to Earth in 2014, with his completion percentage falling below 60 while throwing 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in eight starts. Given his inconsistent history and no professional tape outside of Chip Kelly’s quarterback-friendly system, the best bet for St. Louis would be to take the wait-and-see approach. By no means would Foles break the bank, but he still will command more than $10 million per season.
Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles
Easily the biggest unknown on this list, Bradford hasn’t played in a regular season game since Oct. 20, 2013. Two ACL injuries have derailed the career of the former number one overall selection. An essential part of Chip Kelly’s wild offseason, Bradford will put up quality numbers for the Eagles if he can stay healthy––and that is a big if. Due to the uncertainty about his health, Bradford is expected to play out the season on the last year of his rookie contract. This will allow him to maximize his value. Right now, there is no way Philadelphia would sign him to a contract worth a significant amount of money. If he stays healthy, then he will be able to cash in at the end of the season when he will still be 28 years old.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Of the five quarterbacks here, Luck is the only one whose contract doesn’t expire after the 2015 season. Indianapolis exercised the fifth-year option on his rookie contract in April, putting the 25-year old under contract for $16.155 million in 2016. With two years left on his contract, neither side is going to be in a hurry to put together a new deal. The most likely scenario is he plays out the 2015 season and then signs an extension during the offseason. Luck isn’t likely to sign anytime soon, but when he does, he is sure to become the highest-paid player in the NFL.