One of the more intriguing prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft is Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. In college, Carr displayed the types of skills a lot of old school scouts love with a mix of arm strength, accuracy and big-play ability. He’s the type of prospect that will kill a workout in a t-shirt and shorts, allowing media members to come away impressed with his skill as well. Carr does have a serious flaw, though, that could keep him from being a successful NFL starter — his occasional lack of awareness in the pocket.
It’s a flaw that derailed his brother David, who was the first pick ever by the Houston Texans, though claiming the elder Carr ever played behind a real offensive line is very generous. The unawareness to pressure, or believing pressure is there when it isn’t, is a factor that can cover up any type of real talent on the field. If Carr is selected as one of the top picks, it’s likely he immediately becomes a starter and never gets a period to adjust to seeing an NFL pass rush and he never progresses in the pocket. For this reason, the best thing for Carr could be to fall in the draft and get selected by the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers might understandably be hesitant to take a quarterback in the first round at pick No. 25, but it’s also possible they believe he is the best player available at that spot. Obviously, the more justifiable pick for the Chargers would be if Carr fell to the second round for pick No. 57, but general manager Tom Telesco has already shown he isn’t averse to keeping a position of strength strong. This offseason, he brought in running back Donald Brown even after the duo of Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead was one of the most effective in the league last season. It’s probably also unlikely the Chargers do draft Carr, but this pairing could be the best thing for both parties involved.
As NFL coaches have gotten smarter and offenses have evolved, there has been a shift in expectations of rookie quarterbacks. Some systems, and excellent prospects like Andrew Luck, have now made quarterbacks who don’t contribute in their first year seem like failures. At a time rookie quarterbacks played more like Geno Smith than Russell Wilson — well, maybe not Geno Smith bad, but you get the point. There’s nothing wrong with taking a highly talented player early in a draft and letting him develop behind a veteran for a few years. For Carr, being inserted into Mike McCoy’s offense and learning behind Philip Rivers could be his best case scenario for the middle years of Carr’s career.
McCoy’s system utilizing pre-snap reads and quick decisions could be the first step in fixing Carr’s pocket presence. In the first year under McCoy, Rivers’ sack rate went from 8.5 percent in 2012 to 5.2 percent in 2013. McCoy and quarterbacks coach, Frank Reich, worked with Rivers last season to better navigate pressure in the pocket. Rivers isn’t one of the most nimble quarterbacks in the league, so he has to rely on being smart in the pocket to avoid pressure rather than running away from it. Carr has the ability to make the throws needed in the NFL. Pair him with young weapons like Keenan Allen and Ladarius Green and the Chargers offense would be set to stay on pace for years to come.
The worst situation for Carr would be to immediately be inserted as a starter somewhere behind a subpar offensive line and be expected to produce for a team so blown away by his raw talent that they don’t fully understand his weaknesses. Carr has the upside to be a productive NFL starter, but his floor is perhaps the lowest of any of the top quarterbacks in this draft class. He should be better off and more likely to succeed after sitting behind a veteran during the early stages of his career.
In a division that features a 38-year-old Peyton Manning, Alex Smith and To Be Determined as the other quarterbacks, getting a step ahead on the next quarterback probably isn’t a bad strategy for the Chargers to take within the next few seasons. Rivers will turn 33 years old next season, though not yet near the end of his career, he’s on the wrong side of the age curve for quarterbacks. Eventually San Diego will need another quarterback and, like most problems, it would be better to address it before it actually becomes a problem. Having a high upside player like Carr develop for a few years could alleviate the potential for trouble in future seasons and it could be the best thing for the potential of Carr’s career.