Would you trade Derek Carr for the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft?
It was the frame of a question posed to me by a friend (who isn't a Raiders fan) this weekend, and I'll admit it got me thinking.
My initial reaction was, "no" - why trade a rookie quarterback who has shown flashes of brilliance amidst stretches of competency as a pro for an unproven, risk-laden college quarterback (although probably one with a higher ceiling)?
Upon further thought, I think it's a fascinating question - one that not only addresses how good Carr has been this season, but also touches on the value of a rookie season in determining future success.
So let's start with evaluating how well Carr has played this season.
Statistically speaking, the answer is unclear.
By traditional metrics, Carr was among the worst in the NFL this season, leading me to believe that many Oakland fans dubbing him the franchise savior may need to cool their jets. After 17 weeks, Carr finished No. 28 in QB Rating, No. 32 (last) in yards-per-attempt, No. 27 in completion percentage and No. 26 in ESPN's QBR (which factors in performance in "clutch" situations).
On the flip side, however, a deeper look shines a different light.
As Bill Williamson pointed out, Carr had the second-most completions by a rookie all-time, the 10th most passing yards by a rookie all-time and became just the fourth rookie to ever throw more than 20 touchdowns and less than 12 interceptions.
Add in the fact that among quarterbacks who started more than 12 games this season, Carr had the fifth-lowest total of interceptions and sacks (behind Rodgers, Manning, Brady and Flacco), and, well, the picture gets even brighter.
But what does all of this mean? Does how well a guy plays in his rookie season mean anything? By the nature of the question posed above, the root of the question is simple: does looking good as a rookie (against NFL competition) vault Carr above players like Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston who will be rated significantly higher than Carr was coming out of college?
Like the numbers, the answer is unclear.
While there are plenty of examples of guys who played as a rookie and made it immediately clear that they didn't belong in the NFL (Blaine Gabbert, Akili Smith, etc.), there are also plenty of guys who struggled off the bat and rebounded (Troy Aikman, John Elway, etc.). But what about guys with solid rookie seasons who ended up flopping? Of course, Robert Griffin III comes to mind immediately, but there are also guys like Charlie Batch who went downhill after year No. 1.
So, while Carr has proven he's a step-up from Blaine Gabbert, there's still the possibility his future could mirror RG3 (injuries) or Batch (lack of improvement).
Which brings me back to the initial question: is Carr a better bet moving forward than Mariota or Winston?
For me, the answer is - it's close, but yes.
The first reason I like Carr is because of the sack/interception totals. In a rookie quarterback, I want a guy who walks into the most high-pressure job of his life and doesn't crack - and Carr didn't. Forget the yards and the rating, if a guy can limit mistakes as a rookie, I think it's as good a sign as any moving forward.
The second reason I like Carr is because he kept the team moderately competitive all season despite being
blessed with given (arguably) the worst supporting cast of skill players in the league. To put up the numbers he did despite having the worst run game in the NFL and a dearth of talent at wide receiver is remarkable.
With those two things in mind, I think the scales were tipped in favor of Carr - he's lower risk (we already know how he transitioned into the pressure and competition of the NFL), he's entrenched in the franchise and, ultimately, he has been impressive.
While I'm hesitant to say that Carr will be a future Pro-Bowler, what I can say about Carr is that he's the best option Oakland has had in a decade (which, unfortunately, isn't saying much) and he's also the biggest reason for hope in a decade (which, unfortunately, still isn't saying much). The Raiders were a franchise without a direction 12 months ago — no young talent, no promising coach and no hope.
With Derek Carr, two of those three things have changed — and quickly.
If Oakland can surround Carr with talent (and some of the pieces are there on offense) and a coach who can bring a winning culture to town (the big "if" this off-season), there's no reason to believe he won't develop into a really good NFL quarterback, and one Oakland fans can be proud of for years to come.
So despite a 3-13 record, if you're asking me, I'm saying let's #StartTheCarr.