It is early yet in the 2015 season. But ESPN is getting a jump on things. Or a 'leap', as it were, putting together a top ten list of second-year players they see as already making the biggest leap. The top player on that list is Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Here is what Sam Monson had to say about Carr's improvement.
Last season, Carr's statistics always looked pretty good. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was healthy for a rookie (21-12) and the raw numbers looked fine, but Carr routinely made poor decisions that put the ball in harm's way. Only Blake Bortles graded worse over the full season, and unlike Teddy Bridgewater, there was no late run of better play.
This season, though, he sits at 16th in the Pro Football Focus QB rankings -- far closer to Bridgewater. His completion percentage has gone up, and his grading has been markedly better. There may still be a way to go, but this is the improvement Raiders fans hoped to see late last season.
As you can see, he uses Pro Football Focus grading as part of his criteria. And in that regard, there is little doubt Carr has improved 'leaps' and bounds over his rookie campaign when he was just one notch ahead of fellow rookie Blake Bortles as the lowest rated started QB in the NFL.
Carr shook off a rough season opener, to explode onto the scene in week two against the Ravens. He threw for 351 yards and 3 touchdowns and an interception in that game, including a 2-minute drill to drive for the game winner. I named him my Top Baller that week and Carr was voted as the Clutch Performer of the Week as well. Last week he threw for over 300 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions to help the Raiders pull out a 27-20 win in Cleveland.
While he still has a negative overall PFF grade (-0.5), his improvement is quite apparent. He has already thrown for 726 yards and 5 touchdowns despite missing most of the season opener with a hand injury. With ten quarters of football players, that's an average of 288 yards, 2 TD's and .4 INT per game. Last season he averaged 204 yards, 1.3 touchdowns and .75 INT per game.
Also on the list is the man taken in the third round, Gabe Jackson. He lands fourth. Here is what Monson had to say about Jackson.
Jackson flashed potential as a rookie, particularly as a pass protector (he allowed only one sack all season). But through the first three games of his second season, he has been crushing people in the run game as well. The pass protection has remained intact (just a single hit allowed through three games), but he has been a force in the run game with the Raiders earning 5.3 yards per carry either side of his blocks so far this year. What's perhaps most impressive is he was able to earn one of his strongly graded games against the Ravens' defensive front, routinely one of the strongest in the NFL.
In the preseason, I had Jackson pegged as a Pro Bowl talent heading into his second season. He was getting glowing endorsements from hims teammates who see his obvious potential. He has been a Baller the past two weeks, and in week two laid a couple monster blocks for Latavius Murray, including taking on two guys on a touchdown run. His leap may be mostly in the form of recognition for his outstanding play.
The final player on the list is Khalil Mack. Mack is arguably the best player on the entire list, but since he was already recognized as a dominant player, the only 'leap' he can make is in the stats. Specifically his sack numbers. Here is what Monson had to say about Mack:
It's certainly no shock that Mack is a pretty dominant player, but he has begun 2015 with an added focus on his pass-rushing skills. Through three games, Mack has almost matched his grade from a year ago in that area, and has gotten better each week. Against Cleveland in Week 3, he notched a pair of sacks, two hits and three more hurries in one of the best pass-rushing performances from anybody so far this season.
These guys are all deserving, I question not having TJ Carrie on the list. He was a seventh rounder who started just four games last season and has emerged as the Raiders best cornerback this season. If you go by the definitions of making a big leap, Carrie fits that bill.
The entire list is as follows:
1. Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders
2. Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons
3. Ryan Shazzier, LB, Steelers
4. Gabe Jackson, OG, Oakland Raiders
5. Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota Vikings
6. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Oakland Raiders
8. Aaron Donald, DT, St Louis Rams
9. Bradley Roby, CB, Denver Broncos
10. Taylor Lewan, OT, Tennessee Titans