With team's heading into week seven of the 2015 season, NFL Network analysts took a look at who they considered to be the top quarterbacks in the NFL under the age of 25. The candidates for that honor are as follows:
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills (3rd year)
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (2nd year)
Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns (2nd year)
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings (2nd year)
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (2nd year)
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (rookie)
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (rookie)
(Geno Smith turned 25 on October 10, which is why he isn't among the candidates).
They asked six NFL Network analysts to choose the best of the bunch and four of the six chose Carr, with only Bucky Brooks and Ike Taylor choosing Teddy Bridgewater.
Here is what the analysts who chose Carr had to say:
Derek Carr has the most experience, and he seems like he has the best grasp on the offense that he's running. I think Carr is better suited in the long run out of all the young quarterbacks. His pocket awareness has gotten better, along with his understanding of the game, his receivers and expectation of being an NFL quarterback. He also has learned a lot from his brother, David. I think that's helped him adjust quickly.
I'll go with Derek Carr, just because I feel like, out of those quarterbacks, he has shown the most growth in his career so far. He has an aggression that you can't teach. He doesn't play with much hesitancy, which most young QBs have, because they get kind of shocked by the speed of the game and how fast it's moving in front of their eyes. Carr hasn't been affected by that. Yes, he's made youthful mistakes, but more times than not, he's playing like a veteran.
His biggest improvement from a year ago is his discernment on where to throw the ball. Last year, sometimes he would bail the defense out by just trying to get rid of it. Now, he's making smart decisions. Instead of forcing the ball into coverage, he might throw it away. You see him taking bits and pieces from veteran quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers and applying it to what he does.
Derek Carr reminds me a little of Brett Favre. He's got a little grit to him and a certain toughness. He's a natural-born leader and has all the intangibles. He's becoming a good field general and the leader of the Oakland Raiders at a very young age, and they know it. The organization is helping the QB by surrounding him with a supporting cast that includes Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray, among others. He's going to be the guy there for a long time, and he won't be looking over his shoulder. He's really on the uptick.
I'd build my team around Derek Carr. He has a quick release, is very intelligent and has that pro-quarterback pedigree from his brother, David. Derek has had the easiest transition from the college game to the pro game at this point. I think his leadership has grown, and you can see it in the way the Raiders are playing. They are more competitive now because of him, and he holds players accountable. He's more familiar with how teams are trying to take him apart and he has good study habits.
As for those who chose Bridgewater, Bucky Brooks pointed to his "complete skill set" and suggests he has improved in his second season, though the numbers may not show it. And most importantly he points to the Vikings being a winning team with Bridgewater at the helm, adding "He understands situational football and understands how to play complementary football."
While Ike Taylor says he chose Bridgewater for his seamless transition into the pros and his maturity.
Saying it's between Carr and Bridgewater is an easy decision. While I haven't watched enough of Teddy Bridgewater to say for certain who should be the choice between the two, they have been the only two of the above list of young QB's to show the skills necessary to be starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
You can't dismiss the Vikings' wins as a product of things besides Bridgewater just like you can't blame Carr for the Raiders' overall shortcomings. Just because Bridgewater hasn't had to put the team on his back to get the wins, doesn't mean he is not capable of doing it. And for Carr, it is not fair to expect a player in the first quarter of his second season to carry a rebuilding team.
It seems to me that Carr pushed his way into the lead between these two in large part due to his big game in week two against the Ravens which included a clutch game-winning drive. It was easily his best overall performance as a Raider and showcased the areas in which he has improved from his rookie campaign. That improvement has confirmed the belief of many that we have yet to see the best of which he is capable.