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Using statistical precedence to predict Derek Carr’s 2019 passing numbers

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Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This is an independent study of passing stats in the NFL and an attempt to predict Derek Carr’s 2019 statistical output. Carr made progress in a few areas but finished 2018 with mostly average numbers. In this article we will examine models that predict a quarterbacks progression during a target time span and try to see if Carr can improve even more. First let’s go over a few of the passing categories used in this study.

  • Passer rating is calculated using a player’s passing attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions. Passer rating is measured on a scale from 0 to 158.3. Matt Ryan has the best single season passer rating over the past 3 years with 117.1 in 2016. Deshone Kizer has the lowest with 60.5 in 2017 of quarterbacks qualifying for this study (starting at least 8 games).
  • Adjusted net yards per attempt is a metric that scores the yards per passing attempt while adding bonuses for touchdown passes and subtracting penalties for sacks and interceptions. Matt Ryan also has the highest single season ANY/A over the past 3 years with 9.03 in 2016. Josh Rosen has the lowest with 3.53 in 2018.
  • Completion percentage measures the number of passes completed against attempted as a percentage. Drew Brees has the best single season completion percentage over the past 3 years with 74.4% in 2018. Josh Allen has the lowest with 52.8 also in 2018.
  • Touchdowns scores the number of touchdowns a quarterback passes for in a season. Patrick Mahomes has the most single season touchdown passes over the past 3 years with 50 in 2018. Cody Kessler has the least with 6 in 2016.
  • Yards measures the total number of passing yards a quarterback completes. Patrick Mahomes also owns the most single season passing yards over the past 3 seasons with 5,381 in 2018. Cody Kessler again has the least with 1,380 in 2016.

QB progression research

Derek Carr entering his 6th full year as the starting quarterback for the Oakland Raiders is coming into a make or break season in his career. Luckily for him this will be Carr’s first time with the luxury of playing in the same offensive system in back to back seasons. In order to predict what Carr’s passing statistics will look like in 2019 I compiled a list of quarterbacks in the last 15 seasons with a similar profile to Derek Carr—mostly pocket passers who started from their rookie season onward. Excluded from this list are players like Russell Wilson (dissimilar playing style) and Drew Brees (didn’t play his rookie season) in order to gain the most realistic prediction of what 2019 could look like for Carr.

I took two separate snapshots into these quarterbacks’ careers. The first measures the percentage difference in the aforementioned passing categories from year 5 to year 6. The second data set looks at the change in passing statistics for each quarterback in their second season in the same offensive scheme (at any point in their career).

Many of the quarterbacks studied during this research oddly enough regressed from year 5 to year 6. This regression contributes to an average drop in 3 of the 5 statistical categories and only a negligible increase in completion percentage and yardage. The statistical drop for the quarterbacks used in this study was unexpected.

When digging deeper into the history of these passers however it showed one striking theme; the quarterbacks who regressed from year 5 to year 6 usually were on another team within a few seasons. Meanwhile the few passers who improved from year 5 to year 6 went on to compete in the playoffs or win Super Bowls. It is universally assumed that this will be a make or break season for Carr, maybe there are analytics that support this assertion.

The study also showed that the second season with the same offensive coordinator made a universal positive impact on passing stats across the board. All but one quarterback used in this study improved in at least three statistical categories in their second year with the same offensive coordinator. Many improved in all five areas. Some made dramatic improvements in the most valuable metrics like Passer Rating and ANY/A. This was more expected and to see the data back that assumption bodes well for Carr in 2019.

Predictions

So which group will Carr fall under? The data trends suggests Carr will avoid the 6th year slump due to being in Gruden’s offense for the second year. There are of course mitigating factors such as play calling, pass blocking, and receiver play that will affect Carr’s production. It is not a slam dunk that Carr improves like other quarterbacks in this study but he would be an outlier if he didn’t. Using the percentage change metrics in the chart above and extrapolating them onto Derek Carr’s 2018 statistics there are 3 predictions that can be made.

The first column shows Carr’s stats in 2018. For reference Carr ranked 12th in passer rating, 16th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANY/A), 4th in completion percentage, 20th in touchdowns, and 12th in yards in the 2018 season.

  • The low prediction is generated by applying the percent change from year 5 to 6 to Carr’s 2018 stats. As stated before, the quarterbacks used in this study generally saw a drop in their statistics going in year 6 of their career. This explains why just using the year 5 to 6 model shows Carr might actually regress in 2019. These numbers would have landed Carr outside the top 20 quarterbacks in 2018.
  • The high prediction is generated by using the percent change in a quarterback’s second year in the same offense. As pointed out previously, quarterbacks universally improved in their second year with the same offense. This model predicts a big jump across the board for Carr. This isn’t a huge leap of the imagination considering almost half of the quarterbacks in this study made improvements in all 5 areas during year 2 in the same offense. These numbers (aside from touchdowns) would put Carr solidly in the MVP discussion in most seasons.
  • The middle prediction is generated by taking the previous two models and finding their averages before applying it to Carr’s 2018 stats. This is probably the safest prediction and while Carr still shows improvement in all areas, it’s not as dramatic as the high prediction. If Carr hits these numbers in the middle prediction, he would have been good enough to finish in the top 10 in most passing statistics in 2018.

Notes:

Derek Carr’s completion percentage was good for 4th best in the NFL in 2018 (9th best in the last 3 seasons). In all my research it was rare for an NFL quarterback’s completion percentage to drop either from year 5 to year 6 or in their second season in the same offense. It’s safe to assume Carr will be similarly or even more accurate in 2019.

Touchdowns were down for Carr in 2018. Because the predictions are based off the 2018 statistics they similarly show middling numbers for touchdowns. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. In the past 3 seasons quarterbacks there have been an equal amount of teams advancing to the playoffs with passers going over 30 touchdowns as there has been with passers throwing under that mark.

3 out of the 5 passing stats posted by Carr in 2018 were above the 3 year average study (passer rating, completion percentage, and yards). Adjusted Net Yard per Attempt (ANY/A) is the one area that Carr needs to improve the most considering it has the strongest correlation to a winning record out of the 5 passing stats. Having players like Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams should help Carr improve that stat in 2019.

How might this translate to wins? Well, you’ll have to wait for tomorrow for that.