From 2014-2017, the first four years of his career, Derek Carr ranked 26th in completion percentage at 61.33%. That’s not all bad, some of the quarterbacks slotted behind him have been considered by many fans to be considered very good, like Andrew Luck at 27, Jameis Winston at 28, Colin Kaepernick at 30, and Cam Newton ranked 38th out of 38.
But that was pre-Jon Gruden.
In the last two seasons, Carr has completed 742 out 1,066 passes for a completion percentage of 69.61%, third-best in the NFL in that time behind Drew Brees (74.4%) and Kirk Cousins (69.71%). If not for Brees’ historic run of completing nearly everything he attempts, Carr would be that much closer to ranking first, while also ranking ninth in passer rating, 11th in net yards per pass attempt, and seventh in total attempts.
And Carr’s 2019 season was even more special than that in some regards.
Over at FootballOutsiders they posted their 2019 Passing Plus/Minus rankings, which measures more than just base line “How many of the QBs attempts were completed?” Instead, the completion percentage is based on these guidelines:
Passing plus-minus is a stat we annually track to help provide context to completion percentage. Given the location of a quarterback’s passes, it compares his completion percentage in each area to historical baselines. This stat does not consider passes listed as “Thrown Away,” “Tipped at Line,” “Miscommunication,” or “Quarterback Hit in Motion” by Sports Info Solutions charting. Metrics are based on how often a pass is completed based on the pass distance, the distance required for a first down, and whether the ball was thrown to the left, middle, or right side of the field. This is a counting stat, so more attempts are obviously a great thing for the purposes of what we’re talking about here. Completion Percentage Over Expectation (CPOE) numbers may differ from other models around the Internet.
Take away those throwaways and tipped passes and the average quarterback would have completed 71.3% of the passes that Drew Brees threw in 2019. Brees, however, managed to complete 79.8% of them. Work that over 352 attempts, and you get a plus-minus of +29.9. That’s his lowest total since 2015, but again, this is a counting stat. Even missing five games due to injury, Brees still managed to defend his crown.
As mentioned there, Brees did finish first at 29.9, but Derek Carr was right behind him at +28.7 by posting a CPOE of 6.1% on 467 throws. Brees has won the Plus-Minus rankings in each of the last four years and six of the last seven. Carr was trailing right behind him in 2019 however.
Derek Carr came closest in what has continued to be a career resurgence under Jon Gruden. In his first four NFL seasons, Carr averaged a plus-minus of -12.1 and a CPOE of -2.3%; that has jumped to +23.0 and 4.8% over the past two years. Some of that is philosophy-driven, as Carr has become much more of a game manager under Gruden — his aDOT has dropped by over a yard, his ALEX has dropped by nearly as much, and his expected completion percentage has risen by more than 3%. Like last year, much of Carr’s success here came on short passes; he led the league with a +16.3 plus-minus on passes that traveled 5 or fewer yards through the air. It should be noted, however, that Carr rose from ninth to third on passes beyond 5 yards; he didn’t show off much in terms of a deep ball last year, but his intermediate passing improved significantly in 2019. That high volume of short passes means that Carr did rack up 93 failed completions in 2019, but those short passes weren’t entirely empty calories; he finished fifth in successful completion percentage. It will be interesting to see if the addition of Henry Ruggs tempts Carr to throw a bit deeper in Las Vegas, and if he can apply his newfound accuracy back to deeper targets.
FootballOutsiders also posted the total plus-minus rankings from the 2010s, though Carr wasn’t listed on the top or bottom of the rankings so I’m not sure where he fit in. Cam Newton ranked 341 out of 344.