Kurt Warner created a YouTube video this summer about Derek Carr's aggressive nature or lack thereof. It caused a stir online, with many of his detractors using it as an I told you so moment getting validation from a hall of fame quarterback.
Many people misinterpreted the video because Warner didn't show Carr missing people deep. He pointed out Carr's lack of anticipation to the second level of the field, which is the missing piece from his game. Greg Cosell touched on this as well when breaking down Carr this summer for Fantasy Points.
When a quarterback can't anticipate open windows, it is hard for them to be aggressive. A quarterback with the mindset of Carr, who likes to avoid mistakes, will not pull the trigger if he feels he is late with the throw. It leads to more check-downs, and the Las Vegas Raiders offense couldn't rely on explosive plays.
For most of Carr's career, quarterback coaches would call him a see-it thrower. This means he has to see the player open to throw the football instead of throwing him open.
A great example is this play versus the Tennessee Titans from 2019. Carr has Darren Waller open on the Crosser but waits until he is open to throw a late ball to the tight end for a significant gain.
2020 is where he started to grow in this area. As the season was winding down, the Raiders quarterback started to challenge windows more often in desperation to keep up with a horrible defense. Using PFF metrics, in the second half of the season, Carr had an average target depth of 9.2(7th in the NFL).
Flash forward to 2021, and after three weeks, it has become a natural feel for the former Fresno State Bulldog. His aggressiveness has fans excited, and it has helped him lead the league in yards with a YPA of 8.8. According to PFF, his average depth target is at a career-high of 9.6, and 16.7% of his passing attempts are 20 plus yards in the air.
Here are examples of Carr's growth with anticipation and it’s helping him become an MVP candidate.
3rd and 13 Sail concept vs. Miami Dolphins.
The first play is from last Sunday's match with the Miami Dolphins. The Raiders come out in a 3x1 alignment with trips to Carr's left. The play is a variation of the Sail Concept. A corner or out route from the inside(primary) mixed with a go route on the outside. Dolphins are in cover 0 pre-snap, displaying they are sending a blitz.
After the snap, the Dolphins switch to cover 3 to confuse Carr. The quarterback reads it correctly and sees an open window between Byron Jones and the outside corner. Jones does a great job of staying with Waller knowing he has the outer corner with help to anything outside.
However, he didn't account for Carr anticipating the window and throwing this ball before Waller clears Jones. He throws a perfect ball high where only Waller can get it for a 23 yard gain on a touchdown drive.
1st and 10 Yankee Concept vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Yankee concept is an everyday west coast offense play with a play-action fake. It can be deadly when defenses are playing single high. Bryan Edwards will be running the dig route while Zay Jones runs the post. The Steelers are sending six with man to man on the backend. Carr will be keying the free safety, and his actions determine where he goes with the football.
Post snap, the free safety back peddles towards the post and even flips his hips. The coverage tells Carr to hit Edwards, who hasn't come out of his break yet. Under pressure, Carr anticipates the throw with a dime on the money to Edwards, helping him beat the tight coverage.
These are just two examples of why Carr's growth with anticipation has his game at a level we haven't seen. Drew Brees said the difference between elite quarterbacks and normal ones is anticipation. If this continues, it is not that far-fetched for Carr to get there.