Derek Carr is only 25 years old, as his wife occasionally reminds him. But age can be deceiving. The Raiders’ young quarterback is an old soul and maturing quickly.
In his third NFL season, the former Fresno State standout has guided his club to a 6-2 record, earned the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award Wednesday for throwing for 513 yards against Tampa Bay, and thrust himself into the MVP conversation with his rapid development and prolific numbers.
So, OK, it’s a little early for the MVP chatter. But Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie should wake up every day with a smile on his face, uncertain whether his franchise is preparing for a move to Las Vegas, Los Angeles or Levi’s Stadium, but comforted by the fact that Carr has solved the dilemma – How to acquire an elite quarterback? – that has dogged the franchise for the better part of a decade.
Except for brief flashes from Carson Palmer (2011-12), the team that once started quarterbacks Daryle Lamonica, Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett and Rich Gannon tripped over itself while experimenting with the likes of Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn, Jason Campbell, Josh McCown, Kerry Collins and, of course, JaMarcus Russell, the No.1 overall draft pick in 2007 and the biggest bust.
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Carr has ended the anguish. The 2014 second-round pick (36th overall) has filled the gaping black hole at quarterback. After two promising if error-filled seasons, the Bakersfield native has grabbed the Raiders by the arm and made them relevant again, driven them right past the NFL’s other Bay Area team, the one with the sterile stadium and the quarterback, coaching and front-office issues.
But wouldn’t this be a kick in the chops? The Raiders finally become contenders again and pack up and move out of Oakland? That certainly could happen, so fans of the Silver and Black might as well sit back and enjoy Carr’s ascension from intriguing prospect to bona fide star while they can.
Start with the personality. Carr is so unfailingly polite after practices and games, whether the Raiders win or lose, you want to take him home to meet your parents. He makes eye contact when answering questions and tries to be helpful, his hands constantly moving, his fingers tapping the podium in rhythm with his words.
His interactions with teammates are often playful and invariably uplifting; the fact he stood back and celebrated with his offensive linemen after hitting Seth Roberts for the game-winning touchdown last Sunday was duly noted within the locker room.
“D.C., that’s my dog,” defensive end Khalil Mack said after Wednesday’s practice. “He deserves that (national attention). Hell of a player. Hell of a quarterback. Hell of a person. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Wideout Amari Cooper said Carr doesn’t chide or “snap” at him for dropping a pass. “That’s something I really like and admire about him,” the second-year All Pro receiver said.
But beneath those warm, blue eyes and that choirboy demeanor lurks a ferocious competitor. He appears to have a few drops of Steve Young in his DNA. At 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, with wide shoulders and thick upper arms, and much of his length in his torso, Carr can throw virtually every pass. His performance against Tampa Bay – 40 completions in 59 attempts and four touchdowns – was a condensed career highlight video. He threw a laser over the middle to Roberts for the 41-yard game-winner and a dart into the end zone to Mychal Rivera. He connected with Cooper for 12 receptions and 173 yards and Michael Crabtree for eight catches and 108 yards, demonstrating his improving accuracy and ability to throw touch passes, deep balls, sideline routes, slants.
With the offensive line again providing tremendous protection, he remained poised in the pocket and, when necessary, used his quick feet and overall athleticism to escape the defenders. Perhaps most impressively, he has thrown only three interceptions this season.
“I focused on it a lot (in offseason),” he said. “I just worked on it to where now I can just go play.”
The proof is in the numbers. With the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos visiting the Coliseum in a major prime-time test Sunday, Carr has thrown for 17 touchdowns, completed 214 of 323 passes for a 66.3 percent completion ratio and a quarterback rating of 100.9.
As for the MVP talk? The young Raiders star laughs, says he is honored, but grateful his experience helps tune out the hype.
“It’s so much easier because as a rookie, you’re swimming,” he said. “You’re seeing blitzes and speed that you’ve never seen in your life. And then all of that stuff that happens off the field. Press conferences every week, signings. But now I got my process down. I surround myself with good people and they’ve done a great job protecting me.”