Derek Carr primed for career year in Raiders' first Las Vegas season


Derek Carr has spent yet another offseason hearing about his job security. Hearing about the Raiders' rumored interest in other quarterbacks from Tom Brady to Justin Herbert.

But none of that noise will matter come Sept. 13 when Carr will be under center while the Raiders visit the Carolina Panthers in Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season.

Carr is the Raiders' starting quarterback. He has the full belief of coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock. Carr took a big leap in his second season in Gruden's complex system, throwing for 4,054 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 70.4 percent of his passes and averaging 7.9 yards per attempt.

Yet, there were moments when the Raiders' offense struggled to move the ball. Explosive plays were hard to come by and scoring in the red zone was a battle unto itself. Carr was good, but he was far from perfect. There was the fourth-and-goal throw away against the Tennessee Titans and the Week 15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars that was helped by an inexplicable missed call when Carr slid in bounds after a scramble but was ruled out of bounds, giving the Jaguars a free stoppage and chance to get the ball back.

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Carr has been a lightning rod of sorts. Those who support him will do so until the death, and those who don't can't be convinced he's the guy. But there are plenty of reasons to believe Carr will prove to everyone he's the man to lead the Silver and Black in 2020.

Full arsenal

A lot of the Raiders and Carr's struggles have come from a deficient group of skill players but around their quarterback. Carr has had solid receivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Tyrell Williams, as well as tight ends Jared Cook and Darren Waller. But he has lacked a cohesive group with explosive playmakers to spread the ball around to.

After Antonio Brown went ballistic and got himself jettisoned to parts unknown, the onus was put on Williams and Waller to fill the void. Williams got hit with a horrible bout with plantar fascitis early in the season and never was the same.

With Williams hampered, defenses bracketed Waller and Carr could only rely on rookie Hunter Renfrow to get open, be on time and make a catch. The deck was stacked against Carr in 2019. He was expecting to have a dynamic group of receivers, but that all came crashing down and he was forced to bear the brunt of said collapse.

But the Raiders restocked the cupboard in the offseason. They drafted wide receiver Henry Ruggs in the first round and Bryan Edwards in the third, along with do-everything athlete Lynn Bowden Jr. They also signed tight end Jason Witten in free agency to help on third down and in the red zone. They are better off now, with two more young playmakers than they would have been had Brown stayed.

With Ruggs and Edwards, Carr finally will have two weapons who can turn 6 yards into 60 with the ball in their hands. Ruggs' blistering speed will make him an ideal big-play talent, and Edwards is a big-body target who can go up and pluck balls out of the sky. With Williams, Renfrow, Waller and Josh Jacobs rounding out a stellar offensive cast, Carr finally has the weapons he needs to showcase his talent.

Time for a leap

Carr was good in Year 2 of Gruden's system. He set career highs in completion percentage, yards and yards per attempt in 2019, but both Gruden and Carr know the quarterback can play even better.

This will be the first time in Carr's career that he will be in the same system for the third season in a row. That continuity will be good for a quarterback entering his prime years with all the arm talent to be great.

During Gruden's first stint as Raiders head coach, Rich Gannon set what were then career highs in completion percentage, yardage, interception percentage and rating in his third season. He eclipsed some of those marks during the next year under Bill Callahan.

Still, a third year should lead to mastery of Gruden's system. That, coupled with the improved arsenal and big-play weapons, should pay big dividends for Carr.

Can't touch me

The Raiders' offensive line was one of the NFL's best in 2019, and they bring back all five starters in Rodney Hudson, Kolton Miller, Richie Incognito, Gabe Jackson and Trent Brown.

That unit didn't see a lot of time together at full health, but they still were successful at keeping Carr clean. They ranked sixth in pass protection last season, allowing 29 sacks with an adjusted sack rate of 5.9 percent. He was protected well in 2016 and had a career year where he finished third in the MVP voting and led the Raiders to the playoffs before breaking his fibula.

With the starting five intact and returning, Carr should have a clean jersey walking off the field most days.

Hardened skin

Carr has heard all the talk. Read the rumors, stories and columns. Listened to the doubts.

He has dismissed them all.

Carr no longer cares what his critics think. He's excited about being the first Raiders quarterback to take a snap in Las Vegas and plans to be doing so for a long time.

That hardened exterior and F-U mentality will serve Carr well as the Raiders look to take the jump from 7-9 to the playoffs and Carr looks to leap back into the elite quarterback discussion.

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Added pressure

Carr hasn't had to look over his shoulder during his entire career. No backup the Raiders had was a threat to him.

That changes in 2020. The Raiders brought in 2015 No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota to sit behind Carr. Mariota and Carr know each other and have shared experience having broken their fibula on the same day. Mariota is great teammate, an outstanding leader and will make the quarterback room strong.

He also is there to rebuild his NFL career and show he can still play. Once healthy and fully immersed in Gruden's system, Mariota will push Carr to be better. He will compete and with that added push, expect Carr to take his game to great heights.

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