The false Derek Carr narrative that NY Jets fans should ignore

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By: Michael Nania

Potential New York Jets target Derek Carr is a victim of shallow analysis

Quarterback analysis in the NFL is centered around simplistic narratives and labels that can be easily formed through one measly Google search of someone’s box score stats and win-loss record. It often feels like there is no place in the conversation for thorough, contextualized evaluation of a quarterback’s true on-field impact.

This becomes clearly evident when you compare the way people talk about Derek Carr to the way people talk about Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Tannehill – three of the most widely-discussed quarterback options for the New York Jets.

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These tweets by Dan Orlovsky perfectly exemplify the shallowness of NFL quarterback analysis.

And, to be fair, Orlovsky is actually one of the most thorough quarterback analysts on the national level. This isn’t a shot at him or his work – he does a great job of going deep in his analysis. I just think this particular pair of tweets highlights the issues I have with the way quarterbacks are generally analyzed.

Orlovsky says he believes the Jets would be more likely to pursue Jimmy Garoppolo or Ryan Tannehill than Derek Carr. His reasoning is that he thinks the Jets would prefer the “least risky” option, citing their defensive-minded head coach, good defense, and desire to run the football. With these things in mind, Orlovsky thinks the Jets will want a “don’t lose game QB”.

Those are perfectly fine points and I agree with them. My question is this: Why are Garoppolo and Tannehill considered quarterbacks who can play that brand of football but Carr is not?

Let me answer that for you: The quality of the teams they played on.

Garoppolo and Tannehill are only viewed as safe, game-manging, “won’t lose you the game” quarterbacks in the public eye because they have had the luxury of playing on teams that were built to win in that fashion. Carr has never played on a team that could win games without asking too much from the quarterback like Garoppolo’s 49ers or Tannehill’s Titans could.

Here is a look at where each quarterback’s team has placed in rushing yards per game and points allowed per game:

  • 49ers from 2019-22: 20.3 PPG allowed (4th), 132.1 rushing yards per game (5th)
  • Titans from 2019-22: 22.5 PPG allowed (11th), 143.2 rushing yards per game (2nd)
  • Raiders from 2014-22: 26.2 PPG allowed (32nd), 104.7 rushing yards per game (26th)

It’s no wonder Garoppolo and Tannehill have put together strong win-loss records and Carr has not. Garoppolo and Tannehill have enjoyed great defenses and dominant rushing attacks while Carr has been forced to deal with terrible defenses and lackluster rushing attacks.

These are factors that the quarterback has no control over. Yet, they play a massive role in determining the narrative of who a quarterback is.

Would Garoppolo and Tannehill be considered safe game managers who know how to win if they played on the Raiders? Probably not. Would Carr be considered a safe game manager who knows how to win if he played on the 49ers or Titans? Most likely.

In fact, when looking at the individual statistics of these quarterbacks, I believe Carr would have been even better in Garoppolo and Tannehill’s roles on their respective teams if he switched places with them. On the other hand, I believe Garoppolo and Tannehill would have been worse than Carr if they were placed in his position with the Raiders.

Despite having immensely more pressure on his shoulders, Carr’s career interception rate is actually better than Tannehill’s and Garoppolo’s over the past four seasons:

  • Garoppolo from 2019-22: 34 INT on 1,365 passes (2.49%) – 27th of 31 qualifiers
  • Tannehill from 2019-22: 33 INT on 1,623 passes (2.03%) – 14th of 31 qualifiers
  • Carr career: 99 INT on 4,958 passes (2.00%) – 10th of 32 qualifiers

This is a staggering comparison. Carr has spent most of his career being forced to sling the rock aggressively to compensate for bad defenses and mediocre rushing support, and yet, he throws interceptions less frequently than two guys who do not have to take many risks to win games.

Just imagine if Carr switched places with either of those quarterbacks. His interception rate is already lower than theirs, so if he got to enjoy an equally comfortable environment, that number would likely drop to an elite level.

So, in spite of the popular narratives, it turns out Carr is actually better than Garoppolo and Tannehill at the skill that is largely considered the most important for a quarterback who plays on a team with a great defense and a great run game.

Couple that with Carr being significantly more durable than both quarterbacks, and it’s hard to argue Carr is not the safest option of the three if you’re looking for someone who can ensure a good defense and good run game are not wasted.

Context is key for quarterback evaluation

The bottom line is simple: When evaluating a quarterback, try to contextualize his production to figure out what his actual impact is. A quarterback’s raw stats and win-loss record are a byproduct of the entire team. We need to separate the quarterback from the quality of his surroundings to figure out exactly what effect he has on his team.

The comparison of these three quarterbacks is a perfect example. Carr, Garoppolo, and Tannehill may have similar stats at first glance, and Garoppolo/Tannehill even have significantly better win-loss records than Carr. But when you consider that Carr was working with much worse support than Garoppolo and Tannehill yet still managed to land in the same neighborhood production-wise, it becomes clear that Carr was actually the quarterback who added the most value to his team.

At least, that’s how I see it. And that’s what makes sports fun: two different people can look at the same thing and see something completely different. Maybe you completely disagree with me. If so, great! Sports would be no fun if the answers were easy to find.

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