Two weeks into his eighth season in the NFL, Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr leads the NFL in passing with 817 yards and is positioned as the QB8 in fantasy football. This comes after facing the Baltimore Ravens at home in Week 1 (QB 10, 24.0 fantasy points) and the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road in Week 2 (QB7, 24.18 fantasy points). Although the Week 1 matchup was average, Carr did what he had to do to win despite some inabilities to connect consistently with Darren Waller (19 targets to just 10 receptions). His ability to back up that top-10 positional performance with a big showing in Week 2 on the road is what really warrants this article and what begins to beg the question: can Derek Carr be a consistent fantasy starter capable of finishing inside the top 10 (or better) at the position by season’s end? It’s certainly an uphill battle for a man who puts money in the swear jar every time he lets an F-bomb slip, and apologizes to his teammates when he forgets to tidy up his locker. One thing we can’t debate is that Carr is a flat-out great guy, and for some reason, that seems to make him easier to doubt, year after year. But could this be the season Carr shifts into the left lane and passes QB2 territory by while airing the middle finger out the window, before promptly shifting back into the right lane for a swift exit to fantasy relevance?

In his first seven seasons in the NFL, Carr has only finished as a QB1 in 12-team leagues once — in his MVP-caliber 2016 season in which he averaged 17.9 fantasy points per game. But even in the five years since then, the league’s quarterback landscape has changed dramatically, and that level of performance won’t get the job done anymore. Lamar Jackson, who Carr out-produced in Week 1, finished as the QB10 last season, but did so with 22.2 FPPG. It’s likely the trend will continue, and it’s hard to imagine Carr having a shot at being a season-long QB1 without averaging at least 18.0+ FPPG, if not closer to the 20-point threshold. Here’s a quick look at Carr’s career performance as a fantasy quarterback to this point:

2014: 16 games, QB20 – 12.0 FPPG
2015: 14 games, QB14 – 17.0 FPPG
2016: 15 games, QB10 – 17.9 FPPG
2017: 15 games, QB19 – 13.8 FPPG
2018: 16 games, QB18 – 13.5 FPPG
2019: 16 games, QB16 – 15.3 FPPG
2020: 16 games, QB13 – 17.0 FPPG
2021: 2 games, QB8 – 24.1 FPPG
Career: 16.3 FPPG

In seven full seasons, Carr has averaged more than 14.0 FPPG just four times while eclipsing 17.0+ just three times. And he has never gotten over the 18.0 FPPG hump. But if the 2021 version of Carr appears to be much-improved simply based off the eye test coupled with what the Raiders might be capable of as a collective offense this year, then wouldn’t it be within reason to say that last year’s average of 17.0 FPPG serves as a relatively safe benchmark in terms of his end-of-season floor? It can certainly be debated both ways, but I think it’s a reasonable-enough assumption, especially considering that the matchup that appeared to be his most daunting heading into the season (Week 2 at Pittsburgh) is already in the rearview with a QB7 finish to show for it, nonetheless.

Here’s what our very own thejoeywright had to say in his weekly waiver wire column on Tuesday:

“If you had Derek Carr leading the NFL in passing yards after two weeks on your Fantasy Football bingo card, congratulations. Carr has looked excellent this season with 817 passing yards, four touchdowns, and only one interception. Coming into the season, the only player most people were talking about in Las Vegas was Darren Waller. Carr has turned the sands, there are no tides in Vegas unless you are staying at the Wynn I believe, for the Raiders as he has peppered four players with double-digit targets in 2021. While he is creating fantasy assets, he’s also made one out of himself. Carr faces a tough matchup with the Dolphins this week but has just come off great performances against tough defenses in the Ravens and Steelers. Carr looks to be breaking out.”

Owned in just 27% of Yahoo leagues and 17% of those housed on ESPN, Carr is primed to be one of the more-popular waiver wire adds this week. But will he provide the type of weekly fantasy output to reward managers? At bare minimum, the tape said “yes” last week.

Now, a lot of the answer comes down to scheme and opportunity. In 2020, Carr averaged 32.3 pass attempts per game, which was almost identical to his 2019 total when he threw the ball just four fewer times in an equal 16 games. Heading into the season, that sat below his career mark of 34.8 pass attempts per game. But already in 2021, we’re seeing Carr go to the air far more frequently, as his 93 pass attempts through two games are tied for the league lead and come out to an average of 46.5 per game. With that opportunity, he’s completing 66.7% of his passes (75.7% in Week 2), which is an improvement upon his career completion percentage of 64.9%. However, it would still mark a low over the previous three campaigns, as Carr completed 70.4% of passes in 2019 and 67.3% in 2020. To be frank, 2019 was Dump-Off City for Carr, which should not be confused with a game my friends and I used to play while squatting butt-naked on the roofs of local townsfolk. 

While Carr’s usage in 2021 comes from a small, two-week sample size, it also isn’t practical to expect 46.5 pass attempts moving forward. He attempted just 37 last week in a game that lended to run-favorable game script, as Vegas led Pittsburgh at the half and for the majority of the contest. It was the come-from-behind, late back-and-forth battle vs. Baltimore that saw Carr air it out 56 times that saturated that stat — and we know Vegas wants to run the ball. Even so, if Carr averages around 37 pass attempts per game while remaining as-efficient-or-better with those passes than he was last season, there’s no reason he can’t eclipse 4,500 yards for the first time in his career and make an unexpected push for 5,000. This seems all the more possible when taking into account that Carr already has 101 dropbacks through two games (50.5 per game), after averaging just 35.4 per game last season. It might not necessarily be how the Raiders are drawing it up, but it’s almost virtually impossible to imagine them making the postseason without Carr maintaining such a role. 

Again, much of this is going to be game-script dependent. But while I am impressed with the Raiders’ early-season performance, I have to imagine they’re going to be playing in a lot of competitive, hard-fought games even if they do produce a winning record. They’re good — but there aren’t a whole lot of teams on the schedule they’re going to blow out, save for the Dolphins this upcoming weekend, the Bears at home in Week 5, and the Giants on the road in Week 9. But even those wouldn’t surprise me if they ended up being nail-biters, and that’s all-the-more reason to think this just might be the year to plug in Carr and let him be, assuming you didn’t draft a healthy and elite option.

At the end of the day, what’s going to make or break Carr’s fantasy season are the touchdown passes. He is never going to be the guy you plug into your lineup and get 3-4 tuddies from every week, regardless of how efficient he is or how many turnovers he has. Most weekly starters we’re plugging into our lineups, we’re expecting a minimum of three touchdowns accounted for save for unearthly production in the yardage department, and Carr isn’t going to give you a whole heck of a lot in the ground. Of last year’s top-10 quarterbacks with fewer than five rushing touchdowns, ZERO threw for fewer than 33 touchdowns, and only one (Deshaun Watson) threw fewer than 38 touchdowns. Carr has never eclipsed either of those totals in his career, and he averaged 24 touchdown passes from 2019-20 (right at his career mark of 24.3 per season).

Considering Carr has only rushed for six touchdowns in seven seasons (three in 2020), at the end of the day, all you need to ask yourself is one question: do you see Carr being capable of totaling roughly 35 touchdown passes this season? That’s pro-rated to the new-17 game season. That’s 31 more touchdown passes from Week 3 on out, or just over two per week. 

It’s possible, and it might actually be likely when you look beyond the stats and onto the playing field. Carr and Jon Gruden had some gaffs in Week 1 (electing to kick on second down for no reason, then misplacing the kicker, getting a penalty, deciding not to kick, then winning the game anyway), but if you watch the games, it really does look like they’re onto something at the line of scrimmage. Yes, Gruden might be the first head coach to physically misplace a human being integral to the final outcome mid-game. But Carr is smarter than most think; his ability to read the defense and audible by design during pre-snap rivals some of the game’s best. And through two weeks, it seems as though Carr and Gruden might actually be on the same page. The desire to run is worrisome (for fantasy managers), but the signing of Kenyan Drake is evidence of investing in the passing game — even if the Raiders did do it at the wrong position.

This receiving corps isn’t going to win any awards, but Waller and Travis Kelce are in a tier of their own as it relates to the game’s best tight ends. Sorry, Mark Andrews and George Kittle.

My prediction: Carr pulls it off, but just barely — finishing as QB9 overall on the season. Sorry, Joe Burrow — I’m going to need my preseason bold prediction of you finishing inside the top eight to flop for that to happen.

That’s all for this week! Hit me up on the comments section to let me know whether you’re in or out on Carr. As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.

  1. miles proudfoot says:
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    I’m inclined to roll the dice on Carr this week, but have Tannehill as well. Who would you go with? Thanks!

    • Cram It says:
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      I have both too. I’m going with Carr until Tannehill shows me something.

    • Hobbs

      Hobbs says:
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      It’s close for me as both should be viewed as high-end QB2s this week with QB1 upside dependent on game script. The Dolphins held Josh Allen to a QB20 finish last week, but the Pittsburgh D also performed similarly against Allen in Week 1, and Carr lit up the Steelers on the road. Vegas also has the home factor, and with Josh Jacobs potentially out (severely banged up at the bare minimum), I’m thinking we see 35+ pass attempts again from Carr.

      I’m also a believer that this Colts unit is far better than what we’ve seen so far. Plus, if Wentz doesn’t play, I don’t think that game is going to be as close as it’s current spread of -5, which could mean a lot of work for Henry.

      I’d monitor the health situations that impact the game scripts of both of these games and let that decide, but if I’m picking now, I’m plugging in Carr until he shows me this start isn’t legit.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. miles proudfoot says:
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    Thank you!

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