It’s been one of the most talked about debates around NFL circles during the offseason as everyone twiddles their thumbs waiting for the season to start.
Who had a better rookie year – Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater or Raiders quarterback Derek Carr?
Bridgewater has been one of the main reasons many are optimistic about the Vikings this season. He was named to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team and voted by the fans as the Rookie of the Year.
While Carr didn’t receive those postseason accolades, he has brought on that same sense of optimism to the Bay Area. The second round pick was the only rookie quarterback last year to start all 16 games, and it appears the Raiders have also finally found their franchise quarterback from the 2014 NFL Draft.
After watching every snap from Bridgewater and Carr (Yes, I sadly watched every single Raiders game this offseason), let’s settle this discussion once and for all.
Carr (16 games): 348 completions, 599 attempts (58.1 percent completion rate), 3,270 yards, 21 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 76.6 quarterback rating
Bridgewater (13 games): 259 completions, 402 attempts (64.4 percent completion rate), 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 85.2 quarterback rating
One of the common arguments for Carr was he had better stats. Well, he played three more games and only threw for 351 more passing yards than Bridgewater. Carr had a better touchdown-to-interception ratio, clearly, but Bridgewater had a better completion percentage and quarterback rating last season. He also rushed for 209 yards and a rushing touchdown.
Carr: The Raiders gave their rookie quarterback the keys to the franchise with very little talent surrounding him. Carr had a bunch of old veterans to work with offensively that were one step away from landing on injured reserve. His No.1 target was wide receiver James Jones, who was just cut by the team. If that doesn’t convince you that Carr didn’t have any weapons, Mychal Rivera and Andre Holmes finished second and third in receptions and targets. His backfield consisted of Maurice Jones-Drew, who retired this offseason, and Darren McFadden. Poor guy.
Bridgewater: The Vikings offense looked good on paper at the start of the season. Well, that was before running back Adrian Peterson was placed on the Commissioner’s list and eventually suspended, before tight end Kyle Rudolph played just nine games due to injuries and before wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was demoted in a disappointing sophomore season. Throw in injuries to three starting offensive linemen, Charlie Johnson, Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt, and it’s a pity party for both quarterbacks. Bridgwater’s top receiver turned out to be Charles Johnson, who started the season on the Browns practice squad, and his top running back was Matt Asiata.
Advantage: In terms of doing more with less, Carr
Carr: Carr completed over 60 percent of his passes in his first four games with the Raiders mapping out a fairly conservative gameplan to help ease Carr into the NFL. You saw a lot of quick screens, slants, three step drops that Carr, for the most part, handled well.
While a lot of that was still evident throughout the season, even after the Raiders fired head coach Dennis Allen after four games and promoted offensive line coach Tony Sparano as the interim, Carr become more comfortable throwing those intermediate passes. He has a good arm that made it capable to hit the back shoulder fade, particularly on the right sideline for the right-handed quarterback. Carr has always been a mobile quarterback, though he only rushed for 92 yards, and I thought he moved well outside the pocket.
All of those characteristics have translated well for Carr from college. Carr’s biggest strength, his arm, was on display often with his nice touch on deep balls to stretch the field. Watch this touchdown pass to Holmes and how effortlessly he flicks his wrist.
It’s also where many of Carr’s interceptions occurred because he forced a lot of throws. He had four interceptions over the middle of the field on passes ranging from 10-19 yards, per Pro Football Focus. Arguably his two worst performances of the season came against the Broncos, including this poor decision over the middle of the field. The moments where I cringed the most watching Carr is when he tried extremely hard to make a play. Now, there’s nothing wrong with making a play. You can’t force a play though, like in the link above. In those moments, Carr has to learn to take care of the football.
It was a terrible season for the Raiders, but I loved watching Carr’s toughness and leadership. He has some good tools and traits that can make him a very solid quarterback for that franchise. Carr just needs to be more consistent and has to handle pressure better. Carr had an 83.6 quarterback rating when he wasn’t blitzed and a 61.9 quarterback rating when he was blitzed. That all comes with time and experience.
Bridgewater: Some quarterbacks, however, somehow handle pressure better than others. Bridgewater had an 87.4 quarterback rating when he wasn’t blitzed and an 80.6 quarterback rating he was blitzed. Surprisingly, he threw eight of his 12 interceptions when he wasn’t pressured. If you recall, some of those turnovers were due to balls deflected off a receiver’s hands.
The two games that stood out to me, however, were Bridgewater’s performances against the Lions. One occurred in his third NFL game (his second start), while the other was the third to final game of the season.
We often focused on Bridgewater for our Access Vikings Rewind series during the season to track his progress. Using some of those examples, Bridgewater’s decision making in both games against the Lions still stood out when you rewatched every snap. He was intercepted by safety Glover Quin in the first meeting for his first career interception. In the second meeting, Bridgewater had a strong first half up until he threw two interceptions near the end of the second quarter, including this one that was behind wide receiver Greg Jennings, that got the Lions back in the game.
That doesn’t even include the Vikings’ final drive, which Bridgewater missed a wide open Jarius Wright that would’ve placed the Vikings in a better position to win the game. These are the moments Bridgewater needs to improve the most on the field. These plays can be very costly and eventually alter the course of the game.
But once you watch his season again, it doesn’t even seem fair to call Bridgewater a rookie. We heard it often from his teammates, but Bridgewater just seemed at times like he’s done this before. The NFL wasn’t anything new.
Take this throw on third down under pressure that Bridgewater drops in between the cornerback and the safety, these kind of plays you saw more often from Bridgewater than Carr.
Both franchises should be pleased with the way the 2014 NFL Draft played out because they snagged franchise quarterbacks with the 32nd and 36th overall picks. However, once you watch the film on both quarterbacks, it’s clear Bridgewater had a better year. He was more consistent given the adversity both quarterbacks had to face all season.
Again, that’s not a knock on Carr either. I came away impressed after watching what he did with the talent around him. He should continue to get better now that the Raiders drafted a No. 1 weapon like wide receiver Amari Cooper, who will be an immediate impact player.
The biggest hurdle for Carr will be learning a new offensive system with the coaching change now that Bill Musgrave is his offensive coordinator. Bridgewater still has offensive coordinator Norv Turner, which will be huge for his growth in his second season.
It’ll be fun to continue to track the progress of Bridgewater, Carr and the other quarterbacks in that class down the road. But the first round in this bout goes to Bridgewater.
Round 2 is only 113 days away.