Derek Carr's Progression as an NFL Quarterback Has Been Historically Good

After a mediocre rookie season, Derek Carr has shown incredible improvement through his first three NFL seasons.

I was once a hater.

After Derek Carr's rookie season, I questioned his future as a franchise quarterback at the NFL level. Based on the Net Expected Points (NEP) metric we use at numberFire, things weren't looking good. The probability of him becoming a significant signal-caller based on his rookie season numbers was small, as there's been a general correlation between first-year success within the metric and how those rookies go on to perform throughout their careers.

It was a look at probability more than anything else. But Derek Carr apparently doesn't care about probability, odds, or not being able to break the mold because his improvement year over year over year has been one of the craziest, best progressions we've ever seen at the quarterback position in league history.

Historic Progression

Since the NFL merger, we've seen 56 quarterbacks throw 200 or more pass attempts in each of their first three seasons, per That list includes a wide variety of passers, like Jeff Garcia, Matt Ryan, Jim Kelly, and Tim Couch. Meanwhile, some players -- like Matthew Stafford -- missed the cut due to injury.

Choosing this subset of quarterbacks was pretty arbitrary -- Why 200 pass attempts? Why since the merger? -- but it at least gives us some sort of sample to work with to compare how quarterbacks have progressed after being thrown under center during their rookie season. And we're looking to compare this to Derek Carr, our subject, who's in his third year (hence the three consecutive years with 200-plus pass attempts).

This isn't supposed to be scientific, necessarily. It's just something interesting and entertaining. That's what I'm here for -- to distract you from your work.

Now, there are tons of ways to measure a quarterback's performance from a numbers standpoint, but some metrics are undoubtedly better than others. A quarterback's yardage total, for instance, doesn't necessarily tell us a whole lot -- often, doing well in the yards department has to do with volume and negative game scripts more than anything else. (I'm looking at you, Blake Bortles.) Our Net Expected Points metric is pretty dope, but it only goes back to the turn of the century.

How are we going to compare these quarterbacks?

Well, Chase Stuart of has done work that shows which quarterback statistics correlate best to winning, so that seems like a good place to start.

In his study, Chase mentions Passer Rating and Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANY/A) as the best overall measures of quarterback success, as long as we're looking at tying things to wins. And why wouldn't we? That's the point of football, right? To win?

So let's look at those two statistics.

Among the 56 passers mentioned earlier, here's a look at the biggest jumps in Passer Rating from Year 1 to Year 3 of their NFL careers.

Player Year 1 Rating Year 2 Rating Year 3 Rating Year 1 to 3 Difference
Terry Bradshaw 30.4 59.7 64.1 33.7
Neil Lomax 59.9 70.1 92.0 32.1
Troy Aikman 55.7 66.6 86.7 31.0
Steve DeBerg 40.0 73.1 66.7 26.7
Bernie Kosar 69.3 83.8 95.4 26.1
Donovan McNabb 60.1 77.8 84.3 24.2
Derek Carr 76.6 91.1 100.5 23.9
Peyton Manning 71.2 90.7 94.7 23.5
Jim Zorn 49.5 54.3 72.1 22.6
David Carr 62.8 69.5 83.5 20.7

There's our boy Derek Carr (and his brother David!) sitting in the top-10, with a 23.9 Passer Rating improvement from Year 1 to Year 3. Carr, too, is the only quarterback in the 56-man sample that reached (as long as he keeps the pace from here on out) a triple-digit Passer Rating during his third year. Passing is easier nowadays, sure, but it's still impressive nonetheless.

Now, let's take a look at how he's performed in the all-important Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt category.

PlayerYear 1 ANY/AYear 2 ANY/AYear 3 ANY/AYear 1 to 3 Difference
Terry Bradshaw0.863.064.013.15
Donovan McNabb2.414.795.493.08
Troy Aikman3.093.885.822.73
Derek Carr4.826.317.542.72
David Carr3.244.95.672.43

I'd say that's pretty good company. (And, hey, there's his brother again!)

Carr's ANY/A has increased by 2.72 since his rookie year (without a decrease in Year 2), which is better than all but three quarterbacks -- three Hall of Fame-caliber ones -- in modern NFL history. The average progress made for a quarterback in the subset is about 0.51, meaning Carr's improving at roughly a five times better rate than the average quarterback under similar circumstances.

Perhaps today's NFL is aiding that, and you can make the argument that the development of the team around him has helped more than the average passer. But, in the end, good quarterbacks make good situations better. And that's why the Raiders are in prime position to make the playoffs.

Because Derek Carr has improved dramatically as a passer.