The Oakland Raiders are the talk of the town. At 10-2, they are currently the top seed in the AFC. Despite having a defense that couldn’t stop a nosebleed most weeks, the Oakland Raiders have come away the winners all but twice this season. While Khalil Mack is earning Defensive Player of the Year consideration, there’s another player on the Raiders that deserves an individual honor, and his name is Derek Carr.
Derek Carr: Most Valuable Player
It might seem unlikely that one team could have both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year on the same team, but it has happened. The Carolina Panthers boast a MVP in Cam Newton and a Defensive Player of the Year in Luke Kuechly. In fact, not only was Newton the MVP last year, but he was the Offensive Player of the Year as well. The only problem is that Newton won last season, and Kuechly won back in 2013.
However, there have been instances when a team won the MVP and Defensive Player of the year in the same season. The most recent was back in 1994, when the other team in the bay, the San Francisco 49ers, had a MVP in Steve Young, and a Defensive Player of the Year in Deion Sanders. Before that, Lawrence Taylor actually won both awards for the New York Giants in 1986.
Do you know what the 1986 New York Giants and 1994 San Francisco 49ers have in common? Both teams won the Super Bowl. So not only is it possible for one team to get both awards, but both teams that have done it in the last thirty years won the Super Bowl.
Derek Carr has perfectly personified the 2016 Oakland Raiders. He’s hungry, he’s humble, and just wins, baby. It isn’t always pretty, it isn’t always easy, but at the end of the day, Derek Carr is a winner.
There’s still a quarter of the season left, but Carr has already set the all-time NFL record for game-winning touchdown passes. The Oakland Raiders have their first winning season since 2002, and there isn’t a doubt that that wouldn’t be true if they didn’t have Carr under center.
Simply put, Carr’s numbers are very good. The biggest case against Carr is that there are quarterbacks with better numbers. Three men have more passing yards, six men have more passing touchdowns, and six men have thrown fewer interceptions (with at least 200 attempts). Carr’s 3,347 yards, 24 touchdowns, and only five interceptions are impressive, but in each category, someone is better.
However, that’s not true when you look at how his numbers hold up as a whole. It’s true that six quarterbacks have thrown more touchdowns than Carr, but four of them have only thrown two more, and of all the passers with at least 20 touchdown passes, Carr has the fewest interceptions.
And whlie three men have thrown for more passing yards, only Matt Ryan has fewer attempts than Carr. Drew Brees has more passing yards than Carr, but he’s also thrown the ball 42 more times. Now, Carr’s average wouldn’t be enough to cover the spread, but it would get him pretty close.
As a passer, Pro Football Focus only ranks Tom Brady and Andrew Luck ahead of Carr, and it’s easy to see why. Carr has been absolutely phenomenal, despite frequently finding himself under some pretty unusual circumstances. Which leads to the next subject.
The first way people will attack Carr as a viable MVP candidate is with his gross statistics, but once that’s been debunked, they move onto the offense. And to be fair, Carr isn’t the only talented player on that offense.
As if playing behind arguably the best offensive line in football wasn’t enough, Carr also has Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and a host of supporting players to throw the ball to. And on defense? The aforementioned Khalil Mack has to be pretty good to be considered a Defensive Player of the Year favorite.
However, that doesn’t mean things have been easy for Carr and the Raiders. They’re seventh in the league in rushing, but only one of their backs, Latavius Murray, has over 500 yards. The Raiders have had success on the ground against teams like the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints, but they haven’t been able to consistently move the ball with their backs.
Oakland’s defense is putrid. Everyone wants to talk about how they’ve gotten better, or even that they’ve been “top ten over the last few weeks”, but at the end of the day, this defense is dreadful. They’re 29th in the league, giving up almost 390 yards and 25 points a game. Against the Buffalo Bills, they couldn’t stop the run to save their lives, and the Carolina Panthers managed to come back despite being down 24-7 at one point.
Despite Mack’s success, it’s not like the Raiders have a phenomenal pass rush to speak of. Mack is top five, but only three teams have fewer sacks than the Raiders. Outside of Mack and occasionally Bruce Irvin, the Raiders have no pass rush to speak of. Rookies Shilique Calhoun and Jihad Ward combine for half a sack through their first twelve games.
So despite having great weapons and a fantastic offensive line, Carr is playing with an inconsistent run game and a porous defense. The Raiders only own three wins where the margin of victory is greater than a single score, and two of those wins came against Buffalo and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Far too often, the Raiders win or lose depending on how well their quarterback plays.
That’s not sensationalism either. The whole world saw it first hand when Carr injured his pinky against the Panthers. It was the first drive of the second half, and the Raiders had a 24-7 lead. Carr left the game for two series, and suddenly the Raiders were losing. However, on the arm (and injured pinky) of Carr, the resilient Raiders were able to respond and ultimately win the game.
As great as Derek Carr has been this year, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots has been better. There’s no question that Tom Terrific is playing with purpose in 2016. Unfortunately for Brady, he’s also playing with four fewer games and a banged up receiving corps.
Brady’s numbers have been unreal, and he’s been in the MVP conversation for weeks, but his total numbers just won’t be impressive enough. Even after a historic run, Brady is still only 25th in passing yards. He missed too much time, and with Rob Gronkowski injured indefinitely, his season totals won’t be good enough. Being suspended for four games isn’t a very viable excuse for season totals.
The Dallas Dilemma
Depending on who you ask, people will say that the Dallas Cowboys have zero or two MVP candidates. Rookies Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott will definitely be duking it out for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but to give either player the MVP is ridiculous.
At this point in his career, Prescott is still just a game manager. He’s avoided the big mistakes and helped take care of the offense, but if you asked 100 people if they’d rather have Carr or Prescott, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone taking Dallas’ number four. In fact, you don’t have to, because we already have.
Just a midnight poll… from what we've seen this season alone… you need a #4 for one game, which one do you take?
— Ryan (@RyanSmithLWOS) December 2, 2016
And as for Elliott, there’s no denying his success. He has almost 1,300 yards, and with four games remaining, he’s on pace for more than 1,700 yards. Considering it’s his ground attack that has Dallas in first place with the NFL’s best record, it’s easy to see why fans believe he should win the award.
However, a brief history lesson takes the air out of that theory. While Elliott is a generational talent, and could be one of the best in the league for a long time, it’s not like he’s running behind the kind of lines Barry Sanders was. The Dallas offensive line, also known as the second version of the “Great Wall of Dallas”, is fantastic.
Elliott isn’t the first back to have success running behind the likes of Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick. Last season, draft bust Darren McFadden ran behind that line, and he was fourth in the league in rushing. The year before that, DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing yards, again, behind that offensive line.
That’s not to take away from Elliott’s success, and he should absolutely be the Rookie of the Year, but at the end of the day, he’s barely the most valuable player on his team, let alone the entire league.
Best of the Rest
There are those that will argue for Drew Brees and Matt Ryan to win the award as well. Brees is set to have another fantastic statistical season, and Ryan’s numbers are also very impressive, while keeping his Atlanta Falcons in the playoff hunt.
However, Brees’ Saints won’t make the playoffs, and the Falcons have begun their annual collapse, losing four of their last seven. Ultimately, it’s Derek Carr that has the stats, as well as the success to win the league MVP. The Raiders will have to finish strong, and with opponents like the Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, and Kansas City Chiefs on the horizon, that won’t be easy. Then again, if Carr really is the MVP, the Raiders will come out on top, like they have all year.