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When I was a scout for the Carolina Panthers, John Fox encouraged me to pay close attention to prospects with NFL bloodlines. He stressed that players with links to the pro game have a better feel for what it takes to be successful at the next level -- and that the bright lights and big stage of the NFL don't overwhelm them.
Of course, I've learned that legacy certainly doesn't guarantee success on Sunday, but there is something to the idea of a player engaging in the family business. Looking at the 2014 draft class, there are a number of players with strong family ties to the NFL, including Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Stanford safety Ed Reynolds and SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert. But it's the connection between Fresno State QB Derek Carr and his older brother, David, that has drawn the most attention in the NFL scouting community.
Although evaluators aim to judge each prospect on his own merits, there is no doubt that previous successes or failures of family members become part of the conversation in meeting rooms leading up to the draft. Thus, the link between the Carr brothers certainly has been discussed.
David, or course, entered the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. He logged five underwhelming seasons as the Houston Texans' starting quarterback before fading into backup obscurity for six more NFL campaigns. Derek, meanwhile, just completed a terrific career at Fresno State with a monster senior season: 5,082 passing yards and 50 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. Still, some evaluators just can't refrain from comparing and contrasting his game to that of his older brother, resulting in varied opinions on whether or not the younger Carr has what it takes to be a franchise quarterback.
Studying Derek last fall, I came away impressed with his combination of arm talent and athleticism. He excels at working from the pocket on quick-rhythm throws, yet also displays the ability to make pinpoint passes on the move. Carr's mobility, agility and arm make him an ideal fit in a West Coast system that features a variety of movement-based passes (nakeds, bootlegs and sprint-outs) designed to change the quarterback's launch point.
Carr also exhibits poise and composure against blitz pressure. He generally keeps his eyes downfield and quickly identifies the "hot" receiver in the progression. He is unfazed by contact from defenders immediately after the throw, revealing the courage and toughness evaluators covet. Now, I must point out that this wasn't always the case. As a redshirt junior, Carr displayed happy feet under duress and made some questionable throws. But he kept the gunslinger traits in check for the majority of his senior campaign.
Some of Carr's critics point out his disappointing performance against USC in the Las Vegas Bowl, questioning his pocket awareness in that contest. But a recent revelation that he was playing through injury could explain some of his jumpiness in the pocket. Another concern for scouts: The Fresno State offense's heavy utilization of bubble screens (58 percent of Carr's throws in 2013 traveled five yards or less). Some think this inflated his numbers and could portend potential problems in adjusting to a more complex system. However, Carr played in a vertical passing game in 2011, providing evaluators with enough tape to project his game into a traditional NFL scheme.
Overall, I believe Carr is a talented quarterback prospect with the tools to be a solid starter in the league. From a playing-style standpoint, he reminds me of Tony Romo. While I'm certainly familiar with his older brother's game -- I gave David a high first-round grade after scouting him at Fresno State during my first season as a college scout for the Seattle Seahawks -- I believe Derek has the skills to be a standout pro, despite his slender frame (6-foot-2, 214 pounds) and small hands (9 1/8 inches). If Carr lands in a warm-weather spot -- a place where inclement conditions aren't a major factor -- he could emerge as one of the most impressive young passers that we've seen enter the league in some time.
Below are five locales that would suit him quite well. Unlike in prior installments of this "Best Fits" series, I'm going to refrain from listing each team's first-round draft slot. Carr appears to be ticketed for selection within the first two rounds, but exactly where is hard to gauge. He is also a prospect who could generate some pick-swapping on draft weekend.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has a reputation for getting the most out of his quarterbacks, having produced a number of NFL signal-callers during his time in the collegiate ranks. He is an excellent teacher of the fundamentals, and deftly crafts schemes that accentuate the strengths of his QB. Given Carr's exceptional arm talent and athleticism, Tedford could insert him into a version of the West Coast offense that features a number of quick-rhythm/movement throws designed to get the ball into the hands of playmakers on the perimeter. The Buccaneers would be wise to upgrade the WR2 position early in the draft (Mike Evans, anyone?), providing a complement to Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson. If they can do that and add a young, dynamic quarterback like Carr, the franchise immediately could be set up for long-term success in the Lovie Smith era.
New head coach Ken Whisenhunt admitted this is "a make-or-break year" for Jake Locker, and the Titans' decision not to exercise the quarterback's fifth-year option reiterates the message. Thus, the Titans could invest in a quarterback early in the draft, to have a replacement ready. Based on Whisenhunt's esteemed reputation for developing quarterbacks, Carr could be the man for the job. The 23-year-old has the tools to play in any system, particularly one that features diverse passing concepts, a staple of Whisenhunt's scheme. With the Titans looking to build a powerhouse offense that revolves around downhill runs and clever play-action passes, Carr would step into an ideal situation as a young quarterback (if, of course, he is able to supplant Locker).
For all of the talk about Bruce Arians preferring big-armed quarterbacks, it's the work he did with former Browns QB Tim Couch that leads me to believe he could maximize Carr's talents as a passer. The offensive wizard helped Cleveland make the 2002 playoffs with the noodle-armed passer by tweaking his system to feature quick-rhythm throws on the perimeter. Although Carr boasts superior arm talent than Couch did in his day, the adaptability and versatility shown by Arians during that time suggests that he is capable of building a system around a young quarterback's skill set. Additionally, the experience of working with the likes of Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning during their formative years could allow Arians to put Carr on a Pro Bowl track as a young player. With Carson Palmer still on the roster, the Cardinals would have the opportunity to groom Carr for a starting role down the road.
Many folks peg Johnny Manziel as the QB prospect for Jacksonville. But Gus Bradley's experience in Seattle, where he had the opportunity to watch Russell Wilson quickly emerge as a team leader, could make Carr a more logical choice for the team. Although the Fresno State product has been lauded for his impressive physical gifts, his steady demeanor and underrated leadership skills could be the characteristics that truly allow him to guide the Jaguars back to respectability. He enters the NFL with a wealth of experience as a collegiate starter and a great awareness of the pro game, having watched his older brother endure the burden of being a No. 1 overall pick. Those experiences should help him quickly grow into the role of a franchise quarterback, allowing him to succeed on the field as a playmaker and field general. Turning around a franchise that's fallen on hard times requires a tremendous amount of resolve, which is why Bradley could tap Carr to take on the task.
St. Louis Rams
Jeff Fisher has publicly supported Sam Bradford as the Rams' franchise quarterback, but the fifth-year pro is on the clock to get it done this year. While many assume the Rams will wait to see how things play out this season before potentially addressing the position in the 2015 draft, it's not hard to imagine Fisher and GM Les Snead taking more immediate action if the right guy is available at the right price. Carr could be that guy, with his athleticism, arm talent and playmaking ability resembling some familiar faces in the NFC West (Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick). Thus, with an athletic threat under center, St. Louis could give division rivals a taste of their own medicine. With Carr capable of making plays on the move and delivering accurate strikes from the pocket, it's easy to envision him taking the keys to a Rams offense that features a number of West Coast concepts.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.