Unpopular Opinions

Derek Carr is going to have the best season of his NFL career

Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I've spent a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I've heard a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.

In this space, I articulate positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Below, I explain why we should expect a monster season out of a perennially underappreciated quarterback:

Derek Carr is tired of your disrespect.

If I'm being completely honest, I'm tired of it, too. There might not be a fan base that besmirches its starting quarterback more than the Raiders' fan base -- and I say this as a person who roots for the Chicago Bears. Hating your quarterback is as much of a Chicago tradition as cold winters, deep-dish pizza and disowning relatives who put ketchup on hot dogs. But even members of that hypercritical group were excited about the prospect of Carr coming to Chicago after he posted a photo of himself and Raider-turned-Bear Khalil Mack on Instagram.

Meanwhile, Carr ended last season getting booed by his ostensible supporters, then went through an offseason of rumors that he and head coach Jon Gruden don't get along while Raiders fans daydreamed about Tom Brady moving out to the 702. (That one seemed weird, because I don't believe Gruden has yet gotten over the Tuck Rule Game.) Many wanted the club to take a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft. And there are even some kids on Twitter who believe Marcus Mariota, the former No. 2 overall pick who signed on to back up Carr, is going to be the Raiders' starter this season.

Marcus Mariota.

The guy who lost his gig to Ryan Tannehill last year.

Raiders fans need to stop with this and start putting some respect on Carr's name. Because he is going to have the best season of his career.

That shouldn't be a very controversial prediction, because Carr was really good last season, throwing for a career-high 4,054 passing yards (marking his second consecutive 4,000-yard season) with 21 touchdown passes against just eight picks. It also seemed like Carr's relationship with Gruden was starting to blossom. (Even after, yes, the Raiders apparently explored drafting Kyler Murray in 2019.) So I'm not going too far out on a limb by expecting Carr's play to continue trending upward.

I know Carr doesn't have a winning record against any AFC West opponent. No, not even the Chargers, with last season's sweep of L.A. pulling Carr to just 6-6 vs. the Bolts. And I know the Raiders have had just one winning season during Carr's NFL career. If you set aside Carr's 12-3 mark as a starter in his famed MVP-caliber 2016 campaign, the team's combined record under Carr is 27-52.

That's not great. I can feel the frustration. But we're not putting all of that on Derek, right? Playing for Dennis Allen (as Carr did in his rookie year) and Jack Del Rio (as Carr did from 2015 through '17) isn't exactly like playing for Andy Reid or even Gary Kubiak, two coaches who won Super Bowls in the AFC West during Carr's time in the league.

The Raiders have allowed 26.0 points per game since Carr was selected 36th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft -- that's the most in the NFL. And Carr has entered the fourth quarter while trailing his opponent in close to 60 percent of his starts. The Raiders have done so as a team 56 times in that span, fourth-most in the league, behind only the Browns, Jets and Jaguars. You know, elite company.

Of course, some responsibility for keeping up with the other team must go to the quarterback. But Carr has basically had to do it on his own in recent years. Amari Cooper, drafted fourth overall in 2015 to be a superstar wide receiver, didn't actually live up to his potential until he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. (It was like when you break up with somebody who was unreliable for you, and then you see them on Instagram living their best life. Cooper was like the person who broke Adele's heart.) Cooper's exit left a 33-year-old Jordy Nelson -- who was well past his prime, like those '80s rockers who continue performing on stadium tours even though there isn't enough spandex in the world to clothe them -- atop the WR depth chart that season. Do I even need to talk about Antonio Brown, whose breakdown was one of the worst things I saw last season? (And I watched The Undertaker battle Goldberg in the Super ShowDown.)

Despite the lack of a proven No. 1 receiver, Carr has tied Matthew Stafford for the most fourth-quarter comebacks in the NFL since 2014 (18). Yes, that's more than Russell Wilson (15), Drew Brees (14) and Matt Ryan (14). (As I type that sentence, I realize how strange it is that Ryan is the only one from that group to have won an MVP.)

This season, Carr isn't going to have to do it all, since he'll be playing with the best supporting cast of his NFL tenure. Running back Josh Jacobs -- who should have been the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, if you factor in the unbiased opinions of Gruden, Raiders fans and the fantasy enthusiasts who drafted him -- is poised for a major breakout in Year 2. The offensive line, which was once a detriment, has become one of the league's best, earning Pro Football Focus' top ranking in pass-blocking on long pass plays (and ranking 11th in overall line play) heading into 2020. Tight end Darren Waller emerged as a legit passing target. And rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III is a throwback to the era of Al Davis, who valued speed above all else on the football field. (But in a good way.) As for the defense, there is reason to be optimistic following an offseason overhaul that included signing rock-solid vets Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and drafting cornerback Damon Arnette.

On top of all that, there's the matter of the aforementioned disrespect -- and the extra motivation it will provide. Carr mentioned recently that he's going to wear an armband to honor late NBA star Kobe Bryant, one of Carr's heroes. Kobe, of course, had a Mamba Mentality that allowed him to feed on perceived slights, using them to drive him to personal greatness.

Well, Carr has received enough disrespect this year to feast. And I can't wait to see it.

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