Derek Carr’s YPA: Overblown Statistic or Cause for Concern?

After another month of moaning and groaning over Derek Carr’s yards per attempt, it felt like it was time to look into the talking point that’s been following Carr around since he came into the league.

Is there a place for short throws in today’s game and is Carr really holding back the Raider offense? You don’t have to travel far into the interwebs to find a strong opinion on both fronts.

Marcus Mosher on Twitter

This is the most Derek Carr passing chart ever. Three completions beyond five yards.

For most of his career, including Carr’s MVP-caliber season in 2016, Derek has been hovering at or around 7.0 yards per pass attempt. The league average this year is around 7.5 and Carr currently sits at 6.9, which ranks 23rd in the NFL. Essentially every elite quarterback in the league ranks higher than Carr in YPA, with Dak Prescott and Patrick Mahomes tied for the league lead at 9.4.

The question, though, is whether or not YPA is a strong indicator of top-level quarterback play.

With the emergence of fantasy football and analytics, quick conclusions and hot takes have become the new norm. A small piece of information is too many times banked on to create a full narrative. Quarterback YPA has been at the epicenter of data analyzation in Oakland since 2017 and while data doesn’t lie, it does need to be interpreted correctly. A brain scan can tell a lot, but without a neurologist to read the MRI, the information is worthless, right?

So let’s try to make sense of YPA and where it belongs in relation to Carr and Jon Gruden’s offense.

“Just throw deep, baby”

Stretching the field will always be essential to a good offense, but high-risk throws will not. Dak Prescott (this year’s YPA king) threw for 463 yards against Green Bay, but his three interceptions took away any chance the Cowboys had of winning on Sunday. Furthermore, all six of Prescott’s interceptions this year have come on throws beyond 10 yards, mostly trying to stretch the field to receivers that weren’t open.

The masses are understandably drawn to Prescott, Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson at the top of the league in YPA (it’s exciting television, right?), but it’s easy to ignore the fact that Kirk Cousins, Jameis Winston, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, Marcus Mariota, and Lamar Jackson round out the top 10 in the league at YPA.

Watson has thrown 11 touchdowns and only one interception this year, but how long can he keep it up with the 10.2% sack percentage that comes with holding the ball as long as he does?

A year ago, it was Ryan Fitzpatrick who led the league in YPA and led the Buccaneers to a 2-5 record in seven games. The Tampa defense played a role in Fitzpatrick’s five losses, but so did his 12 interceptions.

Ball control is still a big deal in 2019 

Five weeks into the 2019 season, completion percentage has turned out to be a common denominator in wins at about the same rate (marginally better) as yards per pass attempt. Quarterbacks this year have a 50-25 record when they don’t throw an interception and when quarterbacks have thrown just one interception in a game (and no more), they have a 21-30 record.

So when Gruden emphasizes controlling the ball and avoiding turnovers, the numbers say he’ll probably win more games than he loses if he can execute the plan – especially now that the Raiders have proven they can run the ball effectively.

By the way, Antonio Brown, in this catch and run offense, you would have had an amazing year.

Aaron Rodgers: Not a YPA quarterback.

Al Davis would have loved to see the YPA explosion around the league. The most exciting quarterbacks in football have an excellent YPA, but those quarterbacks tend to create huge YPA with their ability to extend plays as much as anything.

Carr is a good athlete, but he isn’t Watson or Mahomes. He isn’t going to beat defenses the way those guys are able, and not many other quarterbacks will either.

It’s worth noting, however, that there are quarterbacks who have success in the modern era without the big YPA numbers. Aaron Rodgers has thrown 118 touchdowns and only 24 interceptions over the last five years with a 7.13 YPA – which is only about a tenth of a percentage higher than Carr’s YPA over the same timespan.

Andrew Luck never finished a season with a YPA better than 7.8 and Tom Brady has one season over 8.0 YPA since 2011.

Gruden might never be a YPA coach

By all means be critical of the Raider offense if it doesn’t threaten to stretch the field, but as far as criticism relates to quarterback play, it would only make sense to bring a laundry list of missed downfield opportunities before making blanket statements about Carr’s YPA.

Derek has the highest completion percentage (73.3%) in the NFL right now and a running game that is evolving into one of the best in the league.

That’s the offense Gruden envisioned from the start.

Like it or not, when the Raiders signed up for Gruden, this is what they got. But if Gruden’s scheme is sound enough to roll through the Bears fifth-ranked defense, then maybe it’s a good enough scheme to get on board with for a while… even if it is a scheme from the 1980’s.

Pro Football Focus isn’t concerned with Carr’s YPA

Analytics are overwhelming the industry nowadays, but Pro Football Focus has evolved into one of the most respected resources for football data and analytics.

In theory, PFF is able to grade objectively every position on the field. They include YPA into their quarterback grades and after five games, PFF has Carr ranked as the no. 8 quarterback in the league.

No emotion. No grumpy fan grades. Just a position grade based on their data.

Gruden will rap into Carr’s strong arm soon enough 

We may not have seen it yet, but now that the Raiders running game is cooking, expect Gruden to dial up a few more shots downfield. We know Carr has the accuracy, but Gruden has never had a quarterback capable of throwing the deep ball like what he has right now.

Just a guess, but the big throws are probably right around the corner. Let Jacobs keep carving up the defense and watch what happens when defensive coordinators start getting too aggressive.

twitter: @raidersbeat


1 thought on “Derek Carr’s YPA: Overblown Statistic or Cause for Concern?

  1. Another anti-Raider scab story. Try this instead…

    The Raiders made the move of the century to get A Brown, then picked up Tyrell Williams and JJ Nelson.
    It was considered the BEST WR corps in the NFL.

    Brown took a Brown on himself and is gone
    Williams – a 44 mil, 4 year pickup from the Chargers has a foot injury on the first play of the Colt’s game
    JJ Nelson has a knee injury and was out, only playing two games this season
    The, by default, 3rd WR and returner, Dwayne Harris was out with a shoulder injury (also from the Colt’s game)

    And on the Bear WIN:
    So who was in last Sunday, against one of the best defenses in the league?
    The Raiders had:
    Trevor Davis – picked up 2 weeks ago for a 6th round pick from Green Bay but never played for them
    Hunter Renfrow – rookie, drafted at the bottom of this year’s 5h round
    Keelan Doss – rookie, cut before the season started, signed to the Jags practice squad, resigned week 2 by the Raiders- and started
    Marcell Ateman – walk on, signed off of our practice squad

    In total, the ENTIRE receiving corps walked into Week 5 against the celebrated Bears with a combined whooping 16 receptions this year.

    Our two rookie tightends Darren Waller and Foster Moreau, had more receptions

    Oh, and the Raiders two running backs had 6 catches for 39 yards

    Carr threw to 9 different targets for 229 yards, 25/32 with no INT’s – and we rushed for 166 yards on the ground.

    Oh, and our starting Guard, Gabe Johnson is out.

    Now we have a bye week to get healthy and we did just trade for Zay Jones from the Bills, who I do love. The price was right too.
    We gave up a 5th round pick…. In 2021!

    Now something like THIS would be an expected story by a group called —- right?

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