“I want to let it fly. I want to let the ball fly. I want big plays. I want excitement, you know. These bubble screens and checkdowns only go so far with me. I want to be aggressive, I want to try and make some big plays, especially if you’ve got the offensive line and the supporting cast to back it up.”
That was Jon Gruden in the lead-up to the Raiders' Week 16 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Gruden, who now has spent two years with Derek Carr as his quarterback, wants to "let it fly." He's had enough of the dink and dunk passing attack the Raiders featured in 2019. If this is true, it likely means -- plug your ears ardent backers of Carr -- the Silver and Black will need to find a new quarterback as they transition to Las Vegas.
The Raiders' lack of explosive plays in the passing game this season wasn't all on Carr. Antonio Brown's preseason departure put Gruden's offense behind the eightball. They had to transition from one that was going to be predicated on downfield throws to one featuring a power run game and play-action passing. Carr only developed chemistry with tight end Darren Waller and rookie receiver Hunter Renfrow.
The passing game didn't strike fear into any opponents.
Now, six years into his NFL career, Carr has shown himself to be a middle of the road quarterback. He's not as bad as those who torch him, nor is he the savior his biggest supporters believe. He's a guy who can make some plays under pristine conditions and one who will struggle without good weapons, an inventive scheme, a successful running game or solid protection.
If Gruden wants to push the ball downfield, Carr probably isn't his guy. This season Carr averaged 7.9 yards per attempt. That was good for ninth-best in the NFL. It was a higher mark than Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson.
Seems good, right? Let's go deeper.
Getting explosive plays in the passing game requires a quarterback truly willing to go down the field. That's something Carr has shown he isn't comfortable doing, especially in 2019. This season, he ranked 30th out of 32 quarterbacks in intended air yards per pass attempt at 6.6 yards. That means Carr's average target was six yards from the line of scrimmage.
Only Brees and Jimmy Garoppolo ranked lower and it was just by a hair.
Now again, some of that is due to lack of talent at wide receiver and therefore lack of separation. But it also speaks both to Carr's unwillingness to stretch the field and to Gruden's unwillingness to call plays that require his quarterback to do so. Since Gruden claims he wants to ramp up the air attack, it seems he's somewhat uncomfortable dialing up plays that require Carr to take shots down the field.
If that is the case, the Raiders need to find a quarterback with the skillset that fits what Gruden wants to do once he gets the required offensive pieces in place, mainly a whole new crop of wide receivers.
Enter: Justin Herbert.
The Oregon signal-caller has all the physical traits desired in an NFL quarterback. He's 6-foot-6, 238 pounds with a rocket arm and athleticism to hurt teams with his legs.
Herbert will make his final collegiate start Wednesday when No. 6 Oregon faces No. 8 Wisconsin in the 2020 Rose Bowl.
Herbert is projected to be a first-round pick, likely the third quarterback off the board if Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa declares for the draft. The Raiders own two first-round picks -- No. 12 and No. 19 -- and while they have a lot of pressing needs on the roster, if Herbert is available at No. 12 Gruden should make him the face of the Silver and Black.
Admittedly, Herbert is far from a finished product. His college career has been filled with three head coaches, three offensive coordinators and a scheme change from the spread to the pistol which hampered his development as quarterback.
Herbert has been maddeningly inconsistent during his time at Oregon. He'll make a throw that pops off the screen, squeezing it into a tight window 30 yards downfield and turn around and airmail a hitch route.
But the pros outweigh the cons. Herbert also needs a quarterback coach. Someone who can develop his natural gifts and mold him into the quarterback he can be. Sounds like someone who coaches the Raiders doesn't it?
Herbert can make brilliant throws while on the run, delivering the ball with accuracy on the move.
There's not much to this play, but he's shown in his career to be competent on the move. He can his his target in the chest, even if his body isn't aligned or set. pic.twitter.com/iLYbab0JbJ— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) September 1, 2019
This is an even better example than the first play of Herbert's accuracy on the move. This is a fantastic throw to an intermediate target pic.twitter.com/5BmhHoiT7B— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) September 1, 2019
Excellent play by Herbert. Avoids the rush, rolls out with his eyes up, delivers a really good ball. That's the good stuff. pic.twitter.com/qZOjXAADNL— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) September 15, 2019
His right arm is a huge asset. He has the fastball to squeeze it into air-tight windows, creating big plays when some quarterbacks would see nothing and throw the ball away.
Great throw from Herbert up the middle of the field. Does so in the face of pressure. Tough play. pic.twitter.com/aRvtVqDEcb— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) October 19, 2019
He came right back in and delivered a nice touchdown pass. This is great ball placement and what we wanna see. pic.twitter.com/YxT7tYobPW— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) November 3, 2019
This was a dreadful game for Herbert but he started with a nice throw as he rolled to his left. Impressive zip. pic.twitter.com/OnVhHH97YB— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) November 26, 2019
Now, stretching the field is important in today's NFL. While Carr ranked 30th in intended air yards per pass attempt, division rival and reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes ranked 10th while missing some games.
If the Raiders are to catch the Kansas City Chiefs, the big play down the field will be necessary to keep up with Chiefs' high-octane attack.
Herbert's deep ball is inconsistent at the moment, but he can throw a beauty.
Perfect deep ball again for a touchdown. Smoother delivery and more touch than what he normally has shown on these deep attempts. Question is whether he can more consistently hit these deep open guys than what he has. pic.twitter.com/8fDkbUVS8K— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) November 17, 2019
We haven't seen Herbert have much success going deep this year, but he connected with his open receiver as pressure arrived on this one pic.twitter.com/ckpFjUT5zG— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) November 17, 2019
That ball is 50 yards on a rope. If Gruden can help Herbert polish the deep ball and maintain sound footwork, the Oregon product has the tools to be the big-armed, explosive passer Gruden sounds like he wants to feature in the Raiders offense. A Silver and Black attack led by Herbert, Renfrow, Waller, Josh Jacobs and whatever dynamic receivers (Henry Ruggs, maybe?) the Raiders select has the makings of one that could be one of the NFL's best.
An explosive trigger-man is the key to having a feared offense in today's NFL.
Herbert is tall, strong, athletic and has a huge arm. The Raiders probably will use their first-round picks on a linebacker and a wide receiver, giving Carr one more chance. But if Gruden wants explosive, No. 10 should be his guy come April.
Not many can make this throw.
Justin Herbert gets a big chance today to up his stock against Washington. His ability to make ‘wow’ throws and show off impressive improvisation skills are exactly why I’m a fan of his.— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 19, 2019