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Is Derek Carr An Upgrade Over Andy Dalton?

Derek Carr

Derek Carr

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Whether a Derek Carr-led Sants offense is a marked upgrade over last season’s Andy Dalton-led New Orleans offense probably depends on what you think of Josh McDaniels’ offense, and Carr’s fit in the McDaniels system.

In case you missed it, Carr on Monday signed a four-year contract with the Saints worth $150 million, with $60 million guaranteed. It was a deal far too rich for Carr to pass on, even if he would have had a better shot at a Super Bowl run as the Jets’ signal caller. The Saints’ refusal to embrace a roster rebuild knows no bounds. You have to respect it.

Comparing Carr’s 2022 numbers with Dalton’s may require a trigger warning for Saints faithful who took to Twitter Monday afternoon to trumpet Carr as the franchise’s savior, or something close to it. Below is a less-than-pretty picture of how Carr and Dalton compared in 2022 -- Carr’s first and only (miserable) season in McDaniels’ offense.

carr dalton

carr dalton

Carr’s numbers fell off by every conceivable measure during his lone season in the McDaniels system. He posted the third lowest adjusted yards per attempt (6.7) of his nine-year career and his highest interception rate (2.8 percent) since entering the league. Carr’s passing numbers collapsed during a season in which he had a career-high 9.7 average depth of target. In no other season had Carr had an aDOT of over 8.5; his career aDOT sits at 8.1.

Suffice it to say the kind of throws Carr was asked to make in the McDaniels offense last season did not fit. Below is a breakdown of Carr’s rate of deep (over 20 yards), medium (10-19 yards), short (0-9 yards), and behind-the-line throws Carr attempted over the past three seasons. The data is courtesy of Pro Football Focus.



You’ll notice there were no drastic changes in Carr’s rate of medium and short pass attempts. McDaniels’ offense had Carr throw downfield more often though, and, to put it kindly, it didn’t work out. Carr’s 33.8 percent completion rate on downfield attempts ranked 28th among 35 qualifying quarterbacks. PFF in 2022 graded Carr as the NFL’s 29th best deep ball thrower, behind guys like Jacoby Brissett and Sam Darnold. Not good, per the analytics. Not good at all.

Carr’s rate of easy behind-the-line check downs diminished in his lone season under McDaniels. Taking away those throws from a quarterback with limited arm strength is a curious strategy, I must say. Combine more downfield shots with fewer check downs and you get one of Carr’s worst pro seasons.

Hopefully the Saints have taken notes on why Carr struggled in 2022 and design a passing attack that better fits his strengths; namely, shorter, high-percentage throws. Such an offense could be excellent for short-area pass catchers like Alvin Kamara and Juwan Johnson, if he remains in New Orleans.

Yes, Derek Carr is Probably Better than Andy Dalton

The aforementioned Dalton-Carr 2022 comparison should be jarring to even the most casual NFL observer or fantasy player. But over a longer span -- the past three seasons -- Carr has been the superior quarterback.

Dalton’s adjusted EPA per drop back since the start of the 2020 season ranks 26th out of 29 qualifying QBs while Carr ranks 12th, in the range of Justin Herbert and Kirk Cousins. Only six quarterbacks had a worse completion rate over expected than Dalton over the past three years. Carr, meanwhile, ranks 16th in completion rate over expected since 2020, better than guys like Herbert and Matthew Stafford.

And for as atrocious as Carr was on deep shots in 2022, Dalton was much worse. In fact, no quarterback had a lower completion rate (26 percent) on attempts of over 20 yards than the Red Rifle. Dalton’s 10.1 yards per attempt on downfield throws was 29th among 35 qualifying QBs. He was, in short, abominable when chucking it deep.

That there’s even a question about Carr being a significant upgrade over Dalton might tell you everything you need to know about Carr’s, um, generous deal with the Saints. Jon Gruden got the best out of Carr in from 2019 to 2021, as Carr posted the three best adjusted yards per attempt marks of his nine-year career. Saints coaches would do well to replicate that passing attack in 2023 and beyond.