Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories previewing the 2014 NFL Draft, which begins May 8.
The NFL Draft is shaping up to be as unpredictable as ever this year, and the Browns are certainly shrouded in mystery with a first-year general manager and a rookie head coach calling the shots.
Still, since GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine took control of the Browns, no prospect has been linked to them more than Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr.
It’ll be virtually impossible to truly distinguish clues from smokescreens until the draft unfolds May 8-10. However, this much is clear: The quarterback-starved Browns are likely to address their need at the game’s most important position with one of their two first-round picks (Nos. 4 and 26 overall) or their early second-round selection (No. 35 overall).
In February, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah told The Dan Patrick Show he heard “from several different places” that the Browns want to use their second first-round pick on Carr, younger brother of David Carr, the No. 1 overall pick in 2002 who never met the expectations placed upon him as the face of the expansion Houston Texans. In a column published Wednesday, Mike Freeman of BleacherReport.com wrote the Browns “really love” Carr and that “the feeling with many in football is that Cleveland will take Carr” with its second choice in the opening round.
Carr had dinner with the Browns and privately worked out for Farmer, Pettine, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains late last month. He’s also scheduled to visit the team Thursday at its headquarters in Berea, a league source told the Beacon Journal, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Browns aren’t revealing their pre-draft itinerary.
The organization has been doing plenty of homework on several other quarterbacks, too. But if the rumblings about the Browns aiming for Carr are true, Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter is convinced Farmer and Pettine would be making a wise decision.
“He’s got NFL talent as far as arm strength, accuracy, athleticism, size,” DeRuyter said in a recent phone interview. “I think he’s everything you want measurable-wise. But the X-factor with him is he’s a guy who gets it. He grew up in his brother’s shadow. David kind of taught him, ‘Hey, this is how you do things if you want to get to the NFL.’
“For us, it’s getting in the office early before everybody, it’s studying the tape, it’s understanding not just the offense, but the defense. He did all those things. He’s very, very bright, and he works at it. I think whatever NFL team takes him is going to be extremely excited because they’re going to get a guy who gets it, who understands he’s going to be the face of the franchise and embraces it.”
The majority of draft analysts consider Carr the fourth-best quarterback in this year’s class with Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater ahead of him. Some, however, rank Carr higher.
In an interview last week with NFL Network, Carr sold himself as the best of the bunch.
“There is no doubt in my mind,” he said. “And we can turn the film on, sit down and watch it, and we’ll talk about it and I’ll convince you.”
The 6-foot-2, 214-pound Carr also said based on what GMs and coaches have told him, he thinks he’ll be picked before some of the other top-rated quarterbacks. On the other hand, most analysts project him to be taken late in first round.
At the NFL owners meetings last month, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he wouldn’t be surprised if Carr became a top-five pick. Even if draft gurus swear that’s a stretch, Arians’ thinking suggests Carr might not last until the Browns are put on the clock at No. 26. So if Farmer and Pettine target Carr later in the first round, there’s a chance they would need to trade up from the 26th slot to nab him.
Regardless of which pick is used on Carr, he’d face tremendous pressure if the Browns become his new team. DeRuyter, though, has faith Carr is equipped to handle the demands of a fan base that has endured 20 starting quarterbacks since 1999.
After all, Carr proved he could overcome adversity in the weeks following the birth of his son, Dallas, last August. The baby underwent three surgeries to fix complications caused by intestinal malrotation, a twisting of the intestines. Meanwhile, Carr effectively juggled his family responsibilities and the beginning of a senior season in which he completed 453-of-659 passes (68.7 percent) for 5,082 yards and 50 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
“I think it did give him an appreciation for what’s important, and I think he can be a guy who’s very, very balanced,” DeRuyter said. “He’s a very strong Christian. He’s strong in his faith. I think that gives him a lot of grounding, and his wife, Heather, is, too. If you’re going to invest the money that they do and a high draft pick in a quarterback who’s going to be a franchise player for you, he’s got everything that an owner’s going to be looking for as far as leadership, maturity and just perspective.
“He understands whatever your situation is you’re going to get booed at times. … He knows it’s not going to be an easy road. There’s going to be some bumps along the way, but he just takes those things in stride.”
He hit a bump as his career at Fresno State ended on Dec. 21. During his worst performance of the season, he completed 30-of-54 passes (55.6 percent) for 217 yards and two touchdowns with one interception en route to a 45-20 loss to Southern California in the Las Vegas Bowl.
DeRuyter considers Carr’s disappointing finish an aberration and a result of a separated left shoulder he suffered two weeks earlier during a 24-17 win over Utah State in the Mountain West Championship Game.
“His shoulder was jacked up, and then he hurt it again early [in the Las Vegas Bowl],” DeRuyter said. “So he knew we couldn’t afford for him to go out [of the game], but he was probably making his reads too quick and trying to get rid of the ball too quick to avoid taking another shot at that shoulder. Those are excuses, and that’s not what this kid’s about.”
Carr earned some semblance of redemption with impressive showings at the Senior Bowl in January and his pro day last month. Nevertheless, critics point to Carr working primarily out of the shotgun the past two seasons and displaying suspect pocket awareness as causes for concern.
DeRuyter doesn’t expect Carr to experience problems taking snaps from under center because he did it his first two collegiate seasons and “his footwork is really, really good.” The coach also said Carr focused a great deal on improving his pocket presence last year, allowing the Bulldogs to decrease their number of sacks taken from 29 his junior year to 11 last season.
“But it’s something I still think he needs to work on,” DeRuyter said. “It’s probably, I don’t want to say the one flaw, but the weakest part of his game, I guess. It’s something that he has worked on and has improved, but he could probably stand to improve a little more.”
As for his arm, Pettine has endorsed it and given others reason to believe the speculation surrounding the Browns and Carr could actually be foreshadowing.
“I think he’s the best natural thrower as far as arm strength, and when you’re just looking at the guy, natural thrower, in the draft,” Pettine said last month at the owners meetings. “Very physically gifted.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.