Despite Carr’s recovery, who will be his backup this season?
When Derek Carr went down in Week 16, the hopes of a dark horse run to a Super Bowl went down with him. Matt McGloin held his own early in Week 17 against the Broncos until he suffered a similar fate by going down with a shoulder injury, turning the spotlight over to Connor Cook. With McGloin now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, we turn to the two men who could be one play away from being the pivot in 2017.
In March, E.J. Manuel signed a 1-year deal worth $800,000 with the Raiders, signaling the end of the McGloin era with the Silver and Black.
In his four-year career with the Buffalo Bills, Manuel started 17 of 28 games, going 6-11. If those numbers didn’t stick out, these will: He completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 3,502 yards while throwing 19 touchdowns against 15 interceptions.
The good news is that he still has some mobility despite his injury and if the offensive line were to break down (especially if the vulnerability at right tackle isn’t solved), he could still scramble and extend plays. While this is key if he had to spend significant time under center, therein lies the problem: he’s never under center. In the majority of his career with Buffalo, Manuel played in a shotgun offense that allowed more time to read coverage schemes and to step up to make throws. But despite Amari Cooper and the gang being able to get open, he doesn’t have as much of the arm strength to get it there, that means a lot of short passes and routes along the sidelines. Those sorts of offenses are notoriously easy to figure out and their wealth of talent is instantly neutralized.
Drafted in the fourth round by the Raiders in 2016, Cook spent the season entrenched on the bench (throwing just 14/21 for 150 yards, a touchdown, and one interception in Week 17 against Denver) until Carr’s injury forced him into action against Houston in last year’s Wild Card Round. That game didn’t end too well (18/45, 161 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions), and it ended up exposing several of Cook’s weaknesses.
While he’s great under center and can get passes out quickly, his drop back motion provides a little bit of a tell (yes, a lot of those early passes went to the left, but that shouldn’t make a difference), and before the pass, he has a slightly awkward throwing stance, which shows in a little shuffle he does when sliding around in the pocket. If teams can get pressure, that mobility is a big question.
The positive is that he can throw the deep ball and he’s good at dropping throws over the shoulder. This means that the closer the target is to the sideline, the better chance of a completion and a move by the receiver to either get out-of-bounds or beat a defensive back and charge up the field. The downside is that these passes are just as easy to defend with some defensive backs opting to sit back and cut off the route and others jamming right at the line. If Cook can make these throws in the middle of the field, he could be a much more dangerous option at #2. If not, he could sink like a stone down the charts.
This battle could be closer than it appears at first glance. On the other hand and based both on experience and knowing the system, Cook is the slight favorite going into OTAs. At the end, don’t be surprised if the two split time almost equally come Week 1 of the preseason.