If it looks like Derek Carr has been throwing a ball since before he could walk, it’s because he has.
“My dad would tell me as soon as I could sit up on my own, he’d put a ball in my hand,” Carr told The Chronicle-Telegram on Monday. “And I would drop it out of my hand. I guess I was brainwashed, it’s muscle memory.”
Browns coach Mike Pettine labeled Carr “the best natural thrower in the draft” and his coach at Fresno State, Tim DeRuyter, concurred. The compact delivery, quick release and strong arm are why Carr’s considered among the top quarterbacks available in the NFL Draft that begins Thursday night.
Carr hasn’t received the national attention of Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles, but some feel he belongs at the beginning of the conversation.
“Derek Carr makes me feel the safest,” CBS analyst and former Giants quarterback Phil Simms said on SiriusXM Radio. “I think I’d sweat less with him than any other quarterback coming out.”
Carr (6-foot-23⁄8, 214 pounds) has been linked to the Browns for months, and the connection continues on the eve of the draft. Carr could be in consideration as early as the No. 4 pick, but it’s more likely first-time Cleveland general manager Ray Farmer would select him at No. 26 or after a trade to get ahead of Arizona, which is lurking at No. 20 and reportedly high on Carr.
The Browns are committed to taking a quarterback somewhere within the first couple of rounds and spent a good chunk of the draft process studying the options. They worked out and visited with about a dozen quarterbacks, including all the top ones.
“The workout was great,” Carr said.
He had inside information on coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s version of the West Coast Offense from older brother David, who played in a similar system with the Texans.
“It’d be a great thing,” Carr said of joining the Browns. “It would be cool to play in that offense. It would be great to represent the city of Cleveland the best that I can.”
Carr has the maturity that comes with a wife and young son. He has the requisite size and athleticism to succeed in any offense. He has the stats — 5,083 yards passing, 50 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 68.9 completion percentage as a senior — to pad his resume.
But it’s the way the ball comes out of his right hand that makes him special.
“It’s definitely a blessing from God,” he said. “I feel I can put the ball wherever I need to. Obviously it doesn’t always happen that way. But any throw out there I feel confident I can make it.”
DeRuyter inherited Carr when he arrived at Fresno State. He switched the Bulldogs from a pro-style offense to the spread but didn’t mess with Carr’s mechanics.
“He can make all the throws,” DeRuyter said. “He’s very, very accurate and very athletic. He has a ton of velocity but can make the touch throws as well. To me, he’s a guy that could really rip it, get it out of his hands really quick.
“He has a big bag of traits that really help him. His leadership is very good. His football IQ is very good. His work ethic, maturity. He has all the things you want in a leader. He’s the full package.”
But not without flaws.
Carr’s last college game was an ugly loss to USC in a bowl game, and he missed a few wide-open receivers down the field for what would’ve been touchdowns. He finished 30-for-54 with two touchdowns and an interception.
DeRuyter said that wasn’t characteristic of Carr and blamed the struggles on a separated left shoulder that kept him out of practice and the absence of his No. 2 receiver.
“I don’t know how fair it is to judge Derek on one game,” DeRuyter said. “You don’t judge Peyton Manning on the Super Bowl.”
A bigger issue for NFL GMs is Carr’s pocket presence. In Fresno State’s spread, Carr operated out of the shotgun and threw a ton of screens and quick passes that inflated his stats. The completion percentage dropped when the pocket was compromised.
“The USC game showed his pocket presence has to get better,” DeRuyter said. “He made tremendous strides from the year before. There were too many times where he was holding onto the ball too long, not having awareness of what’s going on. It’s something he worked on. His sacks went down by 65 percent this year, because he’s smart enough to escape when he needed to and get rid of the ball when he had to.”
Carr takes issue with the knock on his pocket presence.
“This time of year people are looking for reasons not to like you,” he said. “There are plenty of times on tape where I stood in and delivered the ball with a guy about to hit me in the face.”
Some analysts believe Carr’s draft stock is hurt by the failures of his brother David. David was the No. 1 overall pick of the Texans in 2002 but went 23-56 as a starter on bad teams. He threw 65 touchdowns, 71 interceptions and was sacked a whopping 267 times.
Carr said David’s been only a help during the marathon draft process.
“Obviously he told me all the secrets of it,” Carr said. “It’s been a huge advantage. From the combine to the pro day, he did it all. All I have to do is listen to him, go out and do my best.
“What a resource a lot of people don’t have. A lot of guys out there don’t tell the exact truth. My brother is dead honest.”
Carr has no trouble staying grounded and keeping his priorities aligned. His son, Dallas, was born last summer with twisted intestines. He needed three surgeries and Derek was told he might die.
“I was amazed how he could hang in there,” DeRuyter said. “The way he was able to compartmentalize, it was as if nothing ever happened.
“The guy was really, really strong. When he was around our guys he was all football.”
It wasn’t easy. Carr said he couldn’t concentrate during meetings.
“Normally I’d be turned in. But all I could think was, ‘How’s my son, will he make it through the day, how’s my wife doing?’” he said. “My heart was with them. Family comes before football for me.
“But I made it through and was able to do both. It worked out great. Dallas is doing great.”
If he isn’t already, he’ll surely be throwing a ball soon. Just like his dad.