Derek Carr … and beyond? Analyzing the Raiders’ record drafting quarterbacks
As the 2019 NFL season winds down and the Raiders begin the process of their move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season, talk in the Raider Nation has (unfortunately) once again turned to the NFL Draft.
Despite a bounce-back from 4-12 in 2018 to 7-9 in 2019 that saw them in contention for the postseason into the final week of the season, the Raiders missed out on the playoffs for the 16th time in 17 years.
And, as it has for much of his six-year career, that means talk has turned to the future of Derek Carr, the Raiders’ polarizing, record-setting franchise quarterback.
The NFL Draft, of course, represents a chance — yet again — for head coach Jon Gruden to find a potential replacement for Carr, a lightning rod for both praise and criticism virtually since the moment he was drafted in the second round in 2014.
The Raiders, of course, have long been known for their quarterback play, from Daryle Lamonica to Rich Gannon, but one area they have had difficulty is drafting and developing passers.
In fact, Carr arguably represents only one of two genuinely successful QBs drafted by the Raiders, following another second-round pick, Hall of Famer Ken Stabler.
When fans think of the great Raider quarterbacks, most of them — Tom Flores, Lamonica, Jim Plunkett, Gannon — actually got their start with other organizations, coming to the Raiders in shrewd trades or unheralded free agent signings.
Meanwhile, over their 60-year history, the Raiders have drafted 43 quarterbacks in total, anywhere from No. 1 overall (twice) to No. 330-plus overall (twice) … and, yet, few have made any lasting impact in Silver & Black.
So, before fans rush to anoint a 2020 prospect as Carr’s must-have successor, let’s look back at the Raiders’ history drafting quarterbacks, broken down into what might be called levels of success.
(Photo of Derek Carr celebrating — before a poor call by officials — in 2019.)
The Hall of Famer
Ken Stabler, Alabama (2nd round, 52nd overall, 1968)
There can be no doubt whatsoever as to the Raiders’ best drafted quarterback. Although Kenny Stabler, “The Snake,” is no longer the franchise leader in passing yards, he is the only Raiders quarterback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — inducted posthumously in 2016, just a year after his death from cancer at age 69. Although he did not ascend to the starting job until 1973, he went on to lead the Silver & Black for seven years, and played in the NFL until 1984. Stabler threw for an even 150 touchdowns in Silver & Black, and won 76 games for the Raiders as a starting QB, including Super Bowl XI.
Derek Carr, Fresno State (2nd round, 36th overall, 2014)
Carr won the starting quarterback job during his first preseason, in 2014, and has not looked back. Although he is often criticized as the leader of a losing team — in five of his six seasons — he has started every game but two in those six years, and has rewritten the team record book in the process. In 2019, Carr set the team record for passing yardage, eventually opening up a lead of nearly 4,000 yards; he also holds Raiders records for attempts and completions, and is closing in on the TD mark. A late-season injury ruined an MVP-type season in 2016, the only time the Raiders have made the playoffs since 2002.
Marc Wilson, BYU (1st round, 15th overall, 1980)
Wilson, the first QB chosen in the first round by the Raiders since 1968, was never able to wrest the starting job away from Raider great Jim Plunkett, splitting time over the course of eight seasons in Silver & Black. Wilson did start 50 games for the team from 1980-87, and won 31 of them despite more career interceptions than touchdowns. He is sixth in team history in passing yards — just behind Plunkett.
The failed prospects
Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State (3rd round, 2011 Supplemental)
Pryor, chosen in the Supplemental Draft, famously became Al Davis’ last draft pick before the Raider owner’s death in October 2011. After a pair of seasons on the bench, he became the starter in 2013, highlighted by a team-record 93-yard TD run. However, he proved a better runner than passer, and was benched late in the year, then traded. He found himself a WR as his career continued elsewhere.
Andrew Walter, Arizona State (3rd round/A, 69th overall, 2005)
A third-round pick in 2005, Walter found himself thrust into the starting QB role during the disastrous 2006 season after veteran Aaron Brooks was hurt. He started eight games, but threw only three TDs to 13 INTs during the offensive debacle of a year, and was nailed to the bench when the Raiders chose JaMarcus Russell the next year, losing his “QB of the future” title and eventually his spot on the roster.
Marques Tuiasosopo, Washington (2nd round, 59th overall, 2001)
Tuiasosopo was one of the highest draft picks the Raiders ever spent on a quarterback, and was expected to eventually succeed veteran star Rich Gannon under offensive guru Jon Gruden (during his first stint with the team). But “Tui Time” never materialized, as injuries and ineffectiveness limited him to only two starts with the team and fewer than 100 passes in his eight-year career.
Billy Joe Hobert, Washington (3rd round/A, 58th overall, 1993)
Hobert, a controversial college star, never found success with the Raiders, managing only five starts over four seasons with the team (all losses). He did spend several more years bouncing around the league, achieving notoriety after admitting he was unprepared to enter a game while with the Buffalo Bills.
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (4th round, 112th overall, 2013)
Wilson was once a touted prospect, but struggled from pretty much the moment the Raiders drafted him. Not only did he fail to win a wide-open starting job as a rookie, he didn’t even make the team.
JaMarcus Russell, LSU (1st round, 1st overall, 2007)
Russell, a huge, cannon-armed college star, was the Raiders’ reward for a disastrous 2-14 season in 2006 that saw them “win” the 1st pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Reports made clear a divide in thinking within the organization on Draft Day, and Russell went on to become one of the most infamous selections in NFL history. A holdout put him behind the eight ball as a rookie, and he never won over young head coach Lane Kiffin. Russell did start 15 games in 2008 (outlasting Kiffin) and nine more in 2009, but he barely completed 50% of his passes. He was cut before the 2010 season and never returned to the NFL.
Todd Marinovich, USC (1st round, 24th overall, 1991)
Marinovich was famed as “Robo QB,” groomed from birth by his father, ex-Raider Marv Marinovich, to be an NFL quarterback. The Raiders, who love a good legacy even more than the next team, chose the lefty 24th overall and gave him Stabler’s No. 12. He started the last game of 1991, then the playoff game the next week. But he struggled in 1992, and drug problems put a premature end to his career.
Jeb Blount (2nd round/B, 50th overall, 1976)
Blount is arguably one of the Raiders’ worst picks, never playing a snap for them despite his pedigree. He spent his rookie year on IR, then was cut. He did get a cameo with the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The career backups
Rusty Hilger, Oklahoma State (6th round, 143rd overall, 1985)
Hilger, who died of cancer at age 57 in December 2019, spent three seasons as the Raiders’ “quarterback of the future” in the mid-1980s, backing up Marc Wilson and Jim Plunkett. He got a handful of starts in 1987 as Plunkett missed the season due to injury, but was cut in 1988. He spent several more years in the league as a journeyman backup, even starting nine games for Detroit in 1988.
David Humm, Nebraska (5th round, 128th overall, 1975)
Humm spent seven seasons as a Raiders backup over two stints with the team, and was a member of two of the Raiders’ Super Bowl champions during his 10-year career. Although Humm never started a game for the Raiders, he was the regular holder on placekicks, getting into every game from 1976-79. Humm, who died in 2018 at age 65 after battling multiple sclerosis, was also a broadcaster for the team.
Mike Rae, USC (8th round, 205th overall, 1973)
Rae, who started his career in the Canadian Football League, spent two seasons with the Raiders as a backup alongside Humm, in 1976 and 1977, after finally signing with the team. He got into 17 games over the two seasons, starting — and winning — three, and also picking up a Super Bowl XI ring. He lasted in pro football until 1983, when he joined his third league, the United States Football League.
Ronald Curry, North Carolina (7th round, 235th overall, 2002)
One quarterback draftee who spent quite a bit of time in the Silver & Black never actually completed a pass for the Raiders. Curry, a two-sport high school legend, moved to receiver as a rookie and, despite an injury-prone career, caught 193 passes for the Raiders — some of the highlight variety — over seven seasons. He did get four chances to throw the ball in Silver & Black, but went 0-for-4 with a pick.
The missed opportunity
Steve Beuerlein, Notre Dame (4th round, 110th overall, 1987)
Beuerlein spent four years with the Raiders, but only played in two; after two seasons splitting time with Jay Schroeder, he was infamously benched in 1990 after a training camp holdout angered Al Davis. Beuerlein threw 21 TDs in 20 games in Silver & Black … then went on to play 13 more seasons in the NFL.
Connor Cook, Michigan State (4th round, 100th overall, 2016)
Cook became the first QB in the modern NFL to make his first career start in a playoff game, after Carr and backup Matt McGloin were hurt late in his rookie season. But the loss was Cook’s only start for the Raiders, as he lasted just one more season — again as a third-stringer.
Eldridge Dickey, Tennessee State (1st round, 25th overall, 1968)
Dickey was the first African American quarterback chosen in the first round of the draft when the Raiders picked him in 1968, but (like Curry 24 years later) he was moved to receiver as a rookie, and never threw a pass for the team during his four-year career. (He caught only five.) Dickey died in 2000.
The stars weren’t aligned
Craig Morton, California (10th round, 75th overall, 1965), and Roman Gabriel, North Carolina State (1st round, 1st overall, 1962)
Both Morton and Gabriel — the first pick in the 1962 AFL Draft — were chosen in the days when there were two rival professional football leagues, and both picked the NFL over the AFL Raiders. While they went on to long and prominent careers in the NFL, neither ever suited up for the Silver & Black.
Major Harris, West Virginia (12th round/A, 317th overall, 1990)
Harris, a scrambling college star who led West Virginia to the national championship game in 1988 (a loss to Notre Dame), opted to sign with the CFL instead of the Raiders, and never played in the NFL.
And the footnotes
Jeff Francis, Tennessee (6th round/A, 140th overall, 1990)
Francis spent his rookie year on what was then called the Developmental Squad, and, after the Raiders cut him without ever playing a game, spent a few years with the Cleveland Browns in a reserve role.
In addition, the Raiders, like many teams, have chosen several QBs in the late rounds who never saw the field, and basically disappeared into football history. Among the higher picks of the 21 players who fall into this category were a fifth-rounder, Dick Norman, who had a cup of coffee in the NFL, and a sixth-rounder, Rick Egloff, who had one in the CFL.
After Further Review …
If track record means anything, and if the Raiders are, in fact, looking for a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft, they should probably take one in the second round, not the first … and certainly not the third or fourth. In the team’s 60-year history, it has chosen five QBs in the first round, four in the second, three in the third and three in the fourth, and the results are not particularly pretty.
(Among those taken after the fourth round, only Hilger and Rae started so much as a single game at quarterback for the Silver & Black.)
Of the first-rounders — Gabriel, Dickey, Marinovich, Wilson and Russell — only Marc Wilson could even remotely be termed a success with the Raiders, and he spent most of his career with the words “much-maligned” before his name.
Among third- and fourth-rounders — Hobert, Walter, Pryor; and Beuerlein, Wilson and Cook — while most got at least a handful of starts, only Beuerlein put together much of a quarterbacking career, and that was primarily with other teams.
But among the second-round picks, while Tuiasosopo achieved little in Silver & Black, and Blount even less, Stabler and Carr are head and (throwing) shoulders above any other quarterbacks the team has ever drafted.
And — depending on how you judge them — it could be argued that the Hall of Famer and team record-setter are head and shoulders above any other Raiders quarterbacks, period.
(Editor’s Note: As we work to reboot and redesign the Raiders Research Project for 2020, early-year content may not reflect the final plans for the site in terms of both functionality and content. Please bear with us. ~ Ace)
Sources: Raiders publications; Raiders.com, Pro-Football-Reference.com, Wikipedia.org.
All photos (except as noted) by Bob Carr Photography; used with permission.