Derek Carr, Davante Adams reviving their Fresno State magic key to turning around Raiders season

The Oakland Raiders made a splash in the offseason by agreeing to a deal with the Green Bay Packers in exchange for All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams, who promptly signed a five-year, $140 million deal with his new team. But despite compiling respectable stats through the team’s first four games, the on-field results have yet to amount to much more than a ripple.

The NFL is a copycat league. There’s evidence of this every season, from the “know someone who knows someone who grabbed a coffee with Sean McVay once” hiring spree from a couple of offseasons ago to the most recent trend spurred on by the success of the Cincinnati Bengals, where a franchise quarterback (Joe Burrow) is paired with his favorite college wide receiver (Ja’Marr Chase). The Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles (Jalen Hurts-Devonta Smith) and Miami Dolphins (Tua Tagovailoa-Jaylen Waddle) all posted winning records a season ago as they paired their young quarterback with a familiar target. This offseason, the Raiders were joined by the Cardinals — who brought in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to pair with former college teammate Kyler Murray — as the next teams to hop on the trend.

Of the five duos, Adams and quarterback Derek Carr spent the longest gap between time as teammates in college and the pros, and it’s shown up in the game results and on the stat sheet.

Checking their numbers together at Fresno State, it’s not a stretch to suggest the Raiders (and Carr and Adams) had higher expectations than what the results have shown during the team’s 1-3 start.

While at Fresno State, the duo was responsible for 29% of Carr’s completions, 33% of his passing yards and 44% of his touchdowns thrown. And most importantly, the Carr-Adams ticket resulted in wins. The Fresno State Bulldogs went 20-6 in their two seasons together, including an 11-2 record in 2013 that was the program’s best since 1989.  

Carr averaged 353.3 yards per game through the air at Fresno State when he had Adams to throw to. This season, the Raiders are averaging just 243.3 yards per game passing. Carr’s passer rating of 83.2 is his worst since his rookie season and just four points above average. Adams, meanwhile, does have 290 receiving yards and is on pace for over 1,200 yards, but it’s a testament to how good he’s been the past few seasons that his 2022 numbers aren’t living up to his standard.

The most frustrating aspect of their performance so far has been that it hasn’t come from a lack of opportunities. Per Pro Football Focus, his current rate of 10.8 targets per game would equal roughly 183 targets over the course of a full season, six more than he had a season ago with the Green Bay Packers.

Per PFF, Adams’ reception rate of 60.5% is his lowest since 2015, his second year in the league when he was still gaining the trust of Aaron Rogers. And the Carr-Adams duo has yet to connect on a pass with a depth of 20 yards or more this season, with Carr going 0-6 with an interception on such attempts. From 20192021 with the Packers, Adams caught just under half (47.9%) of the deep balls thrown his way. According to PFF’s grades, Adams scored a 99.9 on such throws in 2020 and 2021 while posting a grade of only 56.3 this season.

Luckily for the Raiders, the two had their most efficient game this past Sunday, with Adams hauling in nine of his 13 targets for 102 yards. It was his second 100-yard game with the Raiders following the season opener and arrived after performances in Weeks 3 and 4 in which he combined for a total of 48 receiving yards.

The Raiders will need more consistency from the duo — and some of that spark from those Fresno State Bulldogs days — going forward if they want to dig themselves out of this 1-3 hole. And if they want to keep up with the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes on Monday night, they will need Carr and Adams to connect on those deep routes that have eluded them so far this season.

Through four weeks, the Raiders passing offense hasn’t taken off as the team would have liked. If the team is to get back on track and return to the postseason, it will be due to Carr and Adams getting on the same page.

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