Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was walking through training camp when he saw linebacker Khalil Mack speaking with a group of reporters. Unable to help himself, Carr shouted “Franchise!” as he walked by. Carr was hinting at the fact that contrary to how it normally goes in the NFL, the quarterback is not the franchise guy in Oakland, it’s Mack, the guy who cracked the NFL top 100 in his rookie year. And Mack is far from done. Despite a very good rookie season, most believe he has only begun to scratch the surface of his talent.
For Carr, there couldn’t be a more perfect situation. He’s entering his second season in the league and yes, there is clearly a lot of focus being placed on him. But not in the way most young quarterbacks who are expected to save a franchise feel pressure. Why? Because of Mack. That’s the benefit of being a second round pick when the first round pick is a guy like Mack — he’s the one shouldering most of the draft-based expectations.
Success this season depends almost as much on Mack as it does on Carr. After he impressed so much in his rookie year, general manager Reggie McKenzie showed immense faith in what Mack can do in year two. During the offseason, McKenzie chose to build more around Carr than Mack. There was a clear need for help at cornerback and in the pass rush. McKenzie neglected both, due in part to his confidence in Mack. After only tallying four sacks in his rookie season, the Raiders expect that number to skyrocket in 2015. They also assume that his increased sack numbers will help the young secondary stay afloat.
If the Raiders didn’t have Mack, they probably could not have afforded to go out and get nearly as much help for Carr. Thanks to Mack, the Raiders felt confident enough in the defense to add Rodney Hudson, Roy Helu, Jr., Clive Walford, Michael Crabtree, Lee Smith and Amari Cooper, all guys who should make Carr’s life easier.
In reality, the future of the franchise rests more on the shoulders of Carr than Mack. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league and it’s nearly impossible to win without a very good signal caller. But as long as they are both in Oakland, Carr won’t feel nearly as much weight on his shoulders because Mack will need to carry a good amount of that pressure as the top five pick from that draft class.