How Austin Carr Could Be The Next Slot Receiver For The #Patriots

Odds are if you aren’t a fan of Big Ten football you haven’t heard of former Northwestern, now Patriot Austin Car. Who was signed by the Pats as an undrafted free agent after the 2017 draft.

Carr, the Big Ten Receiver of the Year in 2016, hauled in 90 passes for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns last season for the ‘Cats. He was also the highest graded wide receiver in the nation by Pro Football Focus.

So why did such a highly productive receiver go undrafted?

The knock on Carr is that, despite tremendous production in college, he may not have the elite level athleticism necessary to get open against NFL defensive backs. Those concerns coming after catching 90 passes in 13 games and posting a 6.72 3-cone (would have ranked 5th at NFL Combine) and an acceptable 4.54 40-yard dash at his March pro day.

To put that in perspective, Julian Edelman ran a stellar 6.62 3-cone and a 4.52 40-yard dash at his 2009 Pro Day. Fellow slot receiver Danny Amendola came in at 6.81 and 4.58.

Nobody is putting Carr on the level of Amendola or especially Edelman, but both are set to be free agents in 2018 and are getting up there in age. That makes the signing of Carr notable given the similarities between the three players.

Carr not only fits the Pats mold for an ideal fit in the slot, but also showed in college that he can do many of the things that would be asked of him in that role in New England.

Here are a series of examples of why Austin Carr has a real shot at making the 53-man roster.

Working Out Of The Slot

Here’s Carr running an out from the slot to pick up a first down on third down. This concept is more or less the same concept that the Patriots ran to Danny Amendola on 4th and 2 in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI. Notice Carr’s understanding of leverage jumping outside the defensive back almost right away. He also gets plenty of separation at the top of the route to make this an easy completion.

Last October Austin Carr put on a show against the Ohio State Buckeyes ending the day with 8 catches for 158 yards. That’s coming against a secondary that saw three defensive backs go in the first round this year. Very similar play to the first one, but this time Carr doesn’t get great separation. One way he makes up for it is by making outstanding catches like this or contested catches against good coverage.

This is one of the more filthy plays you can find from Carr’s 2016 season. Here’s where the tape backs up some of the agility times that Carr posted at his Pro Day. That’s a ridiculous cut and setup on the inside slant. Another added bonus you’ll continue to see is that he’s also good after the catch. You can already see Carr catching this pass for the Pats.

Bunch Formations

One way to beat man coverage is to bunch receivers together, and both Northwestern and the Patriots do that with regularity. Carr manned the inside position as you’d expect, and got open in many different ways out of similar formations.

Most of Carr’s biggest plays come out of bunch formations on deep crossers, a classic man beater. The route allows a speedy receiver like Carr to run at top speed across the middle with his man likely navigating traffic. Carr reaches top speed at ease consistently and has a knack for getting open in the intermediate part of the field. He also breaks a pretty legit tackle attempt and nearly scores on the play.

If once wasn’t enough Carr got Ohio State on the same exact play twice. This time you can see that top gear as he runs right by the defender.

Another fit in the Patriots offense for Carr is the screen pass. Northwestern threw him screens out of bunch formations regularly, something the Patriots also do. Carr sets up his blocks well and again creates yards after the catch.

On top of the acceleration and quickness is a football player with a high football IQ. To put it simply, Carr just understands how to get open, and consistently finds the holes in zone coverage. Carr can run comeback/stop routes like this out of the slot with ease, take the punishment over the middle, and create a few extra yards.

Red Zone/Touchdown Machine

Carr’s 12 scores accounted for 54.5% of Northwestern’s touchdowns through the air in 2016. He’s a mismatch in the red zone and can also come down with some impressive catches.

A handful of Carr’s touchdown receptions came on routes like this. Northwestern clears the back of the end zone for Carr coming from the slot, and it’s just a race to the sideline that Carr wins easily. Again it appears that Carr has him beat with outside leverage from the snap.

This was one of the better plays of the college football season. Great escape by the QB, but there’s Carr somehow keeping his feet in while also holding onto the football. Again, he finds ways to get open and make plays.

This play looks like its straight out of the Patriots playbook with Carr splitting the safeties for the touchdown. Carr might not be a deep threat but his acceleration and effort gets the job done consistently.

It’s going to be difficult for Carr to crack the Patriots 53-man roster. For the 2017 season the Pats have Edelman and Amendola as roster locks. Amendola could be a potential cut, but was guaranteed a large portion of his 2017 salary at signing, making it unlikely. With five wide receivers locked in (Cooks, Edelman, Hogan, Mitchell, Amendola), plus special teamer Matthew Slater, it may be a numbers game for Carr.

Carr also needs to clean up his footwork at the top of routes to create more separation with sharp, angular cuts. That’s something that could develop over time. However, what might hurt his chances the most is that he doesn’t appear to have any experience as a kick or punt returner.

With that being said, at the very least, barring a terrible preseason, one would expect the Pats to try to sneak Carr onto the practice squad.

Based on his 2016 season at Northwestern he has the opportunity and the ability to become the heir apparent to the Patriots heralded slot receiver role.