During Sean Payton’s tenure, the Saints have experienced plenty of success from their slot receivers. At first, it was Lance Moore breaking the thousand yard barrier. His successor, Willie Snead, looked like one of the best slot receivers in the league for two years. But in 2019, Saints slot numbers have diminished to all but nothing and majority of the fans would’ve gladly shot Austin Carr down to the waiver realm. However, he is one of the most criminally underrated players on this team.
There is a perception that stats do not lie. That at times, they tell the truth. In the era of addictive fantasy football and omnipresent analytics in the mold of PPF or NGS, stats and analytics can even help make sense of the game. Of course, there are immeasurable positions, but when you discuss the wide receiver position, raw statistics often may serve as a whole resumé of a certain player. And the raw statistics of Austin Carr are atrocious. There are no yards. There are no touchdowns. In 2019, there is one single catch for nine yards and just a mere four targets in five games.
In fact, Carr making the roster during cut day was not necessarily lauded by fans. Carr didn’t have as flashy camp as Emmanuel Butler had and was outshined during preseason by Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Saints fans wanted the rookies, not the young veteran, despite high praise coming from the organization and Drew Brees himself. For a fanbase spoiled by eye-popping numbers of Moore and Snead, his 9 catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns in 2018 were nothing short of derogatory. Even though the offensive scenery has changed and the gameplan is strictly focused on getting ball to Michael Thomas or Alvin Kamara, Austin’s numbers were just not impressive.
This year, is an even worse story for Carr. As Saints offense thirsts for any tangible help at skill positions, being ravaged by injuries, there is no production from anybody but #13 or occasional Ted Ginn resurrections. With Keith Kirkwood on the IR and Tre’Quan Smith struggling with injuries, Carr’s playing time arose to over 40% of the snaps, including the heavy packages. With that many snaps, it would be reasonable to expect at least miniscule production. Without raw numbers, it’s easy to jump onto myopic conclusions that Austin Carr is a bad player. The reality is completely opposite.
The Saints’ win at Chicago was a perfect instance how contradictory the perception of Carr’s presence is. The stat sheet, to no surprise, shows zeros on two targets. Yet, the tape from this game shows an intelligent player, who repeatedly created separation or held solid blocks to create openings in the running game. He was just ignored by Teddy Bridgewater, who play after play opted for Michael Thomas. And his one drop, for which the whole fanbase wanted him gone, was solely on Teddy. There is, however, no fault on Bridgewater on that matter. Their chemistry is just far worse than the one with Thomas and it’s not surprising Teddy prefers to get ball in his hands. It doesn’t take away though how consistent Carr was this game, creating plenty of opportunities. Stats won’t show it.
The progress that Carr has made during the off-season is visible on tape, especially in terms of route running and getting open. It’s clear that Carr has an understanding of coverage and knows how to navigate through assignments. This particular improvment landed Austin the praise of Drew Brees himself, underlining his natural instinct and feel for the game. Drew has also said that “there are a lot of subtle things he does well.” And that’s the reason why Carr sees the field in such an extent – he’s a gritty team player, who isn’t afraid of physical play. It’s often Carr who sets the blocks in the running or short passing game, setting up others for success. He’s bigger than Moore and Snead were and the coaches are using it to their advantage. Thanks to his intangibles, Carr is much more valuable than perceived.
At the end of the day, Austin still needs to produce. His lack of chemistry with Teddy Bridgewater was irritating, especially in terms of timing. The return of Drew Brees may provide Carr with a better chance to leave his mark on the stat sheet. Drew does not put his faith in every single wide receiver he plays with and compared to Teddy, he isn’t afraid to share the ball with the ones he trusts. Of course, a line has to be drawn. The return of Drew won’t change Carr into statistical monster, but he may finally go off. He worked over two years in New Orleans to gain the trust of Drew and now he finally gets his chance. Austin Carr won’t be an elating player by any means, but he may be as invaluable a player as Lance Moore or Willie Snead were in New Orleans. Just see the bigger picture.