When Austin Carr came to Northwestern, he was little more than a footnote on recruiting projections. Carr’s ascension from walk-on to Biletnikoff Award finalist has been well-documented, but now another challenge stands in his path: the NFL Draft. After a season in which he led the Big Ten in receptions, yards and touchdowns — the first two by wide margins — the Bencia, CA native was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. He participated in drills at the Northwestern pro day, but, in all likelihood, will have to sign as a UFA and compete to make the back end of a roster over the summer. Yet, if there’s one thing to be learned from Carr’s time at Northwestern, it’s that you can never count him out.
- Carr has excellent ball skills, and a big part of that is his strong hands. He has a knack for snatching the ball out of the air in traffic, even when he knows a big hit is coming. Very few catchable passes thrown Carr’s way end up on the ground. Part of his catching ability comes from the way he’s able to contort his body, whether its to tap his feet on the sidelines or dive for a low throw.
On the play below, Carr makes the grab with projected first-round pick Malik Hooker lurking just ahead. He then secures the ball with both hands before getting tackled.
All videos via ESPN through BTN2go
In the next clip, Carr out-leaps the corner to move the chains on third-and-long. On these types of plays, everyone in the stadium knew Carr was getting the ball, and he still made plays. He wasn’t just Clayton Thorson’s security blanket, he was a security double bed with an opulent canopy.
Here, Carr does nearly the same thing on another third-and-eight, though this time he expertly gets his foot down in bounds to keep the drive alive. It wouldn’t have been ruled a catch in the NFL, but it was still impressive nonetheless.
- Another area Carr excels is finding the gaps in a defense. Since he plays in the slot and mostly operates in the middle of the field, he does a lot of damage in the intermediate passing game.
On the play below, Carr darts across the middle of the field, getting into the gap behind the linebacker level, but still in front of the secondary, which is dropped deeper down the field. Plays like these were routine for Carr this past season.
- Coaches and GMs in the NFL love to talk about intangibles, and Carr is off the charts in that respect. His tireless work ethic is evident in the way he worked his way up from a walk-on to a No. 1 receiver, and Pat Fitzgerald often spoke about how hard Carr practiced at the end of the season, a time when players are often slowed due to the fatigue of the grind that is the Big Ten football season.
Similarly, Carr always seemed to make key plays in big moments. Take, for instance, this play in The Horseshoe when Northwestern was down by seven to the No. 6 team in the country with third-and-14 in Buckeye territory and five minutes to play. Carr beats his defender to the inside and comes up with a huge play to keep the drive alive.
- While Carr was incredibly productive in college, NFL evaluators will worry about his ability to get separation at the next level. Because he played in the slot, Carr didn’t typically match up with the other team’s best corners. In the Ohio State game this past October, for example, neither of the Buckeyes’ potential first-round cornerbacks — Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley — covered Carr. He will need to prove he can get past top defensive backs in any NFL camp he attends.
- There weren’t a whole lot of glaring flaws to Carr’s 2016 tape, but one was his big play production. Though he was a Biletnikoff finalist and Pro Football Focus deemed him to be the nation’s top receiver, he only had one catch go for over 40 yards all season. He wasn’t much of a vertical threat in college, so he probably won’t be in the pros either. His 40-yard dash time, which, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs, is between 4.61 and 4.63 seconds, isn’t ideal for a smaller receiver in the NFL and may give teams pause in the later rounds.
- Because of his lack of elite explosiveness and burst, Carr could struggle against press coverage against NFL-level corners. He wasn’t tested a whole lot against tight coverage at the line of scrimmage in his time at Northwestern, so it’s hard to say how it will affect him in the future. It would make sense, though, that chucking him early in his routes could throw off his ability to get into the sweet spot in the middle of the field he so regularly found himself in this past season.
Carr’s longest catch of the season came in game No. 3, when he Thorson found him wide open in the middle of the field for a 58-yard score. The legend of Austin Carr was just beginning.
Video below via BTN2go.com.
Who could forget Carr’s three-TD performance in Iowa City? On third-and-eight and trailing by seven, Thorson scrambled to his right, flung a pass to Carr, who then dove to make the catch while dragging his feet in bounds.
Video Below via ESPNU through BTN2go.com
The consensus among draft analysts is that Carr will go undrafted and sign with a team as a free agent. He is ranked as the 569th overall player and 68th best receiver in the draft by CBS Sports, and he is unranked by ESPN.
Carr has already proved doubters wrong once by rising to the top of the Big Ten in all statistical categories, and he’ll have to do the same in order to make an NFL roster and contribute. It could actually be better for Carr to go undrafted because he’ll then be able to have some choice of what team he goes to. Given how productive he was in 2016, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him make a team and possibly see some game action down the road. And who knows? Maybe he’ll even see his name called on Saturday.