The New Orleans Saints have had an influx of popular new players recently, as names of young superstars such as Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara, Defensive Rookie of the Year cornerback Marshon Lattimore, and wide receiver Michael Thomas have become a part of the team.
But then there are the players who might not be considered as talented but whom remain nearly as popular among fans because of their grit, determination, dedication, and in some cases, blue-collar efforts to crack an NFL roster. One such player who fits that description accurately is 2nd year undrafted free agent wide receiver Austin Carr.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Carr entered the league just a little over a year ago in May of 2017; after he signed as an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots out of Northwestern University (located in suburban Chicago) — where he made the team as a former "walk-on" before finishing his college career with 1,649 yards and 14 touchdowns on 113 catches.
But to say that he was a "late bloomer", would be a huge understatement.
That's because 90 of his 113 career receptions for the Wildcats came during his final season, along with 1247 of his 1649 yards and 12 of his 14 touchdowns.
In his senior year during that 2016 season, Carr had between five and 12 receptions in 12 of his 13 games. He eclipsed 100 yards receiving six times.
Carr was eventually named a 1st Team All-Big Ten selection after leading the conference in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. He was also named a 2nd team All-American by both USA Today and Sports Illustrated, and was a 2016 Biletnikoff Award Finalist for the nation's best wide receiver.
This included an 11 catch, 130 yard and 2 TD performance against Michigan State; and a 12 catch, 132 yard and a TD performance against Wisconsin.
At one particular stage during that 2016 season, Carr scored a TD in 6 consecutive games, scoring 9 different times in that span.
And perhaps coincidentally: he suddenly became very popular among Wildcat football fans, for both his play and especially because of all the fun that could be had with saying his last name.
Baby you can drive my car
Yes I'm gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I'll love you
Beep-beep, beep-beep yeah
The Beatles, 1965
Unfortunately for Carr, he ended up going undrafted.
But he fit the mold so to speak, of the favorite "type" of receivers that are normally employed within the offensive scheme of the New England Patriots (the small but quick slot WR who can move the chains on 3rd downs); who signed him following the 2017 NFL Draft's conclusion.
After successfully navigating his way through OTA's and Mini-Camp in the 2017 off-season, Carr reported to the Patriots training camp and hoped to impress their coaching staff by standing out in practice.
But it would be in the subsequent Pre-Season a few weeks later when he did exactly just that — as he turned heads after leading the Patriots in receiving with 153 yards and two touchdowns on 14 catches.
There was speculation among some in the Patriots media, that Carr would be one of the few UDFA's that the team would keep on their Final 53-man Roster; but New England head coach Bill Belichick surprised everyone by turning around and cutting Carr instead.
That's when Sean Payton and the Saints quickly "pounced" on Carr, particularly since the team thought he could become a safeguard for them at the slot receiver role — with then #3 wide receiver Willie Snead (who joined the Ravens this past off-season after the Saints declined to match Baltimore's offer sheet in free agency a few months ago) being suspended for the first 3 games of the 2017 regular season.
Payton told reporters in the Saints media the next day that the organization already knew exactly who Carr was, especially after those impressive Pre-Season numbers that he had.
"He put together a real good preseason, so he was just somebody that we had kind of kept our eye on," Payton said.
"You're kind of down at the end there and all of a sudden these roster moves are made and you're evaluating the tape and his was strong. I think there are a number of things he can do to help us."
Among those things were the versatility to either split wide outside, or play inside at the "slot" receiver position.
Carr then told reporters after his signing that he had lined up at the slot receiver position nearly 75 % of the time during his stint with the Patriots; and would be comfortable playing wherever the Saints needed him to.
However, he would end up only seeing the field last year after arriving in NOLA, for a grand total of three snaps.
Yep — 3 whole plays, for the entire 2017 season.
Carr ended up seeing action on special teams in two games, but was kept on the inactive Game Day list for the majority of the entire regular season (he was active for both the game in Week #4 over in London, England vs. the Miami Dolphins, and in the Divisional Playoff loss at Minnesota to the Vikings but didn't record any stats).
Now all these months later, Austin Carr and the rest of his Saints teammates are only 2 more weeks away from the start of their 2018 Training Camp; and clearly the 24-year old Benicia, California (located in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area) is going to be looking to make an impact once he gets there.
Canal Street Chronicles analyst / NFL Draft expert John Sigler believes that Carr can break out in Year #2 of his brief NFL career.
Sigler makes the observation that Carr's biggest impact as a player is winning on dig- and out-routes, and also stressing defenses close to the sideline, traits which are very similarly to the recently-departed Willie Snead.
Sigler notes that Carr’s Instagram posts recently have seemed to suggest that he's been working hard this off-season to refine his route-running and get more comfortable reeling in passes towards his back-shoulder; while adding that Carr will need those very same skills (and a keen sense of timing) to succeed as a viable option in the slot wide receiver role for Drew Brees.
And Sigler adds: Carr should be considered a serious candidate for the Saints’ #4 wide receiver spot.
But this season Carr's situation is actually more complicated than last year, given the Saints' recent moves this past off-season; and he will definitely have to STAND-OUT during the upcoming Pre-Season in the weeks ahead, to even make it as the team's #5 (and likely the very last) wide receiver on the Final 53-man roster.
The Saints already have one of the Leagues's best WR's in superstar Michael Thomas, to pair alongside still-speedy-and-productive 33-year old veteran in Ted Ginn Jr. The Saints then added former Chicago Bears restricted free agent Cameron Meredith in free agency when Chicago refused to match the Saints offer, and used a 3rd round draft pick to grab a potential star in Tre'quan Smith from Central Florida.
That makes 4 out of the likely 5 Saints wide receiver spots, right off the top.
Which means that Carr will have to "beat out" last year's #4 WR Brandon Coleman and #5 WR TommyLee Lewis, both of whom will be seeking to re-stake their own individual claims to a final roster spot this year just like the ones they had last year.
That's not even considering that he will also be getting even more competition from this off-season's brand new UDFA rookie Keith Kirkwood and last year's returning Practice Squad reserves Travin Dural and Josh Huff — all of whom figure to provide heavy competition for Carr as well — at a position that might have only 1 single active roster spot up for grabs.
Nevertheless, Carr will be hoping to emerge from the pack; although you'd have to believe that the odds are certainly stacked heavily against him at this point.
But given his break-out senior year in college just a few short years ago, you'd almost have to wonder if he isn't capable of having yet another similar type of "break out" performance at the professional level.
It certainly wouldn't hurt his chances, if he were able to pull it off.
In these next few weeks and months ahead, we'll find out if Austin Carr can utilize his notable grit, determination, dedication, and blue-collar effort, to crack the 2018 New Orleans Saints Final 53-man Roster.