A.J. McCarron will be an intriguing player to break down this upcoming season. NFL scouts will have the difficult task of answering the question that haunts college players at various positions.
How does he fit at the next level? Is McCarron a product of the Alabama system, or can he really emerge and become a franchise quarterback?
The big question that will be mentioned more than the others happen to be: Is he a "game manager" or a quarterback who doesn't make mistakes and has a knack of winning games?
The truth is that we won't know until the season begins and everybody gets one final look at him.
Starting for the Tide the last two seasons, McCarron has come a long way. Improving his completion percentage to 67.2 and throwing for 30 touchdowns last season, it was clear that he was the X-factor to last year's championship run. Making the throws when needed and keeping the defense honest, McCarron soon began to enter Heisman conversations.
But the same reason McCarron wasn't seriously considered for the award is the same reason many scouts don't know how to grade him. He hasn't been asked to do much from the Alabama coaching staff. Sure, throwing for close to 6,000 yards and 46 touchdowns in two seasons is nothing to sneeze at, but this has always been a run-first offense.
Lined up with NFL offensive linemen and a loaded backfield, running the ball is the bread and butter of this unit. McCarron is the appetizer while the physical running game is the main entree and the formula that makes things go. It may be cliché, but McCarron is asked to manage the game and kind of take a backseat. In a way, he is a "game manager."
His 314 pass attempts was good for ninth among SEC quarterbacks, but it was the drop-off in the second half of games that really shows how much the offense relies on its running game. McCarron threw the pigskin 215 times in the first half but couldn't even clip 100 once the second half started.
A lot of this has to do with the overwhelming lead the Tide carried coming out of halftime, as they won 11 of 14 games by double digits. However, Nick Saban's game plan has always been to wear the team down in the second half and secure the victory the old-fashioned way. The lack of aggressive play-calling has really made it hard to judge exactly where McCarron fits on NFL draft boards.
My colleague Matt Miller broke down the Alabama quarterback last November and was having the same issues.
McCarron is a flawless quarterback when it comes to mechanics, but rarely is he asked to put the team on his back and make plays. Thanks to an amazing offensive line, two game-breaking running backs and a stout defense, McCarron has to do little more than manage the game for the Crimson Tide.
Does that make him a bad quarterback? Not at all, but it does make him a tough quarterback to evaluate based on performance.
Even with months to think about where he could end up or how he translates to the NFL level, his opinion remained the same on his early 2014 NFL draft big board.
McCarron is accurate with the football, makes great decisions and has shown that he can push the ball downfield when given the opportunity. What you have yet to see from McCarron is how well he handles pressure, as the offensive line usually keeps his uniform clean. You don't know how he handles adversity because more times than not his team is winning. Then there is the fact he hasn't proven he can take over a game because he simply doesn't have to with the team he's on.
Is McCarron an NFL-caliber QB?
All of those questions add up to the one big question NFL scouts will be asking all year: Where does McCarron stack up?
Next year's draft will include a bunch of talented quarterbacks such as Aaron Murray, Teddy Bridgewater (if he leaves early), Tajh Boyd, David Fales and Keith Price.
Then there are the wild cards in Logan Thomas and Zach Mettenberger, two quarterbacks capable of climbing up big boards if they can iron out a few wrinkles. Regardless of what your opinion is on any of those guys, you have a much better idea of what their game is about.
Fales is an extremely accurate passer who will become more of a household name with a second season at San Jose State. Murray has great pocket presence and enough arm strength to be given a look early on. Boyd is that dual-threat quarterback who may be given the same treatment as an E.J. Manuel later in the year, while Thomas is that prototypical NFL quarterback with his athleticism and size. Bridgewater is also a quarterback many are falling in love with as his career continues to unfold.
Thoughts on all of those signal-callers are subject to change once the season is underway, but you at least know what all of those guys can do. A lot of this has to do with them being the face of the offense and asked to carry the team. McCarron has made his mark in Alabama history, but nobody is quite sure if his future is brighter than the Alabama quarterbacks who came before him.
Would McCarron be as successful if his offensive line wasn't stockpiled with next-level players? What if the running game wasn't as effective as it is? How would he fair if he was asked to make the majority of the plays on offense?
All of these questions must be answered at some point for McCarron to solidify his spot on NFL big boards.
Until then, it is a mystery to us all when it comes to the Alabama quarterback.