AJ McCarron Is a Starting-Caliber NFL QB Regardless of When He's Drafted

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterApril 6, 2014

AJ McCarron throws a pass in front of NFL scouts during Pro Day at the University of Alabama on Wednesday, Mar. 12, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill

Sometimes looking at a player without attaching a name can offer clarity. So let’s examine this quarterback’s stats and determine where he should be drafted.

This mystery quarterback played in the Southeastern Conference against the toughest competition in college football. He threw for 9,019 yards in 40 career starts and 48 passing attempts worth of fill-in work as a redshirt freshman. His career completion percentage was 66.9 percent, and he threw 77 touchdown passes against only 15 interceptions.

Oh yeah, dude has three BCS National Championship rings, two SEC Championship rings, and he went 36-4 as a starter.

Yes, it’s obvious I’m talking about former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. Surely with that kind of resume he’s a projected first-round pick, right?

Not so fast.

As of an April 4 draft update, CBS Sports has McCarron ranked seventh among quarterbacks in the draft, sandwiched in between LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Georgia’s Aaron Murray. Under projected round, CBS Sports has “3-4.”

McCarron has more championship bling than any quarterback in this draft, and his track record as a winner is second to none. Sure McCarron is a “game manager” from a program where he wasn’t asked to do more, but how can a guy with his track record not be a first-round pick?

McCarron being selected on May 8, the first day of the draft, just isn’t going to happen. Detractors for McCarron point to a less-than-NFL-caliber arm and a lack of athleticism. Heck, he may not even go on Day 2 of the draft, a day that includes the second and third rounds.

If McCarron is sitting around on the final day of the draft, waiting to find out which NFL team is going to give him a shot, chalk Alabama head coach Nick Saban up as one person who thinks teams will be sorry they passed.

"I think anybody that doesn't take AJ in one of those earlier rounds is going to make a huge mistake, because I think he's going to be a very, very good player," Saban told Michele Steel of ESPN, as reported by ProFootballTalk. "First of all, he has all the athletic talent to make all the throws that he needs to make at the next level...Guys who can make quick decisions, process the information and throw the ball accurately are the guys that usually end up being pretty good NFL quarterbacks."

McCarron stood up for himself at Alabama’s pro day, according to Jonathan Biles of Comcast Sports Southeast. The quarterback wanted to dispel myths about his arm strength and thought his performance, where he threw deep frequently during his time in the spotlight “should silence all that.”

He was also asked if he was the best quarterback in the draft. McCarron responded affirmatively.

The rest of those guys feel like they're the best. It's a mindset you have to carry in yourself. I feel like my play speaks for itself over the three years I started in the SEC. I definitely do.

So McCarron thinks he’s the best quarterback in the draft (come on, what was he supposed to say?), and his former coach warned NFL teams not to pass him up in the early rounds. While all that’s just going to be noise to NFL teams, how much of it is based in truth?

What kind of situation will be best for McCarron in the NFL?

First and foremost, McCarron is going to have to shed the notion that he only piled up gobs and gobs of success at Alabama because of the inordinate amount of talent around him. He’s also going to have to battle naysayers who believe he’s just the product of what Saban calls his Process, a step-by-step guide to success that obviously works well.

Would it be nice if McCarron were able to eventually put the label of “game manager” behind him? Yes, for sure. But that’s not necessary, not in the beginning. Especially since Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is working hard to shed the negative connotation of “game manager.”

"Eventually" is the operative term, however. McCarron is going to have his success in the NFL: He’s smart, knows his strengths and weaknesses and plays well to the former. His timing is superb and he’s a dazzling tactician. But a little time carrying a clipboard on Sunday might go a long way toward McCarron’s overall development.

Where McCarron lands might be just as important. Bleacher Report’s Matt Bowen believes a West Coast offense would be a good landing spot for McCarron.

With McCarron, I look at the West Coast route tree/concepts you would find in Andy Reid or Marc Trestman's playbooks. Think of the three-step concepts, the intermediate 12- to 15-yard inside-breaking routes (with the ball thrown between the numbers and the hash), plus the deep shots off play action.

The first NFL location with a West Coast offense that popped into my head was the Green Bay Packers, and that scenario fits well with my earlier belief that McCarron needs time as a backup.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is 30 years old and definitely an elite quarterback in the NFL. He benefited from time as a backup when Brett Favre was still the man in Green Bay. It seems like McCarron could use that same path to becoming a starting quarterback, because Rodgers seems to have perfected it.

Rodgers may or may not be ready to hand over his starting job to McCarron in three to four years, but the important thing is that McCarron uses his time behind Rodgers wisely. McCarron can easily be a starting-caliber NFL quarterback, whether he does it with the team that eventually drafts him or once his rookie contract expires, is irrelevant.

There’s nothing wrong to starting an NFL career as a backup. Look at today’s elite in the league. Outside of Peyton Manning, who started from Day 1 with the Indianapolis Colts, Rodgers was a backup, as was Tom Brady and Drew Brees before they got their shot.

McCarron will one day get his shot in the NFL too. And he’s without a doubt talented enough to shine as an NFL starter.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.