Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has been labeled a game manager and a beneficiary of having a strong supporting cast during his decorated career in Tuscaloosa. Based on his rather gaudy 2014 NFL draft status, it appears he'll get a chance to prove his detractors wrong in a bid to become a franchise QB at the highest level.
The Cincinnati Bengals selected McCarron in the fifth round with the No. 164 overall pick, according to the team's official Twitter feed:
As a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide, McCarron has dealt with the scrutiny of being in the spotlight at a powerhouse program and the massive expectations that come with that. After he handled such a burden with so much success, there's reason to believe he has the mental toughness to thrive in the NFL.
Also working in McCarron's favor is that he ran a pro-style offense at Alabama, which featured a complex, downhill rushing attack and the need to go through progressions. He often took what defenses gave him, but he also showed the ability to make plays of his own.
Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller compares McCarron to current Oakland Raiders QB Matt Schaub, who (outside of last season) has enjoyed a generally productive career and led the league in passing in 2009:
McCarron flew somewhat under the radar amid the predraft process and was overlooked, categorized as a second-tier prospect and not on the level of the likes of Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or even Derek Carr.
ESPN's Numbers Never Lie pointed to an impressive statistic that compares McCarron favorably with the more highly praised signal-callers in the 2014 class:
Neither Bortles nor Bridgewater has eye-popping arm talent, which is probably the biggest knock on McCarron in terms of how he'll make the adjustment to the pros. Other than perhaps Brigewater, though, McCarron has the best grasp of complex schematics that will be applicable in the NFL.
All McCarron seemed to do at Alabama was win. Although he failed to secure a third straight national title as a senior, he still threw for a career-best 3,063 yards and completed 67.3 percent of his passes with 28 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. He was the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting, too.
Being more of a cerebral QB and a flat-out winner, as evidenced by his two national championships and .900 winning percentage (36-4 record as starter) with the Tide, bodes well for McCarron's future. Since he'll likely sit and learn behind Andy Dalton, there is no pressure on McCarron to be the long-term answer from Week 1 in 2014.
Even though he's as pro-ready as any incoming rookie quarterback, it has to help that he can ease into an eventual starting role and focus on what's ahead of him. Without having to worry about being the new face of a franchise just yet, McCarron will compete and be a very capable backup before he eventually takes the reins under center.
Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com talked a bit about Hue Jackson's thoughts on any potential quarterback controversy:
It will be fascinating to see how McCarron fares as an NFL player and whether the concerns about his natural talent as a passer and "game manager" label will ultimately be his downfall. If his collegiate production is any indication, don't count on him to fade quietly now that an organization has invested a rather high draft choice in him.