Alabama Football: Why AJ McCarron Is 2014 NFL Draft's Most Intriguing Prospect

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Alabama Football: Why AJ McCarron Is 2014 NFL Draft's Most Intriguing Prospect
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Upon first glance at AJ McCarron’s Twitter bio, it’s hard not to notice one phrase he’s coined into a hashtag: #pissedoffforgreatness.

After all, the slogan aptly describes his football career up to this point and simultaneously provides a summation of his attitude toward critics who dismiss his potential as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

But can he find the same type of success he had in college, where he piled up a 36-4 record as the Tide’s starter and two national titles, in the NFL? That question is part of what makes him the most polarizing player heading into next week’s NFL draft.

Phil Savage, who serves as the radio analyst for Alabama football and doubles as the executive director of the Senior Bowl, had a front-row seat to watch McCarron over the course of his college career.

While he feels the best-case NFL scenario for McCarron—who redshirted in his first year in college and was a backup his second year before ultimately starting in his third season—is to sit and learn for at least a year before challenging for a starting job, Savage cited McCarron’s performances in the two BCS title games as evidence of his capability to shine on the biggest of stages.

“If you really watch Alabama’s games, when the chips were down, he seemed to rise up and make more plays than what he’s probably been given credit for,” Savage said.

There’s two vastly different viewpoints on the former Alabama star quarterback’s potential at the next level.

Either he’s an incredibly underrated passer who is a sound decision-maker that can make all of the throws and possesses elite intangible qualities, or he’s Nick Saban’s caretaker on a team loaded with NFL talent surrounding him.

For fans and draft experts alike, there’s simply no in-between.

Hence the ensuing banter after McCarron recently stated that NFL teams have told him he has a chance to be a first-round selection, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. That nugget counters the opinion on his stock from outlets such as CBS Sports, which has McCarron projected as a fourth-rounder.

Savage said the mixed opinions on McCarron’s pro prospects likely extend to all of the front offices around the NFL.

“I’ve been saying this on the Crimson Tide Sports Network for over a year, that if all 32 NFL teams submitted a grade on AJ McCarron, it would look like a bell curve,” Savage said. “You would have maybe one or two teams that would have him in the first round. You would have maybe one or two teams that have him in the sixth round. The vast majority of the teams I’ve spoken to have him somewhere between the second and fourth round.”

Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports, who also spent time in the NFL as a coach and as an executive, feels McCarron’s strengths make him an attractive option for teams in the market for a franchise quarterback.

McCarron is better than a game manager, as he is often described. ... He throws a catchable ball and reminded me a bit of a Brad Johnson or Matt Schaub with his style. He does some of the subtle things like looking off safeties and lets coverage dictate where to go with the ball. He could run a traditional NFL offense and I don't think it's fair to group him with former Alabama quarterbacks Greg McElroy or John Parker Wilson.

In a quarterback class where none of the top passers—players such as Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater, all of whom have consistently been rated higher than McCarron—have separated themselves, McCarron’s resume and skill set should take a backseat to no one.

As an added bonus, his ability to handle the pressure at a football-crazed school such as Alabama and playing for a coach such as Saban is the closest simulation a college quarterback can get to being the face of an NFL franchise.

How AJ McCarron Stacks up to Other Top QBs In 2014 draft class
Player Starts Career Completion % Career Multi-Int Games Career TD/INT
Blake Bortles 27 66% 5 56/19
Teddy Bridgewater 37 68% 3 72/24
Johnny Manziel 25 69% 6 63/22
AJ McCarron 40 66% 4 77/15

data courtesy cfbstats.com

Saban, via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, is on record warning NFL teams about passing up his former star passer in the draft. 

I think anybody that doesn’t take A.J. 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. 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.

Great quarterbacks often have a characteristic that separates them from their peers, and perhaps McCarron’s best attribute is the anger and determination he brings to the field.

Every touchdown pass and every victory he’s ever led his team to is the sweetest revenge to his naysayers.

Could the same fate await the teams who pass on him in the draft?

Maybe. Maybe not.

One thing that is certain is that McCarron has made a habit of achieving great feats on the gridiron in the face of doubters and adversity.

In other words, being “pissed off for greatness” has prepared him for the journey of finding success in the NFL.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. 

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