How A.J. McCarron Fits with Cincinnati Bengals

Cian FaheyFeatured ColumnistMay 10, 2014

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  AJ McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks off the field after the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Sooners defeated the Crimson Tide 45-31.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The University of Alabama hasn't been a productive well for NFL teams in search of quarterbacks in recent seasons.

A.J. McCarron becomes the next player who excelled under Nick Saban in college to attempt to turn that trend around. The Cincinnati Bengals selected McCarron in the fifth round with the 164th overall selection of the draft.

Statistically, McCarron was a great college quarterback. He finished his college career with 66 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 9,019 yards over four years. As part of a run-heavy offense, he averaged 9.6 yards per attempt.

The 23-year-old isn't too dissimilar to former Alabama quarterback prospect Greg McElroy, who is already out of the league, but he does have a stronger arm and a bigger frame that gives him a chance to outplay his draft spot.

Outplaying your draft spot and challenging Andy Dalton for his starting job are two completely different things.

This draft should serve as a strong vote of confidence for Dalton as he enters the final year of his current contract. McCarron's presence will be enough to remind him that the franchise can and is willing to move in a different way after the 2014 season, but it won't affect his opportunities before that point.

Ryan Lownes of Bleacher Report suggests that McCarron can be a strong backup who eventually becomes a starter that fits what the Bengals were looking for.

Following a prolific college career in which he won two national titles and several personal accolades, AJ McCarron will be out to prove that he can be an effective starting quarterback in the NFL.

While his decision not to perform at the Senior Bowl disappointed fans and scouts alike, he will have a chance to show teams what he can do later in the process.

An efficient, intelligent and accurate passer, he would fit best in a West Coast offense. Though he appears to have the makings of a strong backup, he possesses starter potential in the right spot.



The primary upside with McCarron is his ability to immediately step into a more prominent role in an NFL organization. While he may not have the huge physical talent to provide much of a ceiling, his floor should be higher than most other prospects.

His experience and accuracy on short, intermediate routes when throwing from a clean pocket are two aspects of McCarron's game that suggest he could be a long-term backup for the Bengals in a worst-case scenario.

He appears to be a smart quarterback who can read defenses quickly and is always aware of his checkdown. While his arm strength isn't great, he does have good command of the football and is able to adjust the trajectory of the ball when throwing down the field.



Lack of ideal arm strength means that McCarron will need to excel in every other area of the game to ever be considered an above-average starter. While he is landing in an offense that will be able to give him a lot of help, the talent he worked with in comparison to his competition at Alabama will be dramatically different to the contrast between his offense and defenses on the next level.

In order to get the most out of the physical talent he does have, McCarron will need to develop more consistency in his technique. Too often his technique became sloppy when he was put under pressure in the pocket.

While he is not a statue in the pocket, McCarron lacks the mobility to be a scrambling threat or consistent extender of plays on the next level.

Most significantly, the issues that were reported by Adam Schefter during the interview process and McCarron's reluctance to participate in the Senior Bowl reflect poorly on his character. McCarron seems to believe that he is much more talented than where he was drafted. Confidence is a good thing, but without the talent some will perceive it as a lack of self-awareness.


Final Thoughts

Aaron Murray was probably the Bengals' preferred target, but he went to the Kansas City Chiefs directly before the Bengals picked. The Bengals had to decide between McCarron and Zach Mettenberger if they were looking at the two most reputable options available.

Mettenberger is a much better pro prospect than McCarron in terms of physical talent and ability on the field, but it appears his injury and character concerns have dropped him down the draft. The Bengals could have taken a quarterback with more physical talent to develop behind Dalton, someone such as Brett Smith, but the comfort of his ceiling likely appealed to them.