First went Aaron Murray. Then, AJ McCarron. The two most famous faces of SEC quarterback play saw their NFL futures drop precipitously together, so it's only right that they finally came off the board together Saturday.
The Kansas City Chiefs selected Murray with the No. 163 overall pick, ending the former Georgia star's longer-than-expected wait. A pick later, the Cincinnati Bengals selected McCarron—thus concluding the latest mockish hashtag thrown out by schadenfreudian types.
Murray and McCarron both head into relatively similar situations. Incumbent starters Alex Smith and Andy Dalton are heading into the last year of their respective contracts, putting the impetus on Andy Reid and Marvin Lewis to bring in an insurance plan. Bleacher Report's NFL draft expert Matt Miller found the fits ideal all-around:
Great spot for both Murray and McCarron here. Can sit, learn, eventually challenge.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) May 10, 2014
It's unclear whether Murray or McCarron will ever torch NFL defenses the way they did SEC ones, but at the very least, they represent solid fifth-round value. McCarron, his confidence buoyed by two national championships and numerous records set at Alabama, said in April on The Paul Finebaum Show (via AL.com) he was told he could be a first-round pick.
While most scoffed at that notion—McCarron has legitimate concerns in regard to arm strength and decision-making—his lasting until Day 3 was a mild surprise.
ESPN's Scouts Inc. (subscription required) ranked McCarron the No. 60 player in the entire class. The Bengals landed him more than 100 spots later. CBS Sports' Will Brinson noted that, questions about Dalton aside, Cincinnati found good value for a fifth-round pick:
If everyone could look past the OMAHGAWRD FIRE ANDY DALTON stuff, AJ McCarron’s a pretty good pick for Bengals here.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) May 10, 2014
In Cincinnati, McCarron will get to work with an all-around talented offense that mirrors his talent edge at Alabama. A.J. Green is among the league's best young receivers, and the Bengals have a cabal of running back talent after spending second-round picks on Giovani Bernard (2013) and Jeremy Hill (Friday night).
NFL Network's Albert Breer notes the coaching staff isn't half-bad either:
AJ McCarron gets a good coach to work with in Hue Jackson, and a good team with offensive talent all over the place.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) May 10, 2014
Murray, who has his own arm strength issues and is coming off an ACL tear, was not as much of a subjective value. Scouts Inc. ranked the four-year Georgia starter No. 122 overall—still a good value but not as much as McCarron. That said, if there were anyone who knows how to get the most out of a quarterback, it's Andy Reid.
Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar came up with a possible parallel:
Aaron Murray's in a great spot. I mean... Andy Reid made Kevin Kolb look good.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) May 10, 2014
Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star provided internal insight from Chiefs scout Dom Green, who pointed toward Murray's success with ball placement. Murray completed 62.3 percent of his passes for his career and 64.8 percent as a senior.
#Chiefs scout Dom Green says Aaron Murray’s accuracy was very attractive for Reid’s offense.— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) May 10, 2014
While Scouts Inc. disagrees with the order they came off the board, some found Kansas City selecting Murray as a perfect fit. Draft expert Dan Kadar went a step further, saying he's got Murray over McCarron —and plenty of other quarterbacks taken earlier:
That is a perfect fit for Aaron Murray. I'll take him over Savage, McCarron or Thomas any day.— Dan Kadar (@MockingTheDraft) May 10, 2014
Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports agreed with Kadar's sentiment, singling out Pittsburgh's Tom Savage and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas as reaches:
Just a reminder that Logan Thomas and Tom Savage were taken before McCarron, Mettenberger or Murray.— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) May 10, 2014
McCarron, a three-year starter who went 36-4 at Alabama, arguably has the more difficult trek to a starting gig. Dalton, while flawed, is still only 26 years old and has led the Bengals to three straight postseason berths. From a statistical standpoint, he's probably the most accomplished second-round quarterback in history through his first three seasons.
Draft writer Benjamin Allbright had a candid take on whatever "competition" fans are expecting:
Andy Dalton has literally nothing to worry about... Yeah I said it...— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) May 10, 2014
Alessandro Miglio of Sports Illustrated actually likened Dalton to McCarron—and not in a flattering way to the 2013 Heisman finalist:
A.J. McCarron is a poor man's Andy Dalton. This is perfect.— Alessandro Miglio (@AlexMiglio) May 10, 2014
Meanwhile, Murray might luck into a starting gig if he's able to bide his time. Smith, traded to Kansas City before last year's draft, is 30 years old and in the final year of a contract. That means it's negotiations time at Chiefs headquarters, and Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported last month the process hasn't gone well. Should Smith want franchise quarterback money and Murray impress as a rookie, he might be just a year away from starting.
On the other hand, as ESPN Stats & Info points out, history is not in Murray's favor:
No matter their disappointment with dropping all the way to Round 5, it'd be hard for Murray or McCarron to find much better situations. Given their perceived value and teams' increased willingness to take risks as the draft progresses, it's theoretically possible they could have landed somewhere like Seattle or Indianapolis—places where a franchise signal-caller is already cemented in place.
As it stands, the Chiefs and Bengals are on shaky ground with their current options and might look elsewhere if negotiations continue to stall. If that's the case, one (or both) of these two former SEC standouts could wind up being a late-round steal.
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