Can the Bengals Develop AJ McCarron to Be More Than a Backup?

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVMay 10, 2014

This guy's not taking Andy Dalton's job.
This guy's not taking Andy Dalton's job.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals used their fifth-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft to take former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron in order to add some youth to their stable of quarterbacks. He joins starter Andy Dalton and backups Josh Johnson and Jason Campbell. 

McCarron slid to Round 5 because of his narrow level of talent and reports that he performed poorly in team interviews in the pre-draft process. He's known mostly as a game manager behind a defense-focused, run-heavy Crimson Tide team. 

Though McCarron completed an impressive 66.9 percent of his passes in college and threw 77 touchdowns to a mere 15 interceptions, he had only 9,019 passing yards in four years and averaged just 8.8 yards per attempt. He's certainly not in the business of being a well-rounded, every-throw NFL passer.

For these reasons, McCarron won't be pushing anyone but Campbell and Johnson for a roster spot in Cincinnati. Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson made this point clear in his first comment about drafting McCarron, saying, "This isn't about Andy Dalton" and "This is about improving the QB room":

Dalton is on the brink of a contract extension, one that would make him the face of the Bengals franchise for years to come. He's led the team to three straight postseason berths, though the Bengals went one-and-done in each of those contests, mostly because Dalton has thrown only one touchdown in the playoffs. 

Even with an extension, Dalton's inconsistencies may drive a push to give McCarron a chance under center. However, Campbell's experience with Jackson's offense would give him the edge in that battle. McCarron could believably spend his 2014 on the practice squad. 

AJ McCarron Alabama Stats
YearAtts.Comp.Comp. %Yds.YPATDsINTs

Still, it must be said that under Jackson's control, Cincinnati's offense could look similar to that of Alabama's, especially with the team boasting three running backs—Giovani Bernard, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Jeremy Hill, drafted by the Bengals Friday in Round 2. The Bengals also have a strong defense in the Alabama mold. The situation is therefore good for McCarron.

It's not beyond possibility that Dalton's extension is for just two or three years, giving McCarron enough time to develop into his potential successor. However, we'd be getting far ahead of ourselves by pegging him as that guy on the day he was drafted. 

The first step for McCarron will be an attitude adjustment, something that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has a lot of experience with. The next step will be to learn an offense that is relatively friendly to his skill set, no matter how limited it is.

But McCarron's future is now as much in Dalton's hands as it is in his own, and it will take a great many situations to fall into place to see him as a starting quarterback in Cincinnati in the long term.