Why Bengals' AJ McCarron Was the Most Overlooked Prospect of 2014 NFL Draft

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Why Bengals' AJ McCarron Was the Most Overlooked Prospect of 2014 NFL Draft
Butch Dill/Associated Press

The Cincinnati Bengals chose Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron in Round 5 of last week's NFL draft, about four rounds lower than McCarron had expected to be drafted. 

McCarron told The Paul Finebaum Show that the NFL teams he spoke to "felt like I could go anywhere from 16-35," but several quarterbacks were selected ahead of him on Day 2 and 3, resulting in his drop to the fifth round. 

Day 2 and 3 Quarterbacks Selected Ahead of McCarron
NAME POS SCHOOL ROUND PK(OVR) TEAM
Derek Carr QB Fresno State 2 4(36) Oakland
Jimmy Garoppolo QB Eastern Illinois 2 30(62) New England
Logan Thomas QB Virginia Tech 4 20(120) Arizona
Tom Savage QB Pittsburgh 4 35(135) Houston
Aaron Murray QB Georgia 5 23(163) Kansas City
AJ McCarron QB Alabama 5 24(164) Cincinnati

ESPN.com

Many predraft rankings placed McCarron ahead of most of these quarterbacks, making the drop particularly unforeseeable. 

Prospects regularly fall in the draft, so what makes McCarron's drop more odd is the lack of credible explanation behind it. While fellow 2014 prospects like Miami tackle Seantrel Henderson experienced similarly precipitous falls on draft day, Henderson and others were marred with character and commitment concerns, where McCarron did not raise those red flags. 

There are reports that the Alabama quarterback's interviews with NFL teams did not work in his favor, but it's also possible that the lack of NFL success from Alabama quarterbacks also worked against his stock. 

Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Reports have surfaced that McCarron's attitude turned off some NFL teams.

Since Nick Saban took over as Alabama's head coach in 2007, only one other quarterback, Greg McElroy, has been drafted from the school, and he is already out of the league after three short years. 

If these were ultimately the only qualms that led to McCarron's falling stock, the Bengals got a steal in the fifth round, and the timing could not be more perfect for their franchise: Starting quarterback Andy Dalton is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and likely to demand a big raise if he is to remain in Cincinnati beyond 2014. 

McCarron was far from elite as a prospect, but he has plenty of experts in his corner concerning his potential to be a starting quarterback in this league. 

McCarron not only has the confidence and leadership qualities to eventually win over a locker room, but also a winning pedigree in the toughest conference in college football. 

He's earned a reputation as a game manager, but this is often misconstrued as a negative characteristic. Recent quarterbacks like Carolina's Cam Newton failed to take their team to the playoffs until they reduced their scoring role and settled into a role as more of a game manager, playing more efficiently and allowing a superior defense to make each game winnable. 

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
McCarron's game-managing ability was sufficient to lead the Crimson Tide to two national titles.

While his arm strength is just average, McCarron wouldn't be the first to succeed in the NFL without a rocket arm. And with improved mechanics, there's no reason he can't increase his ability to drive the deep ball. 

As far as the concerns that he never faced consistent pressure in college due to an elite group of offensive linemen, remember that Cincinnati allowed the third-fewest sacks in the league last season, and he should have at least one season to adjust to the pace of the NFL game before taking over the reins in the case that Dalton is not re-signed. 

He may not be a Brady-like steal in the final rounds of the draft, but he has similar potential to Dalton, and at the discounted rate of a fifth-round contract, he'll be equipped with the surrounding weapons to bring the Bengals to new heights and make a few general managers regret overlooking the prospect during the 2014 draft. 

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