Dan Pompei's Read Option: What Does the Future Hold for AJ McCarron?

Dan PompeiNFL ColumnistMay 15, 2014

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The late-round pick from the 2014 NFL draft with the best chance of becoming a starter may very well be AJ McCarron. The only catch is he may not become a starter in Cincinnati.

That McCarron was not chosen until Round 5 and was passed over 163 times was puzzling. That he was chosen by a team that believes he has starting ability but has no intention of allowing him to beat out its starter is fascinating.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has a defined role in mind for the former Alabama quarterback—as a non-threatening long-term backup to Andy Dalton.

"Each and every year we have been in that one-year, two-year backup quarterback model," Lewis told Bleacher Report. "We kind of wanted to make sure we got somebody who could fit that role for a longer period of time if that's what they ended up being, if that's what their lease on life was.

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 29:  Marvin Lewis the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals wathces the action during the NFL game against the Baltimore Ravens  at Paul Brown Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

"We had [Ryan] Fitzpatrick here, [Jon] Kitna here, and nobody wants to be the backup. Everybody wants to go somewhere and start. The only way to get a backup quarterback for longer than a year or two is to draft one."

McCarron's arrival in no way signals an absence of faith in Dalton. In fact, the team remains committed to Dalton to the point of offering him a significant new contract package this week, according to team radio analyst Dave Lapham.

I asked Lewis if McCarron could be a safety net in the event the Bengals can't extend Dalton's contract, or in case he fails to take his game to the next level.

"We won't know that because AJ will never get enough opportunity to prove he can do that unless Andy is not here," Lewis said. "You can't get two quarterbacks prepared to play. The football team needs to know who the leader is all the time, in my opinion."

The plan is for Dalton, McCarron and veteran Jason Campbell to split preseason time about equally. But in training camp, Lewis said Dalton will get eight out of 12 reps, with Campbell and McCarron getting two apiece.

The Bengals went into the draft thinking it only made sense to select a quarterback after the first two rounds. "The tough thing would have been if [Blake] Bortles would have been there in the second round or something," Lewis said.

That was not a problem the Bengals had to deal with. But they do have to deal with the perception that McCarron can be prickly.

A report by ESPN's Adam Schefter indicated McCarron might have slipped as a result of poor interviews. In fact, one general manager said when he interviewed McCarron, he thought the QB threw his Alabama receivers under the bus.

But other front-office men said McCarron wasn't so bad. Lewis said he found him "impressive" in his pre-draft interview, and in fact afterward he wrote on his notes, "this is a guy I want on my team."

Lewis was also impressed with McCarron's understanding of the game. "We want to keep smart people in the room with Andy—that's part of this," Lewis said. "We feel Andy hasn't even gotten close to his potential yet."

David J. Phillip/Associated Press
AJ McCarron at Alabama

McCarron's potential might not be much different from Dalton's.

One talent evaluator said his team ranked McCarron and Bortles similarly, though he said Bortles had superior arm strength and physical attributes. Of 10 front-office men polled about McCarron before the draft, three said he was a first-rounder, four put him in Round 2 and three thought he was a third-rounder.

"He's not a flashy guy, but he throws better than you think," said a national scout who rated him as a first-rounder.

That's kind of how the Bengals saw him.

"His ability to be the leader of the team and get the most out of people, we really liked," Lewis said. "We feel he will continue to grow and mature, which will give him every bit of arm strength to be a proficient player in the NFL. We felt he has the ability to grow to be a starting quarterback."

The only question is where and when McCarron will get the chance to show that ability.

NFL Confidential

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.Jason Miller/Getty Images

• Tony Grossi reported on ESPNCleveland.com that a source told him before the team picked Johnny Manziel that the Browns representative in New York turned in a card with Teddy Bridgewater's name on it. Then, upon owner Jimmy Haslam's order, a second card with Johnny Manziel's card was turned in.

Cleveland denied the report. But a source from another team who was stationed near the Browns representative in New York said Cleveland had two cards filled out prior to its pick being turned in, and one of the cards was eventually ripped up.

The name written on the card that was torn up is where the mystery lies.

• As it turns out, one of the hot commodities in the first round of the draft was linebacker Ryan Shazier. Thought by many to be a late first-round pick, Shazier was coveted by a number of teams. He was chosen by the Steelers with the 15th overall pick. Had they not picked him, league sources believe the Cowboys would have taken him with the 16th pick.

The Cardinals were trying to trade up to get in that range, most likely to take Shazier. They also might have been content with C.J. Mosley or Calvin Pryor. When all three players were taken before their turn, the Cardinals traded down from the 20th pick and ended up taking Deone Bucannon at the 27th spot.

• The Rams' drafting of Tre Mason created a crowd at running back and may have signaled the end of Isaiah Pead's time in St. Louis. With Zac Stacy and Daryl Richardson already on the roster, Pead, a second-round pick in 2012, was the subject of some trade talks during the draft.

• One of the reasons Tim Jernigan did not slip out of the second round after providing a diluted specimen on his combine drug test is that he took a second drug test within a couple of weeks of the combine. He passed that one, according to a team source.

That undoubtedly led to the Ravens feeling more comfortable taking a chance on the defensive tackle. Not every player who failed the combine drug test passed a subsequent one.


Scout Talk

Colt Lyerla
Colt LyerlaOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

A number of big-name players and prospects who were thought to be highly regarded slipped through the draft without being chosen. Some of them obviously were passed over because of off-field issues.

Among them were:

  • South Carolina defensive back Victor Hampton (has yet to sign with a team).
  • LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (signed with Dolphins).
  • Florida State linebacker Christian Jones (signed with Bears).
  • Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla (has yet to sign with a team).
  • Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy (signed with Colts).
  • South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (signed with Giants).
  • Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson (signed with Rams).

For others, the causes were less clear. Here are some players who scouts were surprised to see slip through the draft without being selected:

Dion Bailey, S, USC, (Signed with Seahawks)

The probable reason Bailey slipped is scouts say he is very limited in coverage. "He's not comfortable playing deep," one said. "He has to be close to the line."

One national scout said he liked him more at linebacker than safety, but at 6'0", 201 pounds, Bailey can't play linebacker in the NFL. That being said, he still was perceived to be a fifth-round pick, and this was a thin draft for safeties.

He might fit in well in Seattle. Most defenses are asking safeties to play all over the field. But Pete Carroll, who coached Bailey in college, still uses a strong safety in a more traditional sense.

Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers (Signed with Saints)

Multiple scouts still expressed surprise that he was not drafted. One compared him to Plaxico Burress.

At 6'6", 225 pounds, Coleman was considered a potential first-round pick early in the fall. He hurt his knee last spring and did not play as well as he did the year before. Rutgers' quarterback problems also did not help him.

"We weren't sure which kid would show up in our building—the one from 2012 or 2013," one front-office man said. Coleman had the ability to be a third- or fourth-round pick, though some scouts said they soured on him.

Mike Davis, WR, Texas (Signed with Raiders)

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 12:  Mike Davis #1 of the Texas Longhorns pulls in a touchdown pass in the end zone turnover score against the Oklahoma Sooners in the third quarter at the Cotton Bowl on October 12, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. The Longhorns beat the Soone
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Scouts figured his draft stock would fall, but they still thought he would be drafted. Davis was an outstanding college player and was named All-Big 12 three times. "You see him on video for three years running by people," one front-office man said.

Early last season, he was considered a potential first- or second-round pick. Davis had a stress fracture that prevented him from working out at the combine, then ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at his pro day, which led scouts to question his speed.

One scout said Davis is an unrefined route-runner who was only asked to run vertical at Texas, and another knocked him for going down easily after the catch.

Ryan Groy, OL, Wisconsin (Signed with Bears)

Several scouts said they thought he would go in the fourth- to fifth-round range. They liked that he has positional versatility. One even thought he could be an NFL starter.

The reason he fell? "He doesn't play as nasty as most Wisconsin guys," one scout said. Said another, "He's a good player; I just wish he were more rugged."

Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas (Signed with Seahawks)

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 30: Running back De'Anthony Thomas #6 of the Oregon Ducks is tackled by defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat #44 of the Texas Longhorns in the second quarter of the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome on December 30, 2013 in San Antoni
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

He was a really productive pass-rusher at Texas, but a lot of NFL teams saw him as either too small or too slow for their scheme. Still, Jeffcoat going undrafted was a head-scratcher.

"He has good awareness and plays off blocks well," said one college scouting director who rated him as a third- or fourth-rounder. "He has a good feel around the quarterback."

Craig Loston, S, LSU (Signed with Jaguars)

Loston was the most surprising prospect to be on the list of undrafted players. Before the draft, three scouts said Loston would not be overdrafted if he were picked in the third round. He was the highest-rated safety in the country coming out of high school, and he played well in college.

"Hard to figure why he fell," one front-office man said. "He is a little stiff and straight-line, and he gets some penalties. He had some injuries. But he is better than a lot of safeties in the league."

Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee (Signed with Vikings)

His fall is pretty easy to explain; Richardson was considered a medical risk because of knee and hip issues. He also was considered to lack maturity. But he played at a high level against some excellent competition.

Based on the tape alone, scouts said Richardson could have been a second-round pick. "I liked him better than Ja'Wuan James," one front-office man said of Richardson's college teammate, who was picked in the first round by the Dolphins.

Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford (Signed with 49ers)

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Running back Jeremy Langford #33 of the Michigan State Spartans runs the ball against linebacker Shayne Skov #11 of the Stanford Cardinal during the 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2014 in
Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

There were some mixed opinions on Skov after the season, but some teams had him rated as a third-round pick. A combination of lack of cover ability, injuries and an unimpressive workout led to Skov's fall.

One team said they dropped Skov on their board after he ran a 5.2 40-yard dash at his pro day. "He's not a top athlete, but he is smart and I think he'll play," said one front-office man.

Hot Reads

• Only in Cleveland would they train a player to be a franchise quarterback by not allowing the national media near him.

• Jimmy Haslam says Johnny Manziel will not be the Browns starting quarterback. Hey, can he play wide receiver?

• Andre Johnson is wondering if Houston is "still the place for" him, according to the Houston Chronicle's Brian T. Smith. If he is traded to Cleveland, he'll have no doubt Houston was the place for him.

• Esteemed pro football writer John McClain vowed to eat his words if the Texans did not draft a quarterback in the first round, so he dutifully consumed the front page of the Houston Chronicle after the draft. Good thing his words were in print and not just on a laptop or mobile device.

• Over the weekend, Greg Hardy's presence made the Panthers' selection of Kony Ealy in the second round look foolish. This week, Hardy's actions made the Panthers' selection of Ealy look brilliant.

• If Michael Sam can get as much attention for his pass rush as his kiss, the Rams will have an All-Pro on their hands.

Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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