A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama (6-4, 214)
There is no doubting McCarron’s college career has been anything less than stunning. He took over starting duties for Alabama in 2011 in a season where he led the team to 13-1 record and a BCS Championship. In the following year the Crimson Tide repeated their 2011 record and beat Notre Dame convincingly for back to back titles. In 2013 he was only a missed field goal away from more than likely competing in his third consecutive National Championship game. He owns several records at one of the premier colleges in the country including career yards, yards in a season and touchdown passes thrown in a season. If you do that you must be pretty good right?
The biggest slight on McCarron is just how much he had to do. He played behind one of the most consistently impressive and well-coached offensive lines in the whole of college football and had the running game to match. His defense gave him good field position time and time again. No one really knows what McCarron is. Is he a top quarterback held back by the abilities of those around him at Alabama or is he merely another Greg McElroy, a Crimson Tide game-manager whose pro career is doomed from the start?
I broke down McCarron’s throws in his 2013 games against Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Oklahoma. His accuracy chart for those games is below.
- Short Accuracy
McCarron has thrown a lot of short passes in the last three years. In the five 2013 games I studied he threw 78 (of 124), completing 58 (74.4%). This percentage should have been lower as a few balls were poorly thrown with his receiver having to work hard to bring it in. Alabama move the pocket quickly with WR screen plays, which meant 21 (of 23) of the above completions were caught behind the line of scrimmage. His three-step drop is clean and he releases the ball quickly to hit his receivers on their breaks. – 8/10
- Medium Accuracy
McCarron’s intermediate accuracy is also good although he definitely loses accuracy throwing across his body to his left than over the middle or to his right (40% accuracy to his left versus 78% to the middle/right). He throws a lovely back shoulder ball and is strong off play action (again favouring the middle and right of the field). – 7/10
- Deep Accuracy
This is where McCarron’s accuracy really tails off. When he has time in the pocket he can play a lovely deep ball but when he has to rush the play and force the ball downfield his accuracy wanes. There were numerous occasions this season where he would overthrow an open receiver by quite a distance. You get the impression he just isn’t comfortable making those throws. – 4/10
Throwing on the Run
McCarron had the luxury of a very strong pocket throughout his college career, which reduced his need to move around excessively. That said when he needed to extend the play, he did so well and his throws on the run were consistently good. Below are two examples of him extending the play on 3rd and long to make the completion to move the chains. He maintains his short pass accuracy and velocity despite running at full speed. This is one of his strongest assets. – 8/10
McCarron very much has an average arm and this will limit his potential at the next level. His short range passes are fine but the further the ball has to travel down the field, the more you notice the drop off. His intermediate and deeper throws have a tendency to hang and he noticeably loses velocity and touch. He has got away with this in college as he generally only throws these balls to wide open receivers. His inability to drill the ball into tight spaces causes concern but overall his arm strength will be ‘okay’ in the NFL. – 5/10
One of the most common comments about McCarron is his ability to play safe and not turn the ball over. On the whole this is fair. He doesn’t force the ball where he shouldn’t and his 5:1 TD:INT ratio tells its own story. However, his conservative play means he is unwilling to throw down field instead opting for check downs. He struggles to throw receivers open, holding onto the ball too long as he waits for gaps to appear. When he does have to look down field, which is rare as Alabama rarely fell behind, he makes poor decisions. Below is an example from his last college game, against Oklahoma. He threw a deep ball off his back foot to a receiver in double coverage with safety help. This was intercepted and the Sooners scored a touchdown on the next play. To summarise, McCarron will make decisions that while not necessarily costing his team the game, are unlikely to win it for them. – 6/10
McCarron consistently shows clean mechanics. His release is quick and compact with an ideal over-the-top delivery enabling him to get rid of the ball in tight spaces. The only real downside is a tendency to throw off his back foot on occasions, usually under pressure. This does lead to less than ideal throws and will need to be eradicated at the next level. – 9/10
McCarron projects to be a pure pocket-passer in the NFL. He has some athleticism but only enough to grab the occasional first down. He isn’t a threat with his feet and lacks the ability to make a defender miss in the open field as well as the strength to run through tackles. He just doesn’t have the mobility to pose any dual-threat and as a result will be very predictable. – 6/10
Having played behind such a good line at Alabama, McCarron’s pocket movement has only rarely been tested in the last four years. Given his outstanding protection, he has developed the habit of holding onto the ball for too long. He will hold it for as long as five seconds before looking to move out of the pocket or attempt a pass. This is not a luxury he will be afforded in the NFL. His feel for pressure isn’t ideal but he demonstrated the ability to throw touch passes over the top of defenders and his footwork within the pocket is clean. – 7/10
The biggest concern with McCarron is that he is such an unknown quantity. He has been surrounded by some of the most talented players in the country and has therefore rarely been pressured or had to bring his team back deep in the fourth quarter. On the rare occasions he had to play from behind, like the Oklahoma game, he struggled. Predicting how he will fare in the NFL therefore becomes a very difficult task. His arm strength is also a large concern as well as his inability to drive the ball deep with any real accuracy. – 5/10
McCarron has the accolades and wins to suggest he has a future in the NFL. However there are too many limitations with his arm, athleticism and deep ball accuracy for him to be a starter. He has played in a pro-style system at an elite college, and while this should not be overlooked, he was rarely tested in his college career. To succeed in the NFL he will need a strong cast around him as McCarron isn’t the guy to make everyone on his team better. – Pro Comparison: Poor man’s Andy Dalton.
65/100 – Third/Fourth Round