Height/weight: 6’3”, 220 lbs.
Experience: Redshirt Senior
While we’ve mostly used the “Draft Focus” space to profile players at positions of immediate need that the Cowboys have a relatively realistic chance at taking in the draft, this feature is more of a “what if?” proposition. While he has more than his fair share of critics, Tony Romo is one of the top 10 most talented quarterbacks in the league and a new signal-caller is not an immediate need in Dallas. Additionally, Jerry Jones seems committed to no. 9 and believes the team can win with him under center. However, acquiring a backup QB not named Kyle Orton or Brandon Weeden isn’t an outrageous idea, so we can entertain more of a long-shot proposition for the later rounds of the draft.
McCarron is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in Alabama school history, and one of the most successful QBs in recent memory. McCarron set the Crimson Tide program record for career passing yards (9,019) and passing touchdowns (77) in addition to his back-to-back National Championships in 2011 and 2012. Before donning the Alabama Crimson, McCarron was a High School All-American quarterback at Saint Paul’s Episcopal School three-and-a-half hours away from Alabama’s Tuscaloosa campus. He threw 66 touchdowns in three years as a starter. Even after a 36-4 career record at Alabama, though, we don’t hear much about McCarron’s NFL future now that the Tide is not currently rolling.
Why he’s a good fit for the Cowboys
If you’re a believer in intangibles, it’s easy to make the case for McCarron as a fit for most any team, including the Cowboys. Think of it as drafting a player with the “good-guy” mantra and winning drive of Tim Tebow, except with some semblance of an idea of how to play quarterback.
That may have been a below-the-belt shot at Tebow, but hopefully you know what I’m getting at. It’s an organization in Dallas that lacks leadership. This goes for the players, the coaching staff and the ownership, but, unfortunately, you can’t draft a new GM…so we’ll stick with player analysis here. I’m much higher on Tony Romo than most pundits, but one area that I don’t blame others for questioning is his emotional leadership. That’s not likely a problem the Cowboys would run into with McCarron. He brings five years of winning at college football's highest level to the table, and unquestionable leadership. His feature page as a nominee for the Senior CLASS Award says this of McCarron:
He is Alabama’s vocal and emotional leader. McCarron strives to lead both on and off the field for the Crimson Tide and has proven to be an unselfish leader who deflects praise and is always working to make his team better. His team-first mentality is personified in his unflinching desire to win football games, many times at the cost of his own statistics and award accolades.
In addition to the intangibles, McCarron is equipped with a solid skill set. A complaint about his game is that he can't take over a game with his arm, but that's exactly what he did in a shootout win over Texas A&M last year.
The Cowboys are also calling less home run plays. Tony Romo's yards per completion (YPC) average last season was down almost a full yard from 2012, and two full yards below his first season as a Cowboy. This is likely a product of trying to minimize interceptions -- something McCarron doesn't do (just 15 INTs over four years at Alabama).
A weakness that I noticed in watching some of McCarron's tape is inconsistency with a one-step drop when he throws off of his back foot. For what it's worth, he did heave a ball 46 yards through the air on a dime in the A&M game (2:28 mark).
An NFL likeness
When I look at McCarron’s body of work I am reminded of -- and this may be a stretch for some people, but hear me out -- Andy Dalton. Each were viewed as “game managers” at the college level without much big play potential. Both quarterbacks have similar builds, with slightly-above-average arm strength and athleticism, but have the moxie of a winning quarterback.
Dalton was 42-7 as the Horned Frogs’ starting quarterback and capped his career with a Rose Bowl win. Similar to McCarron, the “Red Rifle” left TCU with an impressive résumé. But each was doubted for his ability to make the big play. Former NFL draft scout Russell Lande had this to say about AJ McCarron:
“He's so conservative that he would go through the progressions very quickly, make a decision, he would just throw it away or take a sack. I think he has to show a willingness to take some gambles, not a ton, but some if he's going to be productive at the next level."
Draft analyses of each quarterback said their deep ball tends to “float too much.”
But McCarron ranked no. 11 in the country in yards per attempt in 2013 (9.1 YPA). Dalton ranked no. 9 in the nation the same category during his senior campaign in 2010 (9.0 YPA). Each quarterback was tabbed as “too conservative” in college despite upper-echelon efficiency. As a side note, Nick Foles led the NFL with 9.12 yards per attempt in 2013. So the assertion that there is a need to constantly launch the ball downfield at the next level is, in my opinion, a fallacy.
I opine that a “conservative” style of play is more a factor of the systems in which a quarterback plays -- both McCarron and Dalton played in systems that ran more than they threw, and each were in the lead so often that aggressive aerial attacks were not necessary.
For the uninitiated, Dalton was selected 35th overall in 2011 and has taken the Bengals to the playoffs in three consecutive years. He’s also one of only three quarterbacks in the history of the sport to throw for 3,000 yards in each of his first three seasons.
It would be unwise to give up hope on a guy like AJ McCarron. Alabama quarterbacks don't have a good track record at the NFL level since Ken Stabler, but McCarron is a more complete quarterback than the other Crimson Tide signal callers in recent years. He has the capability to come to the next level ready to lead by example, which is a valuable addition in a young player. The Cowboys likely aren't treating quarterback as any kind of priority in the draft, but if McCarron is still on the board in the middle rounds, he could be a good selection, especially with growing injury concerns for Tony Romo. And picking up a solid backup before the team needs one wouldn't be a bad idea.