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Arizona Cardinals

NFL Draft '14: A closer look at Alabama QB A.J. McCarron

Alabama's A.J. McCarron went 36-4 as a starting quarterback, and won back-to-back BCS National Championships. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

There's always a concern about a player coming from a top-flight college program that is surrounded by elite talent entering the NFL.

You can put Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron in that category.

The questions about McCarron have come fast and furious for one of the most successful quarterbacks in college football history.

When Peter King of The MMQB wrote that the Cardinals were "sweet" on McCarron, many scoffed at the idea and the prospect, based on some negative things written.

There are also some good things (no not just his fiancι) that come with McCarron, and for that, it makes sense that the Arizona Cardinals could have some interest.

A.J. McCarron
Quarterback
Alabama Crimson Tide
6-3, 220 pounds

Strengths:

• Versed in a pro-style offense, having run it successfully for his entire career at Alabama.

• Works from under center as well as out of the shotgun, gets in and out of his drops well and delivers the ball quickly.

• Excellent short and intermediate accuracy.

• Good throwing on the move on boots, waggles and rollouts.

• Moves well in the pocket to avoid the first wave of pass rushers.

• Arm strength is more than adequate in the intermediate routes when needing to fit the ball into tight windows.

• Always knows where the check down is and drops the ball off consistently when under pressure.

• Possesses clean mechanics and a throwing motion that is one of the smoothest in the draft class.

• Looks to be a highly intelligent -- a student of the game that understands the intricacies of defenses and when and where to go with the ball.

• Doesn't force throws and does a great job of protecting the ball.

Weaknesses:

• Despite being surrounded by NFL talent, never put up elite, high-volume numbers and was more of a caretaker than playmaker.

• Lacks the arm strength to push the ball down field, and when he does, usually does so with jump balls to his receivers.

• He lacks the athletic ability to extend plays and move outside the pocket when it is collapsing around him.

• Is not going to get the ball into the deep intermediate, as he lacks the ability to make those "NFL" throws.

• Footwork under duress can be an issue, and will check down instead of standing in and making the big throws.

• His weapons won consistently for him, didn't have to make plays for them.

• Can he be more than a cog in the wheel of an offensive unit?

Overall:

There's obviously a lot to like about McCarron when you put on the tape and watch him play. But a lot of the good comes with caveats.

McCarron looks to be more suited for a short and intermediate passing game in the NFL and will likely be reliant on a productive running game that will set up play action and intermediate and deep routes occasionally.

With McCarron, the question will always be about whether or not he can elevate the talent around him, or if he is elevated by that talent?

He consistently had great protection and an amazing running game to fall back on, but he showed flashes of opening up the game and making plays to win, although those instances were rare.

What's hard to decipher is, if he cannot do that consistently or if he just never needed too while at Alabama.

He's going to be a day-two selection, and it makes sense as to why, because someone will fall in love with McCarron's NFL brain, his ability to take care of the ball and the fact that he is a leader that won a lot big games while at Alabama.

Cardinals Spin:

What McCarron lacks in a deep passing arm, he makes up for with his ability to be an extension of the coach on the field.

McCarron understands route concepts, where to go with the ball when he has time, and more importantly, something that a lot of coaches love -- he minimizes risks consistently.

McCarron would be able to run a similar offense to what Carson Palmer ran the second half of the 2013 season, throwing more quick, short and intermediate routes, while setting up the occasional deep ball.

He'll offer the Cardinals a little more in terms of throwing on the move, but he's not going to extend and make plays.

McCarron understands how to use big, strong receivers that know how to win consistently and does so with an odd calmness about making big time throws.

He'll need a strong running game, something Steve Keim is working on right now, but he's not the typical "Arians" quarterback, although the 61-year-old coach has shown a willingness to adapt.

About the Author


Husband, father, Editor in Chief and owner of TSHQ.co and roving draft analyst wherever people will have me. Nights are spent watching college kids in pads, taking notes and talking on Twitter.

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