Finding A Quarterback: AJ McCarron, A Backup’s Backup

| February 15th, 2017

The common thought of people covering the NFL is that the Cincinnati Bengals should try to find an upgrade over quarterback Andy Dalton. A common thought among many Bears fans is the team should bring in Dalton’s backup to be their new starter.

It is every bit as illogical as it sounds.

Every time someone suggests the Bears trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, someone chimes in that they should spend less and bring in AJ McCarron instead. McCarron is a fine player but his current job is where he belongs. There is no shame in backing up Tom Brady like Garoppolo has had to do, but if McCarron were capable of being a top tier starting quarterback, he wouldn’t be watching Dalton take all the snaps.

McCarron did some nice things when he got to play at the end of 2015. He made several good throws down the field and consistently showed good touch on deep passes. He’s an NFL quarterback but not all guys are meant to be starters.

The Alabama product’s stats are fine. He completed 66.4 percent of his passes for six touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 97.1. If you took his averages from the four starts — including the playoffs — and averaged them out over 16 games, it would come out to roughly 3,500 yards with 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Not bad, but he was playing in a stacked offense. Dalton managed a passer rating of 106.2.

When I watched McCarron, the performance didn’t match the statistics. I had him with an inaccuracy rate of 33.4 percent in his four starts. While he only threw two interceptions, he had a number of other passes that should have been picked off. It was Josh McCownesque.

McCarron was really quick to hit the check down. He’d look deep, but only threw it if the receiver was wide open. According to ESPN, about 60 percent of his passes traveled less than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, 16.8 percent were at or behind the line.

He also didn’t seem to sense pressure well. When teams brought heat, he reacted late and took a bunch of sacks that should’ve been avoided. He was sacked on more than 9% of his drop backs, while Dalton was taken down on less than 5%.

My biggest takeaway? It just didn’t seem like Hue Jackson, then Bengals OC, trusted him. Every play call seemed as if it was designed to keep the ball out of his hands. They’d go run-run-pass every chance they got and McCarron was just an adequate game manager.

And if McCarron were a star waiting to happen, wouldn’t his former offensive coordinator be clamoring to bring him to Cleveland right now?

The conversation about McCarron almost always starts after a conversation about Garoppolo, but they aren’t comparable prospects. Garoppolo was a second round pick and would’ve been a first round pick if he played at a bigger college. McCarron came from Alabama where he was always in the spotlight and still dropped to the fourth round in the same draft.

McCarron has ability, but I have never seen any indication that he can succeed without being surrounded by superior talent. He can do good things; the kind of things that make him a perfect backup quarterback.

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