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Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has heard all the doubters before. They claim that virtually any quarterback could lead the Alabama offense with the running game, offensive line and defense the Crimson Tide have. They say he only “manages” the game, trying to avoid a major mistake that could cost his team the victory. And while early in his sophomore year, that might have been accurate, as his career has progressed, McCarron has proven to be one of the biggest reasons Alabama has won back-to-back national championships.
The 2012 BCS National Championship game was McCarron’s coming-out party of sorts. Going against a dominating LSU defense that had beaten the Crimson Tide earlier in the year, McCarron was able to complete 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards, earning Offensive MVP in a 21-0 victory.
He parlayed that success into an incredible junior year in Tuscaloosa last season. He once again led Alabama to a national championship, this time throwing a school-record 30 touchdowns and just three interceptions along the way. In the championship game against Notre Dame, McCarron lit up a talented Irish defense for 264 yards and four touchdowns.
While some still contend he is a product of Alabama’s incredible system, others think he has a legitimate shot at being a solid NFL quarterback. Here’s a breakdown of McCarron’s strengths and weaknesses as he heads into his senior year.
Proven winner, as evidenced by his back-to-back national titles
Has played against outstanding competition in the SEC
Has displayed great leadership and poise on the biggest stages in college football
Has played under center and in the shotgun while at Alabama
Good ball-handler in play action concepts
Takes care of the football, rarely takes chances in heavy coverage
Shows solid footwork in his drops
Throwing mechanics are solid, has a smooth release
Does a good job of anticipating throws
Has nice trajectory on his deep ball, although at times his accuracy is off
Has good accuracy and ball placement on underneath throws
Solid athlete who can escape the pocket and make plays when needed
Doesn’t have elite arm talent
Doesn’t drive the ball well on longer throws, particularly to the sideline
Sometimes throws the ball off of his back foot and doesn’t transfer his weight properly
Gets antsy feet in the pocket when he holds the ball
Takes sacks when he should throw the ball away on occasion
Is thought of as a “game manager” by some scouts
Not tremendously accurate on intermediate throws in tight windows
Struggles with pressure in his face
Alabama is once again loaded in 2013 and is the odds-on favorite to win the national championship for a third straight year. McCarron’s presence leading the Tide offense is a huge reason why they are the prohibitive favorites.
While they lost lots of talent in the NFL Draft, the cupboard isn’t bare. T.J. Yeldon will be the featured running back in a system that has produced several outstanding ball carriers during the Nick Saban era. Amari Cooper had a breakout season as a freshman and should get a few more targets this season. Their offensive line will have to be rebuilt, but they’ve recruited so well in recent years that the talent is certainly there.
It’s hard to imagine anyone beating the Crimson Tide this year, and a lot of that has to do with the leadership and direction provided by McCarron. If he wins a third title, his stock will continue to rise, but at this point, he will likely be a mid-round pick.
2014 NFL Draft Projection: Fourth Round
B.L. is a college football writer for Rant Sports and can be followed on Twitter @coachlip.