AJ McCarron has been described as many things: fighter, pretty boy, game manager, Nick Saban‘s personal Jesus. But most importantly he’s been described as a winner, and that’s why he makes the most sense for the Cleveland Browns in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft.
In McCarron’s career for the Alabama Crimson Tide, he compiled a record of 36-4 as a starter including back-to-back wins in the BCS National Championship game. Of those four losses, three of them were absolute flukes. In 2011 against LSU (the famous 9-6 overtime game), in 2012 against Texas A&M (a 29-24 loss for Alabama, and the emergence of Johnny Football as the real deal) and who could forget in 2013 in the Iron Bowl against Auburn (the “missed field goal” game). The only game that McCarron truly lost in his career at Alabama, in many experts’ opinion, was this past year’s Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma where the Tide simply did not show up to play because they still believed that they belonged in the BCS National Championship against Florida State.
McCarron’s accolades don’t stop at his win-loss record. Take a look at his career passing statistics: 9019 career passing yards and 77 touchdowns to only 17 interceptions. A ratio of 4.5 touchdowns to one interception is practically unheard of in modern day collegiate football. Compare that to Manziel who has a ratio of 2.8 TDs to one INT or Blake Bortles who had a 2.95 ratio. It’s even impressive when compared to some of the best of all time: Peyton Manning‘s collegiate ratio was 2.7!
McCarron’s Heisman-esque statistics do not paint the complete picture; what does is the film and his absolute poise under pressure. What makes McCarron so good is his maturity in the pocket. He has the ability to dance away from oncoming defenders that simply should not exist for a college quarterback. McCarron doesn’t have the flash of a Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater, but what he doesn’t have in athletic ability he makes up with his mental toughness. Alabama football can be compared to the New York sports market. If people think there is pressure when you come to play baseball for the New York Yankees or football for the New York Giants, try playing quarterback at Alabama. People across the south live and die with their college football, which makes McCarron all the more incredible. How he was able to deal with all of that pressure and succeed at an incredible level is still moderately unfathomable to grasp.
What have the Browns been missing since their return in 1999 is exactly what McCarron is. McCarron is a game manager who does not melt under pressure. He is literally the polar opposite of Brandon Weeden. Whereas Weeden would try and force balls into dime-sized windows, McCarron is content with throwing the ball away or simply taking a sack if needed. McCarron understands the long-term strategy of winning much more than any young quarterback in this draft. No, the Browns certainly should not take McCarron in the first or even second rounds; but when McCarron is sitting there in the third, it’s time for the Browns to grab him before anyone else can.