The strongest scouting opinions on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron among NFL clubs vary wildly, from a late first-round pick to as late as Round 5, according to Reese's Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, but most identify the Crimson Tide's fifth-year senior as a second- or third-rounder.
Savage joined Matt "Money" Smith and NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks on the NFL.com College Football 24/7 podcast Tuesday and had some telling comments about one of the 2014 NFL draft's most intriguing quarterback prospects.
"Within the state of Alabama, most think he's in the top five picks. Outside of Alabama, you hear people say he may not even be a fourth- or fifth-rounder. I think the answer is somewhere in between," Savage said. "I think if you asked all 32 teams right now on a bell curve, there'd be two or three teams who would have him potentially as a high second-round, maybe even late first-round pick, then there would be two or three teams that would have him in the fourth or fifth round, that are not that impressed with his arm strength, what have you. The vast majority of scouts I have spoken to see him as a second- or third-round pick."
Positives for McCarron's draft evaluation include his ability to read defenses, both before and after the snap, and the pro-like poise he developed in leading the Crimson Tide to two consecutive national championships and a 37-3 career record as a starter. He threw 72 career touchdown passes to just 13 interceptions.
"He's got the height. I think he's got enough arm. He does not have a cannon. I think he's got enough athletic ability. He's not an ad lib, run-around specialist. But the thing AJ does know how to do is play the quarterback position," Savage said. "I think it's a misnomer to cast him as a game manager only. Greg McElroy, the quarterback before AJ, I would have classified him as the consummate game manager. AJ brought a lot more to the table in terms of his height, his arm strength, and his mobility than what Greg did, and Greg has made a living in the NFL over the last couple years."
According to Savage, McCarron has every necessary tool to succeed in the NFL, but finding the proper fit with the right club will be important.
"I think if he could almost have a redshirt year in the NFL, as a second- or third-round pick, we'll see where he can develop. He's got enough talent to do it," Savage added. " ... The quarterbacks, the circumstances, who's coaching them, which system, all of it plays a factor in terms of their long-term success."
NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah has identified six clubs with a need at the quarterback position: The Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans. All six of those clubs are currently projected to have a top-10 pick in the first round, presumably too high for McCarron's range. Among those that pass on a quarterback in the first round, McCarron could be an ideal pick for one of them near the front of Round 2 or Round 3.