For his career at Alabama, A.J. McCarron etched 34 wins, three national championships, one Maxwell Award, and a Heisman Trophy runner-up selection to his name.
But the only number that now matters to him is 518, the amount of miles from Tuscaloosa to Cincinnati. It’s a long departure for the once big fish in a small, crimson-colored pond, who’s become a minnow in a vast ocean that is the NFL.
To borrow a line from a certain movie, McCarron is not in Kansas anymore. And the realization — if it hasn’t already — should soon hit him hard.
McCarron, drafted in the fifth round by the Bengals with the 164th overall pick, was the ninth quarterback taken off the board. At least half of those who went before him (Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Derek Carr) were drafted to start, or will be given a chance to start in 2014.
No such luck for McCarron, who’s little more than insurance for the Bengals with incumbent Andy Dalton entering a contract year.
He knows it, too.
“The biggest thing for me is to go out and show the guys I’m here for them,” McCarron said, via AL.com. “Whatever we need to do to win and whatever I need to do to help Andy (Dalton) out. I’m here for the team, ready to play football and have fun.”
Fortunately for McCarron, fun should mean finally benefiting financially. Last Thursday, he signed a fully guaranteed four-year, $2.401 million contract, which included a $181,652 signing bonus. Following several years of playing for free at an exceptionally high level, he’s being rewarded. Good for him.
However, the chunk of change is the best thing coming to McCarron in his first professional season, which he will spend toting a clipboard or straddling the bench. After achieving almost God-like status at one of the nation’s all-time top college programs, that doesn’t sound like too much fun.
McCarron can spin it all he wants, but his transition to the next level will be difficult to bear. Really, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s perused a scouting report — nearly all of which call into question his lackluster arm strength or athleticism, two crucial attributes needed to succeed in the NFL.
- “Does not have a big-time, vertical arm” — (NFL.com)
- “Lacks an elite arm with average-at-best velocity on downfield throws” — (CBSSports.com)
- “Lacks arm strength” — (Walterfootball.com)
- “Lacks an elite arm strength and velocity on throws downfield” — (BleacherReport.com)
That’s just a small sampling. Notice the common denominator?
A weak arm gets you by at Alabama, where you’re surrounded by a never-ending influx of elite talent and coached by some of the best minds around. In the NFL, though, it’s going to be the reason why you will rarely, if ever, see the field, especially in the ultra-competitive and defensive-minded AFC North.
There’s no way to correct McCarron’s fatal flaws before he throws a pass in the league. Once he eventually does, and it’s on tape, the book will be out on him. There won’t be too many chapters to it, either.
McCarron has spent the better part of the last 1,095 days as an unquestioned No. 1 quarterback, dismantling sub-level competition with a comically superior supporting cast.
Those days are over. And not even Nick Saban or Katherine Webb can help change that.