Column: McCarron Needs to Throw to Shed ‘Game-Manager’ Label


The NFL Scouting Combine is just two days away, and already we know that one Heisman trophy finalist from this past season, Johnny Manziel, will not throw. Runner-up A.J. McCarron remains undecided. If he’s smart, he’ll go out and throw.

McCarron went 36-4 playing in the SEC, winning two national titles as the starting quarterback of the Alabama Crimson Tide. But he never received any real recognition for those victories because of where he played and who his supporting cast was.

In 2011, the story was Alabama’s defense that delivered a shutout against LSU in the BCS National Championship. McCarron methodically drove the ball downfield, while kicker Jeremy Shelley capped off five drives with field goals. Then Trent Richardson came barreling in for a 34-yard score. But it was the defense allowing just 92 yards that garnered most of the attention.

That year, the school had seven unanimous All-Americans and a record four players taken in the first round of the draft. Eight players were drafted in total and six players were signed as undrafted free agents.

In 2012, McCarron went 20 of 28 for 264 passing yards and four touchdowns in the BCS title game, a game he called the “best game of his life.” But critics pointed to Alabama’s colossal offensive line man-handling Notre Dame’s defense that really stole the show. Two offensive linemen — Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker were taken in the first round of the draft and nine players taken altogether, including running back Eddie Lacy.

Critics also point to the loss against Texas A&M, Alabama’s only loss of the season, when McCarron threw an interception on a fourth-and-goal play on the two-yard line.

Of course there was the five-play, 72-yard drive in the final 1:34 against LSU that gave McCarron his moment the week before — a 28-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Yeldon to take a 21-17 lead and defeat the Tigers in Baton Rouge. That one was for the ages, a Brady-esque comeback.

It’s moments like that where you’re left wanting more. Let’s see him carry a team on his back, with no ground game and pressure in his face, without an offensive line or a defense destroying the opposition. Let’s see him play with the defense Johnny Manziel had to work with in 2013 and constantly have to play behind. Could he have overcome a 21-point deficit against Duke?

Let’s disarm him and see what he can do without at least one 1,000-yard rusher, something he had all three years as a starter. You could always count on opposing defenses to try and load the box against Trent Richardson or Eddie Lacy or Yeldon.

It’s no secret that McCarron always had a strong supporting cast at Alabama, but that is undoubtedly what’s hindering him in the pre-draft process and will only make matters worse if he elects not to throw in Indianapolis. As one NFL scout put it, “He is a classic game manager. He absolutely needs to throw.”

An assistant on another team chimed in. “Teams don’t like it when players don’t throw.”

His best bet at this point is to distance himself from what was achieved at Alabama, throwing with guys he hasn’t worked with before, rather than staying in the friendly confines of Tuscaloosa. It’s either do that, or risk getting overshadowed by Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles or Jimmy Garoppolo or Derek Carr (after a solid Senior Bowl, Carr has yet to make up his mind).

There are already preconceived notions that his arm strength is limited, that he can’t make the big throws accurately downfield, that he’s unable to hit the tight windows. It would appear that he’s aware of these limitations, however, because you rarely see him make a mistake. How many times did you see him take a chance though?

Maybe that’s the real issue. But it shouldn’t be.

This is the young man who once nearly lost his life in a jet ski accident as a little boy, who still has six plates and four screws in his face. Certainly he’s got the mettle (no pun intended) to lay it all on the line and compete in Indianapolis. And if he has a rough day,  he can come roaring back the way Cam Newton did three years ago, the way he did against LSU in a triumphant moment that left him sobbing on the sideline after.

His final college game ended with a disappointing 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, a game in which he threw two interceptions. It wasn’t the A.J. McCarron we were used to seeing, so shouldn’t he be chasing redemption instead of hiding out?

Unless he wants to play it safe. And to scouts, well that should tell them everything they need to know.