2014 NFL Draft: Johnny Manziel first of many slides for SEC QBs
Johnny Manziel's slide down to No. 22 was just the beginning of a disappointing 2014 NFL Draft for several SEC quarterbacks. Agonizing waits, yes, but A.J. McCarron, Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray all enter the NFL with plenty to prove.
One of the most successful, prolific, talented quarterbacks available for the 2014 NFL Draft suffered through controversy and criticism before finally being selected.
There was reportedly concern about his off-field persona, literally made for reality television. Some coaches and general managers thought he was a bit cocky during interviews and they were also turned off when he chose not to take part in certain postseason events. And there were concerns that his success in college wouldn't transfer to the NFL game.
And his name is not Johnny Manziel, the controversial Texas A&M star taken by the Cleveland Browns in the first round with the 22nd overall pick.
The subject of all those concerns is Alabama's AJ McCarron, the only quarterback to lead his team to two BCS championships -- back-to-back to culminate the 2011 season (when he was the game's MVP) and after the 2012 season.
He admittedly simmered Saturday as he waited to be selected on the third day of the draft, in the fifth round, No. 164 overall, by the Cincinnati Bengals .
Even before that selection, the ever-competitive McCarron let the world know via Twitter that he was less than thrilled when he wrote: "& y'all thought I played with a chip on my shoulder, JUST WAIT.. God has a great plan & I can't wait! #blessed #historyinthemaking."
He regained his composure to say the right things after being selected, although that hardly means he is thrilled.
"I'm confident in myself, but at the same time I know Andy (Dalton) is the QB up there and I respect that," McCarron said, referring to the Bengals' incumbent starting quarterback. "All I want to do is go in and help us in whatever way I can. If that means me holding the clipboard for a couple of years and giving Andy reports during the week, or watching film with him and helping him out in any way I can. I'm just ready to do it. I'm excited about this opportunity, and I just can't wait to get up there."
Dalton took to his "@andydalton14 Twitter account to reach out to McCarron, tweeting "Congrats @10AJMcCarron! Welcone to Cinci! #WhoDey."
McCarron added this tweet: "So thankful for this!! What a great organization to be apart of & I can't wait to learn from @andydalton14 #WhoDeyNation."
Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was quick to defuse any bomb material regarding a QB controversy.
"This is not about Andy Dalton," Jackson said. "This is really about improving the room. Obviously, AJ was on our board and again, we kind of hold true to our board. He's a tremendous football player, he played in a lot of big games at Alabama, we have a lot of respect for his talent. ... We're adding another good football player to an already talented room and going to let guys compete."
Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese offered that McCarron has excellent football smarts.
"I love how he carries himself, the enthusiasm for the game, the work ethic," Zampese said. "You know he's tough, playing for (Alabama coach Nick) Saban down there and being in so many big games. He's played with pro players every year he's been down there, so hopefully this next step for him -- it will be big -- but he's been playing with some guys that are pretty good, too."
Still, based on McCarron's career achievements at Alabama, his consternation before finally being taken is understandable.
He appeared in 53 games, starting his final 40 as he compiled a 36-4 record as a starter. His 36 victories are the most ever by a Tide starting quarterback, topping the previous mark of 35 wins by Jay Barker (1991-94).
He is only the 11th major college quarterback to win at least 90 percent of his games as a starter. Only Barker (35-2-1, .934) and Danny Wuerffel of Florida (32-3-1, .903, 1993-96) had better winning percentages among Southeastern Conference signal-callers.
McCarron completed 686 of 1,026 passes (66.86 percent) for 9,019 yards, 77 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions.
So, with all due respect to the late, great Vince Lombardi, when it comes to selecting quarterbacks in an NFL Draft, winning is not the only thing.
McCarron was only the ninth quarterback taken, following: Blake Bortles (Central Florida, No. 3 overall, to Jacksonville), Manziel (Texas A&M, No. 22 overall, to Cleveland), Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville, No. 32 overall, to Minnesota), Derek Carr (Fresno State, No. 36 overall, to Oakland), Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois, No. 62 overall, to New England), Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech, No. 120 overall, to Arizona), Tom Savage (Pittsburgh, No. 135 overall, to Houston) and Aaron Murray (Georgia, No. 163 overall, to Kansas City).
And after McCarron was taken No. 164, another SEC passer, Zach Mettenberger of LSU, was drafted No. 178 overall by the Tennessee Titans despite the player's injuries and reportedly a recently failed drug test.
Of course, the Southeastern Conference has not been hailed as a showplace for prolific passers, so perhaps providing four of the top 10 quarterbacks is not cause for embarrassment, even in a draft that admittedly was not top-heavy in quarterback talent.
Manziel, who introduced Texas A&M to the SEC two years ago in wild style, most famously for beating McCarron and Alabama, was always destined to be the first quarterback taken from that conference this year, despite controversy aplenty.
Murray, at only 6-foot-1, may be taller than Manziel (just under 6-0), but was hardly as dynamic. However, his pocket presence and accuracy are likened to similarly sized Drew Brees, a superstar in New Orleans.
McCarron (at 6-3, 220) is the only one among the top three SEC prospects without a size concern, but he was saddled with the label game manager on a team that is consistently one of the best in the country and is more known for brutal defense than prolific offense.
And then there were those interviews that reportedly bothered team officials. He also has a scheduled reality show featuring his wedding, which isn't the type of thing that thrills NFL teams looking for the face of their franchise.
Although McCarron can be aggravated by the wait and let that become incentive, and despite some coaches saying before the draft that he would be a solid pick, most draft lists had him about where he was taken. NFLDraftScout.com rated McCarron as the No. 8 quarterback and listed him No. 124 overall.
Why? Let us recite the reasons:
Bortles, at 6-5, 224, has the size and arm teams like.
Manziel is, well, Johnny Football after all.
Bridgewater was rated by some as the best quarterback in this draft, although others had concerns about his size, and a lousy pro day did not help.
Garoppolo may become the most intriguing quarterback in this draft, not only because the Patriots took him 137 spots higher than they took Tom Brady years ago, but because he has a quick release reminiscent of Dan Marino.
Thomas is admittedly a fluke pick, worth more as an athlete than as a quarterback who proved he cannot shoot straight.
Savage, at 6-4, 228, has the size and arm for the NFL but after moving to three college teams he needs schooling to be ready and he had better learn fast because the Texans need a quarterback now.
Murray, again, has drawn comparisons to Brees. Not bad.
And McCarron might have been even lower, but Mettenberger is coming off knee surgery, has back problems and reportedly failed a drug test before the draft.
So whether he likes it or not, that is why McCarron was selected lower than he hoped. But he's in the NFL now and the ball will be literally in his hands, or as soon as Dalton relinquishes it.
NOTES: Rounding out quarterbacks drafted -- David Fales, San Jose State, No. 183, to Chicago; Keith Wenning, Ball State, No. 194, to Baltimore; Tajh Boyd, Clemson, No. 213, to NY Jets; Garrett Gilbert, SMU, No. 214, to St. Louis Rams.
Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, covered the NFL and the draft since the 1960s and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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