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2015 NFL DRAFT

2014 NFL Draft: McCarron unable to shed 'game manager' label

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

AJ McCarron misses a chance to bolster his Heisman case vs. Auburn in the Iron Bowl. (USATSI)

It had all been set up so beautifully for AJ McCarron and Alabama.

With a school record 99-yard touchdown pass in the 4th quarter to break a 21-21 tie over rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl, the senior quarterback seemed to have taken another step towards a third consecutive BCS Title game berth and perhaps even strengthen his argument as a Heisman contender.

Instead, the Tide finally turned.

Auburn's Chris Davis returned a field goal attempt an improbable 100+ yards for the game-winning touchdown to shock the college football world, ending any chance at Alabama's return to the BCS championship and McCarron winning the Heisman.

Lost in insanity following the game was another solid, if somewhat unspectacular performance from McCarron, among the more polarizing NFL prospects in the country.

McCarron's stat-line against the Tigers was impressive. He completed 17 of 29 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns without turning the ball over. Further, though he's not known for his athleticism, he twisted and spun his way to critical first downs on scrambles as the Tide's offense struggled with consistency throughout this game.

And yet, while McCarron's production looks good on paper, NFL scouts likely noted that several of the senior quarterback's passes were late and inaccurate in this game.

On the 99-yard bomb to Amari Cooper, for example, McCarron lofted the pass deep up the right sideline, giving his sophomore receiver an opportunity to make a play on the ball. The pass was thrown into double coverage and Cooper had to slow down and leap to make the play. His ability to make the grab and run through an arm-tackle by the Auburn defender was more impressive, frankly, than McCarron's pass.

It was one of a handful of vertical throws attempted by McCarron in which Alabama receivers had to wait on the ball.

McCarron had an opportunity to hit senior wideout Kevin Norwood on a quick post for a touchdown in the fourth quarter but waited too long and his far riskier attempt to drill the ball with the defender near fell incomplete.

This isn't to suggest that McCarron, NFLDraftScout.com's No. 4 rated senior quarterback prospect, didn't make NFL-caliber throws in this contest. His second touchdown, a beautifully lofted pass over the middle to senior wideout Kevin Norwood, for example demonstrated great poise, touch and accuracy. Further, McCarron also showed enough arm strength to rifle a deep out down the left sideline in the fourth quarter to put the Tide in position for a field goal attempt that would have given them a commanding 10 point with just a few minutes remaining.

Further, whereas many of his teammates seemed rattled by the pressure of this game, McCarron played with composure, traits that every NFL team values at the quarterback position.

With Davis running away with McCarron's opportunity to play the hero role, however, the quarterback was robbed of the chance to answer his critics with another game-winning (rather than game-managing) performance.

 
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