NFL Nation: A.J. McCarron

Why the Cowboys didn't draft a QB

May, 12, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- For all of the talk about the Dallas Cowboys drafting a quarterback, they never really considered selecting one.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Tony Dejak/AP PhotoThe Dallas Cowboys are viewing 30-year-old backup Brandon Weeden as their "developmental quarterback."
After the first round, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said picking Johnny Manziel, "wasn't even a thought," despite loving the former Texas A&M quarterback who ended up with the Cleveland Browns.

The Cowboys liked several lower-round quarterbacks, such as Tom Savage, but passed on all of them. The Cowboys have not drafted a quarterback since taking Stephen McGee in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. Since 1989, the Cowboys have drafted only four quarterbacks: Troy Aikman, Bill Musgrave, Quincy Carter and McGee. Steve Walsh was taken in the first round of the 1989 supplemental draft.

With Tony Romo coming off his second back surgery and Kyle Orton's future in question, many thought the Cowboys would take a shot at a quarterback.

"We feel in signing Brandon Weeden, he can be viewed as that developmental guy," coach Jason Garrett said. "A first-round pick a couple of years ago, coming from a baseball background, has all the physical tools you want. We view him as in that role right now, so we wanted to be selective about anybody else we wanted to bring in here."

So no Savage, no Aaron Murray, no AJ McCarron. The Cowboys did sign Dustin Vaughan as an undrafted free agent and he was on their draft board.

At quarterback, "the best players who play typically come from the top rounds," Garrett said. "I do think with how the league has changed, there is a demand to play those guys earlier and that changes the dynamic of taking your time to develop guys year after year and they play in years four and five. The thing you’re concerned about is developing them for somebody else. You develop them for two, three, four years and he goes and plays for another football team. We don’t think that’s a worthwhile thing. There’s been a theory around the league, teams like Green Bay for years always took a guy late and if that player develops into something that was a good thing for their team or to trade to somebody else. There were some examples of them doing that. It’s a philosophy a lot of teams, they agree with that. But when you have other issues on your team I think it becomes a little bit of a luxury to do that. When you feel good about your starter and you feel good about your backups, we feel it’s better to take a position player, a guy we know can contribute on special teams, instead of trying to develop that guy [quarterback]."
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

CINCINNATI -- A wrap-up of the Cincinnati Bengals' draft. Click here for a full list of Bengals draftees.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergDarqueze Dennard was rated near the top of the Bengals' board, and the team ended up pouncing in the first round.
Best move: When the Bengals finalized their big board in the days leading up to the draft, they put cornerback Darqueze Dennard near the top of the list. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said Dennard was ranked among the team's top 10 overall players. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther felt that rating was accurate and had few reasons to believe the man-press corner would actually fall to No. 24 where the Bengals were waiting for a defensive back. Once Justin Gilbert was scooped up by the Browns at No. 8 and Kyle Fuller came off the board to the Bears at No. 14, it started looking like a real possibility that Dennard -- rated the No. 2 cornerback on most draft boards -- would be available. That was especially the case when the Browns traded with the Eagles to move up to No. 22, taking a team with a cornerback need (Philadelphia) off the board before the Bengals' selection. As arguably the best player available when his pick was made, Dennard's selection was a wise one and deserved to be classified as the best of the Bengals' draft.

Riskiest move: It's never easy for teams to evaluate draft hopefuls who come into the draft process with arrest records, let alone convictions. That was what the Bengals had to do with running back Jeremy Hill, though, as they tried to figure out whether two separate events -- one from when Hill was in high school and another from when he was at LSU -- ought to be enough to deter them from selecting him. After consultations with Hill's coaches and others around him, the Bengals felt Hill had experienced enough of a life transformation the past several months to warrant grabbing him in the second round. Hill's conviction was for a misdemeanor sexual assault charge from his senior year of high school. He didn't play his entire first season at LSU because school officials wanted to wait until the legal process ran its course. Last year, he was arrested after punching a man in a bar fight. The incident was caught on tape. Taking him in the first place was a risky move. Doing so in the second round might have been even riskier. Time will be the judge of that.

Most surprising move: The biggest move of the Bengals draft was also its most surprising one. After four rounds went by without them selecting a quarterback, it started looking like the Bengals might end up not even entertain taking one. After all, based on their pre-draft chatter about having a firm belief in Andy Dalton, it seemed they might end up feeling so comfortable with their starter and the rest of their quarterback room that they might move beyond thinking about signing one. When quarterbacks started going off the board in the fourth and fifth rounds, though, it was time for the Bengals to act if they were going to act at all. What makes AJ McCarron's selection most surprising, though, was the fact that he was the one picked and not another quarterback. Target Aaron Murray could have been a possibility in earlier rounds. Tom Savage, too. It wasn't long after Murray's pick at 163rd overall that the Bengals did end up grabbing McCarron. They took him with the next pick.

File it away: In case you haven't already, something you might want to remember for future drafts under coach Marvin Lewis is this: He likes drafting SEC players. Entering the draft, the Bengals had claimed 26 players from the conference since Lewis' arrival in 2003. The conference that had the next-highest draft representation was the Big Ten, which had 15 selections. This year, the Bengals took three players from the SEC, including two from LSU. Their first-round pick, Dennard, is the lone Big Ten representative in this class.

CINCINNATI -- In the next few days, you'll probably read reports comparing AJ McCarron to Andy Dalton, calling the two Cincinnati Bengals quarterbacks carbon copies of each other.

Don't believe that hype.

It is true that McCarron, the Bengals' 2014 fifth-round draft pick, and Dalton, their starting quarterback, have tangible on-field similarities, but it's their difference in demeanor -- and ability to produce in big-game scenarios -- that ultimately draws a finite distinction between them.

[+] EnlargeMcCarron
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsThe confidence of A.J. McCarron, right, can border on cockiness, but he has the hardware to back it up.
McCarron has a confidence that borders on cockiness. Dalton is arguably the most selfless dude on a team full of compassionate personalities. McCarron has diamond-encrusted rings on his fingers, earned from helping the Alabama Crimson Tide win back-to-back national championships. Dalton has a black plastic band he wears on game days to recognize his marriage.

There's nothing wrong with either of those traits; all four are endearing qualities for different types of players to have. But the thing about each of them is that they help confirm the following: AJ McCarron is the anti-Andy.

For most Bengals fans starved for a playoff win, that is cause for celebration. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has to be at least a little happy to have another guy in the meeting rooms who is more similar to him than Dalton.

"A lot of people call me cocky. A lot of people say I have a lot of confidence, too," Jackson said. "I kind of like that in a guy. I kind of like that in a quarterback. You have to have a little bit of that so that you can raise above sometimes in tough times."

Now for the real question: What happens to Dalton with McCarron on the roster?

There is no easy answer, but it's clear that the rookie's presence makes the outlook on Dalton's contract extension cloudier than ever. Even if the Bengals contend Dalton is and will be their starter for the foreseeable future.

"This is not about Andy Dalton," Jackson said of the draft pick. "Andy Dalton is our quarterback. And we stand behind him 100 percent."

It is true that Dalton has been somewhat successful in the NFL. He won 30 games in his first three seasons as an NFL quarterback, and he has led the Bengals to three straight playoff berths for the first time in their history. But he still hasn't helped them earn a playoff victory and continues to struggle on the big stage.

Aside from a Monday night win over the Steelers last season -- one that was primarily fueled by running back Giovani Bernard's breakout performance -- Dalton otherwise had difficulty in prime time in 2013. He was sacked for a safety to close out the Bengals' 22-20 overtime loss at Miami on a Thursday night, and like the rest of his teammates, had trouble getting going in a 30-20 Sunday night loss at Pittsburgh near the end of the season.

Big games have been the bane of Dalton's existence. In college, they were the source of McCarron's strength.

Last season alone McCarron helped lead Alabama to a 49-42 win over Texas A&M after continually answering scores from Johnny Manziel's Aggies. It was one of the more emotional wins of Alabama's 11-win season.

Beyond that, McCarron helped rally the Tide to two straight regular-season wins over rival LSU and a pair of national championship victories. One of the title-game wins came over LSU, the other over Notre Dame.

Dalton appeared in two BCS games in college, winning one of them. His TCU Horned Frogs beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl his senior season.

Earlier Saturday, hours before the Bengals selected him, McCarron was the talk of social media after Adam Schefter reported during ESPN's televised draft coverage that he "rubbed [teams] the wrong way" during his pre-draft evaluations.

"He's a 'we' guy, and we'll make sure he's a 'we' guy," Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese said. "There's not going to be a 'me' guy in our room, period. I know I'm not going to stand for it and I know neither is Coach Jackson. I didn't get that impression from him."

What the Bengals believe they got was a hungry quarterback who has a self-described "chip on [his] shoulder." In a since-deleted tweet McCarron told his followers early Saturday after slipping through the first three rounds: "& y'all thought I played with a chip on my shoulder, JUST WAIT.. God has a great plan & I can't wait! #blessed #historyinthemaking."

By Saturday afternoon, after his fifth-round selection, McCarron embraced his underdog leanings.

"When I come to work, I've always kind of went to work with a chip on my shoulder," McCarron said to Cincinnati media on a conference call. "That's the thing that pushes me and has made me the player I am."

If McCarron pushes himself the way he already has, there's a good chance the anti-Andy will soon push the Bengals to places they have yet to reach under the real one.
HOUSTON -- The panic was palpable as the first-round closed.

There the Texans were, having taken Jadeveon Clowney first overall then having sat pat for the rest of the first round, rather than addressing what remains their biggest need.

Blake Bortles went third overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Johnny Manziel waited hours until the Cleveland Browns took him 22nd. The Minnesota Vikings traded up to the 32nd pick, one slot before the Texans drafted next, to take Teddy Bridgewater. And just like that, the three most talked-about quarterbacks in this year's draft were gone.

Panic in the streets.

Only, if you listened to what the Texans have been saying since March, this fits.

They said they didn't see three clear-cut top players. Coach Bill O'Brien said he didn't see much separation between that trinity and other quarterbacks. General manager Rick Smith agreed.

"There's some depth in this draft class in general and I think one of the positions that illustrates that is the quarterback position," Smith told me on March 25. "A lot of people talk about the three guys Manziel, Bortles, and Bridgewater, but there’s some good quarterbacks out there, the whole group."

On the same day, O'Brien mentioned Alabama's AJ McCarron, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo and Pittsburgh's Tom Savage, when bringing up names of other "guys that can play quarterback." He didn't mention Derek Carr, David's younger brother, but some (including Mel Kiper) consider him to be the best quarterback remaining in the draft.

That the Texans have waited fits.

Trust me, they realize it's a need. It was a need even before Houston traded Matt Schaub away to the Raiders. His story with the Texans was finished. This new Texans regime has no intention of going into 2014 with only the three quarterbacks they have now -- Ryan Fitzpatrick, signed in free agency, Case Keenum and T.J. Yates. If that happens, something went wrong. They've had internal discussions about Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, but as of Thursday evening they have had no talks with the Patriots.

The Texans considered moving back into the late first round, but apparently decided against it. And while I think getting Clowney and Bridgewater in the same draft would have been one heck of a coup, their sights clearly weren't set on the former Louisville quarterback.

The Texans had the night to reset and the morning to take a look at their draft board and decide what to do. We won't know for a while -- maybe a few more years -- whether they made the right move to watch Bortles, Manziel and Bridgewater slip by. But what we do know right now is the Texans are doing what they said they would.

They are acting like they told the truth all along.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Well, we've reached draft day at last, which means our series looking at the Vikings' quarterback possibilities comes to a conclusion today. This post will be a quick-hit look at some of the other options in the class. Several of them, like Alabama's AJ McCarron, could be viable possibilities for the Vikings in this draft, so we'll spend more time on some quarterbacks than others in this post, but this is meant to wrap up the series with some final words from our resident experts: ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick (a former pro personnel director for the Philadelphia Eagles) and ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson (who used to be a college and pro scout for the Cleveland Browns):

AJ McCarron, Alabama

2013 stats: 67.3 completion percentage, 3,063 yards, 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, 31 1/2-inch arm length, 10-inch hand span

Williamson's take: "I don't like McCarron at all, especially not for them. I think he's vastly overrated as a player, and certainly as a passer."

Riddick's take: "I'm not someone who dings players for playing with other good players. AJ has shown more than enough, as far as executing the things you need to see a college quarterback execute, regardless of who he's playing with, to say he projects as being a good pro in the right context. Knowing his background, he's another guy that, despite playing in that pro style, can really benefit from going to a place where footwork, mechanics, progression reading, essentially staying within the structure of the offense and not being given any slack will benefit him greatly. A place like Kansas City -- and I say Kansas City because of Andy Reid -- is the kind of place he really needs to go. I like him a lot."

Aaron Murray, Georgia

2013 stats: 64.8 completion percentage, 3,075 yards, 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, 30 5/8-inch arm length, 9 1/8-inch hand span

Riddick's take: "I've talked to people who say, 'Slow down (on his return from a torn ACL).' If you're going to draft him high, understand that it's probably best for him to sit a year, whether that be starting off on the PUP (physically unable to perform list). If it weren't for the knee, and how much it would benefit him to have a quote-unquote 'redshirt' year, and not have to be rushed into action, the only thing you would be noticing about Aaron Murray is the same thing you were noticing about Russell Wilson when he came out. It was just, 'But he's not 6-5.' That's the only thing you would be able to say, because the kid ran an offense that was as multiple as any in college football, and probably as multiple as many in the National Football League. He executed from the pocket, from the shotgun, he executed situational football brilliantly. He made big plays with his feet, he threw on the run. He did every single thing. This past year, he lost his top three receivers, his top two running backs, and was still balling. If it wasn't for the knee, there would be no other reason besides our preconceived notions (to keep him from) being a top-level pick. What else are you going to say? I like Aaron Murray a whole, whole lot."

Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois

2013 stats: 66.0 completion percentage, 5,050 yards, 53 touchdowns, nine interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-2, 226 pounds, 31-inch arm length, 9 1/4-inch hand span

Riddick's take: "Of all these guys, he has the longest road to travel before he's ready. His offense was nothing like what he's going to be asked to do in the NFL, unless they're going to take his offense there. He has so much to learn, just from a footwork perspective. He had a lot of yards last year, a lot of short passes, a lot of bubble screens, didn't look very comfortable in the pocket, didn't look comfortable at all under pressure. He seems to be the most green, and has the biggest road to travel as far as development. He's a great kid, very smart and he has a quick release. He doesn't have a great arm. He's never demonstrated pro-style footwork and/or mechanics, and he played at a lower level of competition, although he dominated that level of competition. To me, it's a very vague projection. It's almost more of a guess. When I start thinking in those terms, I'm not going very high for that player."

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

2013 stats: 56.6 completion percentage, 2,909 yards, 16 touchdowns, 13 interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-6, 248 pounds, 34 1/4-inch arm length, 10 7/8-inch hand span

Williamson's take: "He might be a real good fit for Minnesota's offense. He's got a rocket launcher for a right arm, and he's got unbelievable physical characteristics, but he needs time. He's the type of guy that, if you draft him in the second or third round -- the second's probably a little rich -- you'd hope he doesn't see the field at all in 2014. You groom him, you let Norv (Turner) and (Matt) Cassel take him under their wing. To me, he's got more upside than (Zach) Mettenberger, (Tom) Savage, maybe more than anyone in the draft, to be honest with you. I think he's as gifted, and probably more so, in terms of arm strength, athletic ability, size, he's more gifted than anyone else in the draft."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In what has become sort of a St. Louis Rams tradition, the team is sending a large contingent of primary NFL draft decision-makers back on the road to take a final look at some top prospects.

The NFL mandated teams complete their top 30 pre-draft visits by last Sunday, meaning the only way to see players up close is to go to them on their college campuses for private workouts. It's something coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have done in each of their first two years in St. Louis and are doing again with one week before the NFL draft.

Earlier in the week, we reported the team was planning to visit with Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. More reports surfaced Wednesday evening indicating the Rams are putting more miles on owner Stan Kroenke's private plane.

Topping the list is what is expected to be a Friday visit to College Station, Texas, where the team will work out wide receiver Mike Evans, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Rams have made no secret of their interest in the first two players but Manziel's name has been popping up more frequently lately. The Rams are not going to take a quarterback at No. 2 but they sure wouldn't mind a team trading up to grab Manziel. And if he surprisingly slips to No. 13, Manziel can't be ruled out as a possibility for the Rams, though they would probably again look to trade first with a team looking for the quarterback.

Before heading to Texas A&M, the Rams will spend Thursday at Alabama where they are expected to put McCarron through the paces. The team could also look at tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix but the primary purpose is to spend time with McCarron, a possible second-round choice to fit the team's need for a young quarterback.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen also reported the Rams' barnstorming tour would take them to Notre Dame, Tennessee and Ohio State. Visits to South Bend and Columbus would be no surprise given the team's pre-draft interest in Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt and Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. But it's believed that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and line coach Paul Boudreau are also part of the traveling party, which would indicate a chance for a closer look at Fighting Irish offensive lineman Zack Martin and Buckeyes tackle Jack Mewhort.

A stop in Knoxville would also probably mean continued focus on the offensive line where the Volunteers have two prospects in tackles Antonio Richardson and Ja'Wuan James.

Another report had the Rams making a stop at Michigan, where they'd almost certainly be visiting another top line prospect they like in tackle Taylor Lewan.

All of those workouts would go on top of the team's trip to Clemson where it worked out receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant and quarterback Tajh Boyd last week.

Last year, the Rams took a series of late trips for workouts, including one to West Virginia where the team confirmed its interest in receiver Tavon Austin but also fell for fellow wideout Stedman Bailey. The Rams traded up to No. 8 for Austin and selected Bailey in the third round. In 2012, the Rams went on a tour of the nation's top receivers and became smitten with Brian Quick on a visit to Appalachian State. They drafted him in the second round.

Considering the sheer number of workouts the team is reportedly setting up, it's impossible to know which way it might be leaning when it comes to the draft. But it's probably a good idea to acknowledge that at least one and perhaps more of their early picks will come from the group mentioned above.
The Baltimore Ravens haven't downplayed the possibility of drafting a quarterback for the first time since 2011, and the growing list of quarterbacks making pre-draft visits increases the buzz of them doing so.

Alabama's AJ McCarron is the latest quarterback on his way to meet with Ravens officials. He is scheduled to visit on Wednesday, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

McCarron is projected to go in the fourth round, where the Ravens have two compensatory picks at the bottom of that round. He is a confident leader and a three-year starter with a 36-4 career record as a starter, including two national titles. His list of school records includes passing yards in a season (3,063) and career (10,019) and passing touchdowns in a career (77).

Why McCarron will last to the middle rounds is his lack of arm strength. He struggles to get velocity on passes over 20 yards. Draft analysts often compare him to Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.

McCarron is at least the fourth quarterback to visit the Ravens. Others include: Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo (second round), Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas (sixth or seventh rounds) and Ball State's Keith Wenning (sixth or seventh rounds).

The Ravens are looking for a quarterback for a couple of reasons. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he's been "a little disappointed" in the play of backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and the Ravens may need to look ahead because Taylor is entering the final year of his contract.

If the Ravens draft a quarterback, it's unlikely they'll use a rookie as the primary backup to Joe Flacco. The Ravens could groom a drafted quarterback this season and move him into the No. 2 spot in 2015 when Taylor is a free agent.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings are continuing their search for a young quarterback at the end of the week, holding a private workout with Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo today, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported. The workout comes after the Vikings met with LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger following his pro day, and before the team plans to fly Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the Twin Cities for a meeting next week.

General manager Rick Spielman said at the NFL scouting combine the Vikings would conduct private workouts with "eight or nine" quarterbacks, so it's no surprise to see them making the rounds with a month to go before the NFL draft. They'd already met with Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Fresno State's Derek Carr, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, and reportedly had a private workout with San Jose State's David Fales. The Vikings also met with South Carolina's Connor Shaw at the NFL scouting combine, and had a scout at his pro day, though Shaw isn't projected to go as high in the draft as the other quarterbacks the Vikings have scouted.

The Vikings are believed to be high on Mettenberger, who threw more than 100 passes at his pro day in an attempt to show the progress he's made since tearing his ACL last fall. The quarterback had dinner with four Vikings officials on Wednesday night, according to a league source, and seemed to click well with offensive coordinator Norv Turner; by the end of Mettenberger's workout, the source said, Turner was calling out the routes he wanted to see Mettenberger throw. The quarterback could be raw in some areas of his game, but he might have one of the stronger arms in the draft, and could be a good fit for Turner's deep passing game.

As we get closer to the draft, though, the Vikings will have to consider plenty of different permutations for the quarterback position. They'll have to decide if they want to take one in the first round, or wait until later in the draft, and they'll have to sift through a deep quarterback class where sure things are thought to be in short supply. And if Spielman has been known for one thing in his career, it's his thoroughness. We're certainly seeing that play out here.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings will bring Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the Twin Cities for a visit on Monday and Tuesday, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson. We've heard the Vikings top-30 prospects event is scheduled for the middle of April, and it appears Bridgewater's visit could be part of it.

Since the NFL draft went to a three-day format in 2010, the Vikings have conducted their top-30 prospects event 3 1/2 weeks before the draft each year. With the draft being bumped back to May 8-10 this year, the Vikings also pushed back their event from the first week of April. Each team in the NFL is allowed to bring 30 draft hopefuls to its facilities for meetings with coaches, and the Vikings have typically used most of their allotment to bring many prospects in at once.

The event doesn't necessarily identify the Vikings' top 30 prospects, however. It has allowed the team to spend more time with players it wants to learn more about, but the Vikings have also used high picks on players who weren't at the event, like safety Harrison Smith in 2012. From what we've heard, the Vikings don't plan to bring Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger or Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr to the event; they held individual meetings with all three, as well as Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, after their respective pro days, and while they also met with Bridgewater after his pro day, their decision to opt for a second visit with him doesn't crystallize where he stands in their pecking order. They might have more they want to learn about him, and the closer we get to the draft, of course, the more teams use subterfuge to cloud their true intentions.

It is worth noting, though, that Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner didn't seem as distraught by Bridgewater's subpar pro day as some others; he told last Month he thought Bridgewater was "pretty good" during his March 17 workout. Now, it appears, the Vikings will take one more chance to sit down with Bridgewater before the draft.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If the Jacksonville Jaguars don't take a quarterback with their first-round draft pick, they’re pretty much out of the running for Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles.

But there are plenty of other quarterbacks they can target, including former Fresno State standout Derek Carr -- whom the Jaguars will be playing host to on Wednesday, according to a league source.

Carr is among the group of quarterbacks most draft analysts rate just behind the Bridgewater/Manziel/Bortles trio. AJ McCarron, Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Savage, and Zach Mettenberger also are in the group with Carr.

Some analysts believe Carr may actually be the best quarterback in the draft. ESPN’s Ashley Fox wrote about that on Saturday, and her reasoning makes a lot of sense. Unlike Manziel, Bortles and Garoppolo, Carr played in a pro-style offense at Fresno State -- for a year, anyway.

That was in 2011, when Carr played for coach Pat Hill, who also coached Carr’s older brother David, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft. Hill was fired after that season and was replaced by Tim DeRuyter, who ran a spread offense.

Fox writes that ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, a former director of pro personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, said teams evaluating Carr need to pop in 2011 tape to get an idea of how he fits in an NFL offense.

"If you limit your exposure to just 2013 or 2012, you're missing the boat," Riddick said. "If you limit yourself to 2012, you are missing 2011, when he ran a quote-unquote pro-style offense, which at a young age I thought he showed excellent proficiency given where he was developmentally at that time."

Jaguars general manager David Caldwell has said it's hard to evaluate college quarterbacks that played in spread offenses because you don't know if they can learn to stay in the pocket, make their reads and deliver the ball on time. That's especially true with Manziel.

The Jaguars coached Carr at the Senior Bowl in January and they liked what they saw. They're going to get a closer look on Wednesday.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft after finishing 4-12 in 2013. The roster needs so much help that the Jaguars could go in various directions with their selection, although the team’s biggest needs are quarterback and pass-rusher.

Mel Kiper Jr.’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out on ESPN Insider Insider today, and it’d be tough to argue against his choice.

The San Francisco 49ers will likely consider adding a quarterback in the mid rounds of the draft.

The team would like to develop a backup to young star Colin Kaepernick. His 2013 backup, veteran Colt McCoy, is a free agent. The team also has McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who could compete for the job.

Still, this is a deep draft, and the 49ers have a surplus of picks. And coach Jim Harbaugh is a huge fan of young quarterbacks. The 49ers looked at several last season. Here is a look at some of the quarterbacks who could attract interest in the mid-rounds:

Tajh Boyd, Clemson: Once considered a top-10 pick, Boyd could be tempting if he is available late in the third round.

David Fales, San Jose State: The local kid has the look of becoming a competent backup.

Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois: He dominated at a low level. Could be worth a shot.

AJ McCarron, Alabama: He’s smart and a winner. Those are two wonderful quarterback traits.

Aaron Murray, Georgia: coming of an injury. Could be an interesting guy to stash.

Logan Thomas, Virginal Tech: He has all the tools. Could be worth developing.
Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen was asked Thursday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis if his 2014 starting quarterback was already on Oakland’s roster.

Keep in mind, the Raiders currently have Terrelle Pryor, who started nine games last season, Matt McGloin, who started six, and veteran Trent Edwards, who last started an NFL game in 2010, under contract.

Allen’s response? “I don’t know the answer to that yet, you know what I mean? I think that’s obviously a position we’re going to look at to try to improve as well as any other position. But that’s obviously a position we have to [evaluate].

“The quarterback position is the backbone of your football team, and so we have to make sure that when we go out there this year that we’ve put ourselves in the best position to have success with the quarterback position.”

Then after reading between the lines and going over the silver and black tea leaves, the answer would be … no.

Which of course, brings us to this year’s crop of quarterbacks. You’ve got the big guns in Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, the intriguing guys in Fresno State’s Derek Carr and Alabama’s AJ McCarron and, of course, the biggest and most intriguing figure of all in the polarizing Johnny Manziel, by way of Texas A&M.

Now, the fact that Allen is a Texas A&M alum should give the Raiders a leg up in scouting Manziel to see if he’s worth the hype, let alone the No. 5 overall pick, right?

Yes, Allen was asked about his fellow Aggie.

“Obviously, he’s accomplished a lot at the collegiate level and has been a very good football player, being the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy,” Allen said. “I think that speaks in and of itself about how good a football player he is, so I think he’s a very talented football player. I think he is a multi-dimensional football player. I think he’s able to throw the ball. I think he’s able to throw the ball from the pocket, but he’s also able to create things with his feet.

“As we get more into the evaluation process, I think he’ll be a fun guy to really evaluate.”

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Jaguars

January, 15, 2014
There are two prevailing thoughts about the Jacksonville Jaguars when it comes to the No. 3 overall selection in the upcoming draft: take a quarterback and grab a pass-rusher in the second round or take a pass-rusher and then draft a quarterback in the second round.

Mel Kiper Jr. believes the Jaguars will take the second approach, which is why he predicted in his first mock draft Insider they will select South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in the first round.

That's a prediction that would have had Jaguars fan euphoric in July, but it doesn't evoke the same degree of reaction now. Pass-rusher is certainly one of the team's top two needs, and Clowney is undoubtedly the most gifted defensive player in the draft, but the Jaguars desperately need to find a franchise quarterback.

Yet in Kiper's mock, they pass on the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft to take Clowney. Kiper predicts that Houston will take Johnny Manziel with the first pick and St. Louis will take offensive tackle Jake Matthews with the No. 2 pick. That means Teddy Bridgewater is available, but instead the Jaguars opt for defense.

It's hard to imagine the Jaguars not taking Bridgewater, or any quarterback, with their top pick, but it's starting to become more and more of a reasonable approach for two reasons: The depth of this quarterback class and the shortage of truly elite pass-rushers.

This quarterback class doesn't have the surefire star like Andrew Luck, so any of the first-round quarterbacks -- Kiper has Manziel, Bridgewater and Blake Bortles being selected -- is a bit of a gamble. But there are plenty of other options that will be available in the second round or later, like AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, Tajh Boyd, Derek Carr and Stephen Morris.

Are they as highly rated as Bridgewater, Bortles or Manziel? No, but that doesn't mean they won't be better players. Just look at the quarterbacks playing in Sunday's conference championship games. Colin Kaepernick was a second-round pick. Russell Wilson was a third-round pick. Tom Brady didn't go until the sixth round. Peyton Manning is the lone exception.

Elite pass-rushers, however, won't last until the second round. In addition to Clowney, Kiper predicts that Anthony Barr, Khalil Mack, Stephon Tuitt and Scott Crichton also will be first-round picks. That means the Jaguars wouldn't be able to land one of those elite rushers if they take a quarterback in the first round -- unless they were to somehow trade up into the latter part of the first round.

GM David Caldwell, however, has said he's committed to building through the draft and you don't do that by giving away picks.

Taking Clowney, whom many believed would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft as a sophomore, instead of a quarterback in the first round may not be the correct decision, but it is the safer pick.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A.J. McCarron's decision to skip playing in the Jan. 25 Reese's Senior Bowl is puzzling, and it certainly has people -- possibly even Jaguars GM David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley -- wondering about his competitiveness.

There is no better chance for a college player to measure himself against some of the best players in the country than at the Senior Bowl. It's a chance to improve draft status by playing well in practices throughout the week, shining in meetings with an NFL coaching staff, and performing well on game day. It's a week that can turn a mid-round draft pick into potentially a late first-rounder.

[+] EnlargeA J McCarron
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAJ McCarron's decision to not participate in the Senior Bowl could impact his draft position.
Which is why McCarron's decision is perplexing. McCarron is viewed as a late first- or early second-round draft pick by some analysts. Some have him even lower. He could change that with a good week in Mobile, Ala. Though his reason for skipping the Senior Bowl sounds valid -- he told's Rany Kennedy he wants to prepare for the NFL combine, Alabama's pro day, and the rest of the evaluation process -- it's potentially doing him more damage than good.

The Jaguars are coaching the South team, on which McCarron would have presumably been placed. It's no secret the Jaguars need a quarterback, but the decision Caldwell has to make is whether to draft a quarterback with the No. 3 overall selection or take a pass-rusher with that pick and wait until the second round or even later to draft a quarterback. If Caldwell went with the second option, McCarron was one of the quarterbacks that most likely would be available in the second round.

Being able to work with McCarron for a week would have been invaluable for Jaguars quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. McCarron's decision to skip brings into question one of the key traits that the Jaguars want in all their players: a competitive fire. It's an even more important trait in a quarterback, and McCarron's decision brings that into question.

"We want to build a competitive mindset," Bradley said in his season wrap-up news conference. "... Compete, compete, compete. I don't care about the scoreboard. We have to drive that mindset into our players. We have a standard and we're competing with that standard, and we're continuing to raise that bar."

There also are questions about whether McCarron was the beneficiary of a supremely talented supporting cast, or if he is talented enough on his own to carry a team. That could have been answered next week as well. It's not something that can be determined at the combine or during Alabama's pro day.

If the Jaguars are indeed interested in McCarron, they will investigate him completely, but there are some things you can only find out in game situations against elite competition. It's a curious decision that could end up hurting McCarron in May -- and possibly knocking him out of the Jaguars' plans.