A Closer Look at QB AJ McCarron


The Bills made the trade that a lot of fans have been pining for the last year or so. They sent starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland for the 65th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. It’s honestly a win-win for both teams, but one that now leaves the Bills with a huge void to fill.

The move seems to point to the Bills moving up and drafting a franchise quarterback, but most would agree that besides UCLA’s Josh Rosen, no other QB is ready to play on day one. With only Nathan Peterman and Joe Webb currently on the roster, and the assumption that GM Brandon Beane will likely bring a veteran QB onto the roster and a limited crop of decent QBs on the market, Buffalo has been linked to former Bengal AJ McCarron.

The Alabama product has been Andy Dalton’s backup the last few years, but he was well liked by people within the organization and outside of it. However, being liked doesn’t equate to starting caliber talent. Typically, backup QBs are well liked among franchises because of the type of character those kinds of players must possess.

I say this because once I turn on the film, I do not see starting material, and the rumors are that McCarron is going to command a Mike Glennon type contract, which was a three year deal worth up to 45 million dollars. But the deal actually boiled down to 1 year 16 million, so very similar to what the Bills were going to pay Tyrod Taylor.


But let’s cut to the chase; his film and play didn’t impress me. I saw game manager; I saw average; I saw not worth the time or money. He played in 26 snaps in 2017 in relief of Dalton, which included 15 drop backs. But to get a better idea of some of his skills, you need to see him in his starts.

In 2015,  he started four games and had varying levels of success. He completed 63.8% of his passes for 1,066 yards, 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions during that season. While he appeared in seven games, including a wild card matchup versus the Steelers, in his starts he only averaged 191 passing yards per game. That’s less than former QB Tyrod Taylor averaged over his last three years in Buffalo.

McCarron carries similar traits to the current QB on the roster, Nathan Peterman. He is a quarterback that has average arm strength. Can he make deep throws? Yes, in 2015 he was 7/16 for 236 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception on passes over 20 yards. But what the advanced stats won’t tell you is that while he was decent in that area, his arm strength and placement were often an issue. If he leads Green down the proverbial ‘red line’ up the field, this is a touchdown. Instead, the throw from the left hash to the far sideline, outside shoulder may have cost them a touchdown.


It’s common and these are the kinds of clips that can give you context surrounding his passivity about where to place it paired with his lack of arm strength. Here is a very similar play, BUT from the near hash. Is he in rhythm? Does he have to read much pre- to post-snap? Is he able to drive it? What’s the result?


Here, the Bengals face 3rd-and-4 and align in an empty set, making the read easier for McCarron. The Ravens show man coverage, so McCarron attacks who he should, the linebacker. Rex Burkhead runs a vertical route versus the linebacker. He puts far too much air underneath it and the throw sails incomplete. He should be able to easily drive this pass up the field from the near hash to his teammate, as the linebacker is completely out of phase in chase mode.


Here’s another pass that looks good in the box score, but when you analyze the film, you may come to a different conclusion. Nice play action fake, great decision, but the placement is off.


When he needs to drive it into the intermediate and deep areas in tight windows, everything needs to be nearly perfect. He is not a quarterback who has the confidence or arm strength to throw to certain areas of the field, especially out of rhythm, off platform, or without the aid of his lower body. That’s OK, but not every play will have a clean pocket; not every play or route will develop once he hits the top of the pocket or hitches once or twice.


Another play from the wild card game where the throw was completed and Green got into the end zone, but was it thrown properly? You may think I am nitpicking, given the result, but take into account the entire context of the play. Did McCarron make the play or did Green?


It’s 3rd-and-13 and he attempts a deep pass. Should he have thrown it to this WR? Very debatable, but given the down and distance and his options, going deep (while risking an interception deep) is not that awful. But was he able to execute the attempt? No, the ball sailed.


So he may not be the best deep ball passer; there are many QBs who don’t live in that area, and McCarron is obviously one of those guys. But will the lack of ability to drive throws to certain areas affect his decisions or accuracy, or even how defenses play him? Yes, I believe it does. You saw one clip in which he refused to throw it to Green; now look at this one from 2017. The safety is hanging low pre-snap, and post-snap the defense drops into Cover 3 Sky with safety Eddie Jackson covering the flats. The Bengals run a sail concept with a short route to the flats by the tight end and a deeper out route by the receiver. It’s a good high/low concept. McCarron reads it correctly, but is he able to execute the throw? Does he trust his arm? How’s the placement?



In those four games as a starter he was sacked 12 times, threw the ball away 11 times, and tossed an interception. He doesn’t appear to have the cleanest mechanics, which does add to some of his issues.


Too often I saw his balance and weight distribution off, creating issues when he needs to simply slide or climb the pocket. 


When under pressure, McCarron’s poise suffers, and in 2015 he completed 49.1% of his passes while under pressure for 283 yards, zero touchdowns, 1 interception, 15 sacks, 13 throwaways and a 56.4 QB rating. In 2017, he completed 25% for 4 yards, zero touchdowns or interceptions, 1 sack, and a 39.6% QB rating. The lack of athleticism and poise displayed by McCarron could be an issue with the Bills’ offensive line, and something fans are going to quickly realize.


I am not saying McCarron is a bad quarterback; he does have some positive traits. Given the Bills’ apparent draft plans, weapons, overall roster, and the contract that he may command, I don’t think it is worth it. In 2015, McCarron had AJ Green, Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead, and Mohammed Sanu. That’s a pretty damn good set of skill players around him, and he still averaged 191 passing yards/game as a starter.
Do the Bills have those types of players in Buffalo? Will they be able to get even half of those types of players via the draft and free agency?
Given his skillset, I don’t see a starter, I see a game manager, a backup, and probably one of the better ones. He is not a good bridge QB, and they would have been better off keeping Taylor, all things considered. Buffalo has someone with McCarron’s traits already on the roster in Nate Peterman.
The organization is poised to move up and draft their QB and, given the totality of circumstances, I don’t think they should chase McCarron. I’d rather them start the QB they draft than pay above market value for the former Bengal.