A.J. McCarron No Longer Game Manager, Now Heisman Candidate, NFL Draft Prospect

A.J. McCarron No Longer Game Manager, Now Heisman Candidate, NFL Draft ProspectJust because A.J. McCarron used to be a game manager, and comes from a long line of game managers, doesn't mean he should be demeaned as one this season.

The last time that the Alabama quarterback threw an interception, it was a simpler time: Eli Manning only had one ring, LeBron James still had no rings, there was an NBA work stoppage, not an NHL lockout, Dan Marino still held the single-season NFL passing record and Tim Tebow was still a starting quarterback. McCarron's last interception came Nov. 12, 2012 against Mississippi State.

Since then, Alabama won a National Championship, McCarron lost his classic Alabama-hairdo, and he's become a legit Heisman contender and NFL draft prospect. So how exactly did McCarron go from just one in a long line of John Parker Wilsons, Brodie Croyles and Jay Barkers to one of the best quarterbacks in college football?

For one, he lost his thin frame and packed on bulk, which drastically improved his arm strength. The team trusts him more this year, as well. It's not an offense completely built around the running game, and because of that, McCarron has been able to show off his smarts, his accuracy and his arm. McCarron is one of the smartest QBs in the nation too. He's adept at reading defenses and makes as many audibles at the line as any of the top NCAA signal callers.

The first thing you notice when you watch McCarron play is that he's obviously spent some time studying the Manning brothers. McCarron's game is reminiscent of Eli Manning especially. His technique, throwing style and mannerisms all show that he's spent some time at the Manning Passing Academy. McCarron is fleeter of foot than either Manning brother, though he's obviously less refined than Eli or Peyton Manning.

The biggest question about McCarron is why no one is talking about him. He's completing 68.9 percent of his passes, he has 1684 yards through eight games, 18 touchdowns, zero interceptions and he's led the most famous college football program in the nation to an undefeated record. It's because the "Alabama quarterback" comes with a reputation. Everyone concentrates on the defense, Nick Saban and the history attached to the program, and the team is so talented it can be difficult to single out individual players.

But McCarron should be singled out. He has definite NFL tools. He's the most polished quarterback the Crimson Tide has had since at least Croyle, though McCarron looks considerably better than the former Kansas City Chiefs' draft pick. McCarron could be the highest drafted Alabama quarterback since Richard Todd was a first-round pick way back in 1976. McCarron has a short, compact release, he throws on the run very well, he's not a scrambler, but he's mobile and comfortable in the pocket and his arm strength and deep accuracy is improving by the week. If Alabama wins out this year, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities to see McCarron go home with the Heisman, leave for the NFL and get drafted in the first round.

There's a long way to go before the BCS National Championship Game, but if Alabama can get there, they'll be riding on McCarron's talented shoulder more than anyone will give him credit for.

Photo via Facebook/AJ-McCarron

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