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Should AJ McCarron be among Vikings’ options if Cousins lands elsewhere?

Aug 12, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron (5) warms up before a preseason NFL football game with the Minnesota Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

If you have a right hand with five fingers on it and you’ve thrown a football before, there’s a good chance that someone has mentioned you as being in the mix for becoming the next Minnesota Vikings quarterback.

So when NFL Network included the Vikings in the conversation when AJ McCarron won his grievance with the league and officially became an unrestricted free agent, it was fair to look past him as a potential option.

But as we come closer to the end of the Kirk Cousins saga, there’s only one thing left that we haven’t looked at closely: The options beyond Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford and Case Keenum if Cousins chooses the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals or New York Jets.

At the Combine, Mike Zimmer laid out the concerns for all three of his viable starting QBs. Bridgewater and Bradford have worrisome knee histories and Keenum might have been a one-year wonder.

McCarron’s name has been bandied about since a brief stint as a starter with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2015 in which he filled in for an injured Andy Dalton.

He is remembered for coming up short in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers, costing the Bengals their best shot at a Super Bowl in the Marvin Lewis era.

The Bengals had a great defense, solid running game and outstanding offensive supporting cast with AJ Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Eifert all healthy.

But McCarron went 23-for-41 with 212 yards and a 68.3 rating at home against Pittsburgh and hasn’t seen much of the field since.

Completely dismissing the former Alabama quarterback based on Cincinnati’s playoff failure isn’t exactly fair.

While he struggled mightily in the first half, McCarron led a comeback in the second half, which was capped off by a 25-yard touchdown pass to Green with 1:56 remaining.

Landry Jones, who briefly stepped in for Ben Roethlisberger, threw an interception that should have ended the game and allowed McCarron to carry the Bengals to the next round. Instead Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball on the next play, opening up Roethlisberger to lead a game-winning drive.

Certainly that doesn’t make McCarron a franchise QB, merely points out an unfair perception.

In three regular season games in 2015, the 27-year-old quarterback completed 66.4 percent of his passes, threw six touchdowns, two interceptions, won two of three games (one loss was to the Super Bowl-winning Broncos), averaged 7.2 yards per attempt and had a rating of 97.1.

Pro Football Focus compared its grades in specific areas for McCarron’s three games to the league average in 2015:

 

Now here’s how his chart compares to Case Keenum:

Clearly Keenum performed better against the blitz, but they are similar in a lot of other areas. Neither has a great deep grade, neither made “big-time” throws, both are high on intermediate throws, both avoided turnover-worthy plays and had high adjusted completion percentages.

Of course, if you think that Keenum’s sample size was an issue, McCarron’s is really, really an issue. But the charts give us a little snap shot of the QB’s skill.

Now let’s have a look at some of the good and bad moments from McCarron’s games against his two toughest opponents, Denver and Pittsburgh.

Here is the good:

Some notes on his best throws:

  • Clip 1 and 2: McCarron has the arm strength and accuracy to hit deep out patterns along the sidelines. The first two clips are a 17-yard out to AJ Green, then a back-shoulder throw to Marvin Jones that was on the money.
  • Clip 3: The third throw is a fade, which McCarron slips over Aquib Talib into the hands of Green. McCarron has touch on a good number of his throws.
  • Clip 4: When pressured from the outside, he rolled out, knew that his receiver had off coverage on the outside, and found him with a strong throw on the run to the sideline for a first down. He isn’t much of a runner, but showed enough mobility and awareness to make a play on the move.
  • Clip 5 is a third-and-long play in which McCarron gets smoked and still makes an accurate throw into deep zone coverage. He released the ball before his receiver was open and hit him in the only area where he could catch it.
  • Clip 6: The Broncos blitz, but the Bengals pick it up. He patiently waits for his man to clear a defender and hits him in stride.
  • Clip 7: Another deep out, this time to his left. Not an easy throw, but hits his man in stride on the sideline.
  • Clip 8: Third down, he spots the blitz right away, slides into space in the pocket and makes a terrific throw into a tight window
  • Clip 9: McCarron leads a would-be game-winning drive in the playoffs, capped off by a terrific throw to Green for a touchdown

Now the bad…

Clip 1: McCarron doesn’t adjust in the pocket to the rush up the middle, then throws off his back foot into tight coverage.

Clip 2: McCarron had a sack rate of nearly 9 percent, higher than any of the top 30 QBs in the NFL today. On a third down – with field position playing an important role in the second half against Denver – he waits too long in the pocket for something to develop and takes a bad sack.

Clip 3: On his reel there are several good downfield throws. This is not one of them. Early in the game, McCarron throws a duck into coverage, coming up way short of his intended target and resulting in an interception.

Clip 4: We didn’t see a lot of the Bengals’ QB working to multiple reads or manipulating defenders with his eyes. In this clip, he stares down his target nearly allowing the linebacker to jump the route for an INT.

Clip 5: Again he does not adjust to the pass rush up the middle and takes a hit, forcing a throw into the ground.

Clip 6: McCarron’s poor throws usually come when he can’t set his feet just right and step into the ball. This throw sails on him and nearly kills Green.

The takeaway:

While we don’t have a lot tape to statistics to work with, there is enough to suggest that McCarron could lead a team with a strong supporting cast like the Vikings.

Signing him instead of Cousins would allow Minnesota to trade up and draft a future quarterback in the first round and spend significantly in free agency.

Still, it appears that Cousins’ odds of becoming a Vikings are extremely high and either Bridgewater, Bradford or Keenum would be in their backup plans rather than an unproven QB with ups and downs.





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