Feb 23, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Eastern Illinois quarterback James Garoppolo (FL), Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron (L), Louisville Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (R), and Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel (FR) look on during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Draft: McCarron, Murray Would Be Substance Over Style

The 2014 NFL Draft is coming. In less than two weeks, football fans across America will throw parties, crowd bars and squeeze around their televisions anxiously anticipating Roger Goodell’s appearance on the stage.

Whether you’re waiting to hear your favorite college player’s name or your favorite NFL team announcing their selection, this is the night that changes everything.

Going from elite to bust is an easy feat in the transition to the NFL, but determining who will take that road is much harder. History tells us that some of the most famous and celebrated quarterbacks in college fail to make an impact at the next level. From 2000 to 2007, QBs took home the Heisman every year – except in 2005, when Reggie Bush was awarded the trophy that was later vacated. Of these seven game changers, only one made a career out of the sport: Carson Palmer. Of course, winning the Heisman doesn’t necessarily translate to failing in the NFL. But it doesn’t guarantee success either.

From the last bowl game to the first team on the clock, analysts and “experts” rage on about the different styles, skills and characteristics required to be an asset on the professional level. This year, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles reign as the three most sought after candidates in the media. However, lest we forget about drafts past, the players labelled as “top priority” don’t always pan out as such.

Remember Joey Harrington? How about Vince Young? JaMarcus Russell?

These college stand-outs were selected early in the first round of their respective draft classes. The Detroit Lions took Harrington (Oregon) with the third pick in 2002, the Tennessee Titans grabbed Young (Texas) with the third pick in 2006, and the Oakland Raiders chose JaMarcus Russell (LSU) with the first overall pick in 2007. Jerseys were sold, and eager fans awaited the first kick-off of the season. All three were hailed as elite talent on the collegiate level. All three were expected to transform into the NFL with relative ease. And all three were looked upon with hope that they could be the savior of a franchise.

All three failed.

Most of Sunday’s most thrilling and notable players in the league today never won the Heisman. A few of them didn’t get drafted in the first round, much less the top 10. While revered football minds admired and concentrated on particular athletes, they overlooked some exceptional ones.

Nick Foles (Arizona) made his way onto the scene in Philadelphia last season with the injury of Michael Vick. Essentially beating out a healthy Vick for the starting position later in the year, it’s hard to believe that a player with this skillset in the pocket was drafted 88th in 2012 by the Eagles.

Russell Wilson (Wisconsin), another exceptional rookie from 2012’s draft class, was selected 75th by the Seattle Seahawks. Earlier this year, he became one of the youngest quarterbacks in history to win a Super Bowl. But perhaps the greatest example of an underrated QB came in the 2000 NFL draft when Tom Brady (Michigan) was taken with the 199th pick by the New England Patriots. Proving to be one of the best to ever play the game, Brady has collected three Super Bowl rings thus far. You may have heard of him.

As previously stated, the “experts” have chosen their top three talents at this position for the 2014 NFL draft. Yes, they’re flashy. Yes, they’ve made some remarkable plays. And yes, they’ve led their teams to winning seasons. However,

I’m not buying it.

While all of the potential rookies have impressive attributes, there are two that aren’t receiving the attention they deserve. Two of the best quarterbacks not only in the SEC, but in the nation:

Aaron Murray and AJ McCarron.

Since 2010, Murray has made a lasting imprint in college football. He holds the SEC career records in most passing yards (13,166), most total offense (13,562), most completions (921) and most career touchdown passes (121). He is also the first SEC QB to throw for 3,000 yards or more in four consecutive seasons. As for mental toughness, Murray is one of the best. Gil Brandt, NFL Senior Media Analyst, praised the Georgia QB not only for his character, but for his abilities on the field:

“On an uneven scale from three (average) to nine (the top), I don’t have a grade lower than seven on any characteristic for Murray. I gave him nines for intelligence, dedication and competitiveness, an eight for accuracy, and sevens for arm strength and mobility.

Because he graded out so highly on dedication and competitiveness, and because of recent surgical advances made with knee injuries, there’s no doubt in my mind Murray will come out of this stronger than he was.”

Since Murray’s ACL tear late in the 2013 season, the focus has mainly been on his health. Any questions concerning Murray’s mobility is laid to rest in a video from his Pro Day:

As for his durability, there’s a lot to be said for a QB who can withstand four years of brutal SEC competition. Not everyone can play against elite defensive talent and continue to be an offensive force. There are reports stating that Murray is undersized with “average arm talent”. Russell Wilson was also considered undersized. And as far as arm strength is concerned, scouts declared that Peyton Manning had a “weak arm” coming out of Tennessee in 1998.

If Aaron Murray is said to have the same negative traits as Wilson and Manning, I think he can live with the criticism.

AJ McCarron has separated himself from the mold of “game manager” that is associated with previous quarterbacks at Alabama. From 2010 to 2013, McCarron has thrown for 9,019 yards with 77 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions. He also led the Crimson Tide to back-to-back National Championships in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Some doubt his abilities, but Saban disagrees:

“I think anybody that doesn’t take AJ in one of those earlier rounds is going to make a huge mistake because I think he’s going to be a very, very good player,” Saban said. “First of all, he has all the athletic talent to make all the throws that he needs to make at the next level.

“Guys who can make quick decisions, process the information and throw the ball accurately are the guys that usually end up being pretty good NFL quarterbacks.”

It’s no secret that the Crimson Tide produces quality players, but that shouldn’t be a knock on McCarron. The assumption that McCarron was a strong college QB solely due to his supporting cast is absurd. In Johnny Football’s Heisman year, the Texas A&M offensive line played a big part in his success. Not to mention the heavy contribution made by the Aggies’ running backs and that kid named Mike Evans.

Another concern for NFL scouts is McCarron’s arm strength, or lack thereof. According to Nolan Nawrocki on NFL.com, McCarron “Does not have a big-time, vertical arm. Average athlete.” Well, Mr. Nawrocki, I hate to disagree with you, but I’m going to have to. Here are some examples throughout his career that shows just what McCarron can do:

Perhaps its best that these two accomplished quarterbacks are underrated and will be taken lower than those deemed exceptional in this year’s draft. Maybe then they can have the necessary time to develop, rather than be thrown on the field of a team struggling for a six win season. There’s nothing more appealing to a defense than a sitting duck behind a mediocre offensive line.

Since durability is not the strong suit of a NFL rookie QB, a couple of years learning from a top-rated franchise quarterback could be the better option (prime example: Aaron Rodgers). When it comes to the decision on who will lead my team,

I’ll take the stability found in these two over the drama found elsewhere.

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