AJ McCarron: Greatest ‘Game Manager’ of All Time?


Nov 16, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron (10) drops back to pass the ball during the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium. Alabama Crimson Tide defeat the Mississippi State Bulldogs with a score of 20-7. Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide host the Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs on Saturday in what will be the final home game for Tide quarterback AJ McCarron. Fans will no doubt hear endless repetition of the phrase ‘game manager,’ which has been used to describe not only McCarron, but all Tide quarterbacks of the Saban era.

When I hear that phrase, I instantly think of Alex Smith and my blood starts to boil. From San Fransisco to Kansas City, Alex Smith has never completed more than 62 percent of his passes in a single season, save for last year, when he completed 70 percent of his passes and still lost his starting job. To me, Alex Smith is the very definition of a game manager. He’s not going to wow you on many throws, or beat you with his feet; he’s simply going to utilize his tools around him and maximize the effort they give.

Just a few short years ago, people tabbed the likes of Kliff Kingsbury and Sonny Cumbie as ‘system QB’s,’ and because of this label they were never taken seriously for the Heisman.

Flash forward 10 years, and you see those numbers put up weekly from the likes of Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III. People have become infatuated with Playstation numbers on offense, and label a quarterback a game manager if he doesn’t put those up weekly.

If McCarron ran a spread offense at Alabama, it would be a given that he would have a Heisman trophy, simply because the nation has become infatuated with these high-powered offenses that will throw the ball from sun up to sun down. People are tired of Alabama in part because they haven’t bought into the spread scheme, and yet have managed to win three out of the last four national championships by having an elite defense, solid running game and a quarterback who can put the ball where he needs to.

Saturday night Nick Saban called McCarron be “the best QB in the country,” adding that “people want to only look at stats, but all this kid does is win.”

A glance at AJ McCarron’s career stats show an elite-level quarterback, and one of the best in Alabama history. For example:

  • McCarron improved his completion percentage each year he has held the starting job, from 62.5 percent in 2010 to 69.5 percent thus far this season.
  • He has thrown 68 touchdown passes to only 11 interceptions in his entire college career.
  • McCarron is 34-2 as a starter
  • He finished 2012 as the NCAA leader with a 175 passer rating, and finished tied for third at 9.3 yards per pass attempt, and is in the top 15 in the country completing 67 percent of his passes.
  • By the time McCarron is done with football at the University of Alabama, he will rank at the top or in the top five in career touchdowns, wins, passing yards, season passing yards, touchdown passes in a season, and most consecutive passes with an interception.

The argument against AJ McCarron will always be that he is on a talent-stocked team, and can let them take the game over for him. But in truth, most colleges not named Baylor in the top 10 have excellent recruiting classes to go along with their rankings. Nobody faults Steve Young for having Jerry Rice to throw to, or Troy Aikman for having Emmitt Smith and Michael Irving.

Any argument about McCarron’s place in the sport ultimately is an argument of style vs. substance. There are plenty of flashy quarterbacks who are throwing up ridiculous numbers and still losing games. Meanwhile, McCarron and Alabama are plugging along steadily towards their third straight national championship.

It’s very likely that McCarron will be passed over in the NFL draft by flashy QB’s such as Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, and while they are on a floundering team (see Cam Newton and Carolina up until this year), McCarron will fall back into the draft and get put on a team that has skill players but is missing a solid quarterback. Then, and only then, will people outside of Alabama realize just how spectacular this kid can be at what he does.