As we have entered into NFL free agency we have seen the desperation of teams without quarterbacks. I believe as free agency rolls on and the draft approaches we will see some even more desperate moves at the position. As we know without a good quarterback your team doesn’t really stand much of a chance to be any good. Two guys who I feel could be really good if not great franchise quarterbacks if put in the right situation are AJ McCarron and Jimmy Garropolo. As we have seen after two games the Jimmy G hype train continues to chug along full steam ahead. Not many people are talking about AJ McCarron, which is surprising with the run he had in 2015 after Dalton went down in Week 14. Because it is the Patriots, and because he has been sitting behind Tom Brady, people assume Jimmy G is the best young back up in the NFL. Well, I am going to tell you why he isn’t the best option for your quarterback deprived franchise.
We’re going to start with raw statistics and eye test. Even though neither of these guys have played enough meaningful NFL games to record any ground breaking stats, there is something in the numbers. Jimmy Garropolo this season appeared in six games, but only started and played full-time in two. He was 2-0, completed 68.3 percent of his passes, threw for 502 yards, and four touchdowns. While the numbers were impressive, the eye test for me was not as great. The Arizona game was his most impressive performance. He made great decisions, moved in the pocket, and made clutch throws. Even early in the Miami game he was almost flawless. As impressive as he was, he could have been better.
While it may seem like I am nitpicking Jimmy in both the preseason and regular season, he missed on a lot of deep balls. His deep ball accuracy is not what you would want from a franchise quarterback. His longest completion was about thirty-seven yards. That has been the case with Jimmy since college, he was never going to “wow” you with his arm strength or deep ball accuracy. He was, however, impressive with his short and intermediate game. He anticipates well and has really nice touch. He can make the throws when he needs to for certain. He’s a quarterback best suited for a west coast offense. He makes good decisions and gets the ball out quickly. If you’re looking to air it out, he’s not necessarily the guy you want.
My other issue with Garropollo is when he got his starts, the level of competition he went out again. Again, wins in the NFL are wins in the NFL, but when comparing players it is fair to bring the opponents in to question. His most impressive outing was against the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals were 7-8-1 and were not the defensive team they had been the prior season. The Dolphins, while they finished the season as a playoff team, were 1-5 to start the season and got beat up by everybody other than the Browns. The fact that his starts came in the first two weeks don’t really help either. With the way training camp is the first few weeks of the season, teams are still getting acclimated with their schemes. You don’t get a real representation of how good a team is until weeks three or four. While he couldn’t pick who his opponents were or when he faced them it does count against him in a quarterback comparison like this.
AJ McCarron got his run as a starter in 2015 in Week 14 after Andy Dalton went down with a hand injury after he tried making a tackle following an interception. He appeared in seven regular season games with three starts, and finished with a 2-1 record. He finished with a 66.4 completion percentage, 854 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions. While many call McCarron a game manager, he took some shots down the field and was impressive when he did. He showed a fearlessness that not many rookie quarterbacks would in their first action as a starting quarterback. While yes he had A.J. Green, you still have to get it there. He came into a game down 10-0 to the division rival Steelers, he was able to make the game somewhat competitive and give them a chance. While he threw two interceptions, those were his only blemishes in the regular season and they came after coming into the game cold.
McCarron is a traditional drop back passer who can make all of the throws. From the tape, he anticipates well, has good arm strength, good touch, and isn’t afraid to take chances. While he beat up on bad teams like the 49ers and the Ravens, he took the future Super Bowl champion Broncos to the limit. He completed 62.9% of his passes, threw for 200 yards, and threw for a touchdown against one of the best defenses of all time. If it weren’t for A.J. Green cutting his route short at the end of the fourth quarter and a bad snap in overtime, they probably win that game. Where he impressed a lot of people the most though was the playoff game against the Steelers. While his numbers were not impressive and he played a pretty bad game, he really stepped it up in the fourth quarter and gave them a chance when it seemed impossible.
The Bengals were down 15-0 heading into the 4th quarter in a sloppy rain soaked game. With the help of a penalty on a deep ball to Green, he drove them in for a touchdown. On his next drive he got them into field goal range after converting a third and nine under pressure earlier in the drive. And with under two minutes left, McCarron threw it up to Green for a touchdown to give them the lead. If it weren’t for a Jeremy Hill fumble, a Vontaze Burfict unnecessary roughness call, and a personal foul by Adam Jones, he gives them their first playoff win in over 25 years. McCarron has the clutch gene, confidence, and attitude that many quarterbacks don’t have. He played well while they were in a playoff race and played really good against two of the best teams in the NFL. While he was far from perfect, he was thrown into a tough spot without any notice and performed really well and showed me a lot.
While neither of these quarterbacks has enough of a sample size to show us whether or not they can be franchise quarterbacks, McCarron impressed me more than Garropolo. He played tougher opponents during a crucial point in the season without notice. While it isn’t Garropolo’s fault for his circumstances, McCarron did have the tougher task. He also played better than most quarterbacks no matter what their tenure in the NFL was. In my opinion, if my team needed a quarterback, I would trade for AJ over Jimmy. What also plays into it is that the Bengals only want a 2nd round pick for McCarron, the Patriots seem to want a high first round draft pick for Garropolo. While I like McCarron more, I do think Garropolo has potential to be a great quarterback in the NFL. In his short stint as the starter in New England as their starter he was extremely impressive. With the game tape, the results, and the price tag all considered, AJ McCarron is the best bet for a team that is in need of a franchise quarterback.