A.J. McCarron Who?

A.J. McCarron Who?

During my time at XN Sports the feature I enjoyed researching the most and writing was ‘[Insert QB Name Here] Who?’ Be it Scott Tolzien, Austin Davis, or Matt McGloin there’s going to come a time when a fantasy quarterback will start a game and become fantasy relevant. It happens every season.

This stat has been bandied about numerous times this offseason, but is worth repeating — 41 different quarterbacks put up a weekly Top-12 fantasy performance at least once in 2014.

As my fellow 2-QBers know, the time and effort spent researching the already established starting quarterbacks in the NFL pales in comparison to how much time you need to spend researching today’s backups who might be tomorrow’s starters.

Keeping track of real life NFL quarterback depth charts is one way to get an edge on your opponents. Not much thinking is involved drafting Andrew Luck in the first round, but what about when/if to select a backup like Mark Sanchez or Ryan Nassib?

Sam Bradford is currently the starting quarterback in Philadelphia, but there is an injury concern with him, and we’ve seen Sanchez produce in Chip Kelly’s offense before. Is it wise to use a late-round pick on Sanchez?

That’s a question many 2-QBers need to ponder, and they will spend more time debating the merits of drafting Sanchez or Ryan Mallett late than they would debating the value of first round quarterbacks in 2-QB drafts.

That brings us today to one A.J. McCarron. The second-year signal caller finds himself established as the backup to Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, after the team lost veteran Jason Campbell to retirement.

As always, let’s start at the beginning, and ask, ‘Who is A.J. McCarron?’

Here’s what we know about the former Crimson Tide and current Bengal:

*McCarron was drafted in the fifth-round of the 2014 NFL Draft after an accomplished collegiate career in Alabama where he won the Maxwell Award (Player of the Year) in 2013, and was the starter for two back-to-back BCS National Championships.

*In three years as a starter, McCarron finished his career with the third-best completion percentage (66.9), sixth-highest passing yards/attempt (8.8), and third-highest adjusted passing yards/attempt (9.6) in SEC history. He also compiled a 77:15 passing touchdown to interception ratio during his career.

One thing that stood out to me are that his numbers spiked from his first-year as starter to his second. He might have thrown only 299 passing yards more in 2012 than 2011, but his passing touchdowns almost doubled from 16 to 30, and he actually threw fewer interceptions (three in 2012 as opposed to five in 2011).

Jon Moore of RotoViz, who is one of the more respected writers in the industry when it comes to college prospects, ranked McCarron as his QB2 in 2013, behind Teddy Bridgewater (in 2014 he ranked him as his QB4). Moore made note that McCarron went from game-manager to a quarterback that could be “the first elite Saban-QB prospect.” According to Moore’s metrics, McCarron also posted the “9th-best 22 year old season”.

The pedigree is there for McCarron, at worst, to be a serviceable quarterback, if ever given a shot at extended playing time.

Why the focus on McCarron though? That mainly has to do with the quarterback he’s backing up in Cincinnati — Andy Dalton.

Heading into his fifth season in the league, Dalton hasn’t done much to establish himself as a franchise quarterback. He might be the franchise quarterback in Cincinnati right now, but if the team were faced with the option of replacing him via a high-end veteran or first round rookie draft pick would they say no? Marvin Lewis’ job security might reveal an interesting answer if the opportunity presented itself. But for now, Dalton is the QB1 in Cincinnati. Until he isn’t. That’s just the way it works in the NFL.

Dalton has certainly been a usable fantasy quarterback in his career, finishing as the QB5 in 2013, but 2014 saw him post career lows in yards (3,398), attempts (428), and passing touchdowns (19). Some of that had to do with the injuries suffered to his offensive weapons last year, but according to Rich Hribar, Dalton posted only six Top-12 performances last season, and mentioned Dalton “had his least efficient season” in 2014.

There was no reason to draft Dalton high in 2-QB leagues this year.

With 2-QBers always searching for the next thing at quarterback, whether it’s a long-term solution like using a high rookie draft pick on Teddy Bridgewater, or one-week stop-gap pickups such as Scott Tolzien, the thirst is always real for fantasy production out of the quarterback position.

That’s why McCarron presents us with a fascinating proposition. He doesn’t cost much to acquire; in redraft leagues he’s most likely sitting on your waiver wire. But if given the chance to be Cincinnati’s starting quarterback his value would skyrocket. Those are the types of lottery picks that 2-QB championships are made of.

What makes McCarron an intriguing fantasy option in 2-QB leagues isn’t based solely on the fact that he is one injury or benching away from starting. It’s that if he were to start he would be thrust into a passing offense that features A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill, and Gio Bernard. As well as an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked as the sixth-best pass blocking unit after the 2014 season ended, and a unit they ranked as the fifth-best overall heading into the 2015 season. Situations better than that will be hard to find for a backup quarterback inserted into a starting lineup.

Whenever a backup quarterback is forced to play you hope he has no issue picking up the pieces and guiding the offense the way the starter would. McCarron did just that after being forced into preseason action early last week vs. Chicago after Dalton suffered a neck injury and missed the rest of the game.

Bengals star wide receiver A.J. Green was impressed:

“He did well. We see that out of him every day in practice, man. He’s a leader. He’s a winner on the big stage. Whenever our starting quarterback goes down, it’s his job to come in and play well. He did good.”

Chris Wesseling of NFL.com reported back in June that if Dalton were to struggle his leash might not be as long as you’d expect for a starting quarterback, and reiterated the point on Twitter recently.

That’s the type of situation you want to capitalize on in 2-QB fantasy football leagues, and if Dalton falters, the backup quarterback with “top-notch pocket presence” could see the field sooner than expected.

You might not have to pick up McCarron from your 2-QB waiver wires right this very instance, but it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on him in case he’s thrust into game action.

*Stats in this article courtesy of College-Football-Reference, RotoViz, Pro Football Focus, and FantasyData

**This post was republished from 2QBFFB.com

Salvatore Stefanile

Salvatore Stefanile is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) and has been playing fantasy football since his high school days. He is a proponent of 2QB fantasy football leagues and his work has been featured on XN Sports, RotoViz, and Rotoworld. His writing on 2QB fantasy football leagues earned him the FSWA award for 'Best Fantasy Football On-Going Series' in 2013. He earned a second FSWA nomination in 2015. You can follow him on Twitter @2QBFFB

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