The Bengals very well might have the best quarterback situation in the NFL right now. At the starting position, they have Andy Dalton. The Red Rifle has received his fair share of criticism over the years. But, he came out swinging in 2015, putting up the kind of numbers that were well on the way to breaking multiple records. Unfortunately, a thumb injury in Week 14 derailed his breakout season. He still finished with the second highest passer rating of any quarterback who attempted at least 30 passes, behind only Russell Wilson. But, he didn’t quite get the chance to finish his best season strong due to the injury.
The one bright spot in all of this was the Bengals getting a chance to discover that they might have one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL in AJ McCarron. McCarron’s final passer rating (97.1) didn’t quite match Dalton’s (106.2). But, he held his own and demonstrated the fact that he was more than just a system quarterback during his time at Alabama.
Despite the breakout, McCarron doesn’t have a chance at all of starting in 2016, due to Dalton’s proven ability to lead the team and play well. Furthermore, despite speculation from some fans that trading McCarron to a team desperate for a quarterback might help maximize his value for the Bengals, he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere this year. So, he will likely play backup to a hopefully healthy and productive Dalton all season.
Reasons like this are exactly why it seemed pretty reactionary when on ESPN, Football Outsiders named McCarron as one of their top 25 potential breakout stars, despite his current state of affairs with the Bengals.
23. AJ McCarron, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
257 offensive snaps, fifth-round pick (2014), age 25
Forced into work after Andy Dalton's season-ending injury, McCarron wasn't half bad in a limited sample, posting a 6.9 percent DVOA in 132 dropbacks. The caveats: 1) This was a Bengals offense absolutely stacked with talent and 2) All Cincy asked McCarron to do was be a caretaker for the offense. We don't think McCarron is going to be a star, but he could absolutely hang around the league for 12 more years as one of the 25-35 best quarterbacks in the league.
Football Outsiders does make a good point in that McCarron did play very well in a limited sample. If given the right opportunity, it would make a lot of sense that McCarron could break out and become a productive at some point. But, it doesn’t seem likely that he will find much playing time for a while.
In fairness, their argument seems to be that McCarron will be productive in the future, rather than in 2016. But, they’re probably still going to have to wait a while for him to become a starter on any team, much less a potential breakout star. That’s especially true given how productive Dalton was last year and the fact that the Bengals fully believe in and are committed to him
Providing Dalton doesn’t inexplicably come down with another serious injury and he continues to perform at the level he is expected to, McCarron won’t be in control of his own destiny until he becomes a free agent in 2018. By then, many things could happen, including him deciding to stick around with the Bengals for one reason or another.
Either way, it’s great for Bengals fans to know that they have two highly talented players at the NFL’s most important position.