AJ McCarron continues to draw as much praise as any backup quarterback can garner.
It’s always great to have not one, but two capable quarterbacks on a roster, even if the starter is a durable guy like Andy Dalton, who has missed just four starts (including the playoffs) in his six-year career.
Those four games missed came in 2015, which is also when McCarron played well enough on his own that he proved he has what it takes to compete at the NFL level. That playing time has raised the curiosity of many teams searching for a quarterback to help them compete. For that reason, ESPN's Field Yates ranked the Bengals as having the second best backup quarterback in the NFL, behind only Jimmy Garoppolo and the New England Patriots.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
When pressed into action, AJ McCarron has shown himself to be a suitable starter. He played in seven regular-season games (three starts) in 2015, completing 66.4 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He wasn't as good in his lone playoff start -- his Total QBR was just 36.7 -- but the potential is there. Don't be surprised if, as a restricted free agent in 2018, McCarron is a trade target for a quarterback-needy team.
McCarron’s value largely comes from how he took over the offense in 2015 when Dalton went down. It takes a lot for a quarterback player to walk into a starting role, following a season-ending injury to a franchise quarterback who was in the middle of his best season in the NFL, and still keep the offense at even a respectable level.
Dalton is that franchise quarterback, putting up 3,250 yards, 25 touchdowns, and six interceptions in 12 full games of that season. But with 5:06 left in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14, Dalton fractured his thumb after throwing an interception, and McCarron took over, starting a four game stretch, including the playoffs, for which he would start for the Bengals at quarterback.
McCarron put up 895 yards, seven touchdowns, and three interceptions in nearly five games as Dalton’s replacement. Still, with McCarron taking the starting snaps, the team went 2-2, including the playoffs. That included the offense averaging just 17.75 points per game in those four starts.
There were plenty of instances in which McCarron looked like a franchise quarterback, which is why he’s been mentioned often in trade rumors involving quarterbacks. However, there were enough moments that McCarron looked like a backup who isn’t ready for a starting gig, which could be why the Bengals have found it challenging to get what they deem as fair value for him in trade talks with various teams.
Heading into the 2017 season, McCarron is still a Bengal, and he’ll almost certainly remain that through the year. That may end up being a good thing for the Bengals, who have some major concerns along their offensive line, which could result in a lot more hits on Dalton than in year’s past.
Hopefully, we don’t have to worry about that, but the Bengals are hanging onto McCarron for a reason.