Quarterback A.J. McCarron, anticipating ‘16-35,’ goes 164th in NFL draft

Former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, shown with fiance Catherine Webb back in November, was drafted Saturday by the Cincinnati Bengals.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

If you think Johnny Manziel had an agonizing wait in the NFL draft, consider the case of former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron.

McCarron, who thought he’d probably go around the mid- to late first round, saw Rounds 1, 2, 3 and 4 slide by until the Cincinnati Bengals made him the 164th pick in the fifth.

McCarron had nothing but success at Alabama, winning two national championships and going 36-4 as a starter. He was runner-up to the 2013 Heisman Trophy. During his pre-draft team visits, he told ESPN that “pretty much everyone so far” had given him a first-round grade, and that evaluators “felt like I could go anywhere from 16-35. I believe that, too. At the same time, I don’t want to have my hopes set on anything. Whatever happens, happens. It’s a blessing for me to even be in this situation.”


That’s one of the perils of the draft. McCarron reportedly came off as arrogant in interviews with teams and rubbed people the wrong way. Regardless, he’s in a good situation in Cincinnati, where starter Andy Dalton is entering the final season of his rookie contract, and the Bengals are loaded with talented receivers.

So the state of Ohio has two rookie quarterbacks who slid further than they expected, McCarron in Cincinnati and Manziel in Cleveland, and who have veterans in front of them, so aren’t under pressure to start immediately.

McCarron was one of nine quarterbacks selected Saturday.

Big step up

Every draft pick has a back-story, and Pierre Desir’s is unusual. The cornerback from Lindenwood University, a Division II school in Missouri, who was selected by Cleveland in the fourth round at No. 127 overall, was born in Haiti and spent his early years there before immigrating with his family to the U.S. He’ll be 24 when the season starts, and he and his wife are raising two daughters, ages 3 and 7. He won the Cliff Harris Award, given to the small college defensive player of the year.

Razor’s edge

Whether it was at USC or in Seattle, Pete Carroll wants his players to push the limits on the field, not just to play until the sound of the whistle but through the echo of the whistle. As a result, his teams are tough, yet usually rank among the most penalized. In that sense, UCLA defensive end Cassius Marsh was an ideal pick for the Seahawks, who selected him in the fourth round (108).

Last fall, in a Times story comparing USC and UCLA players, an anonymous scout said of Marsh: “He plays with his hair on fire. Guy’s all over the place. He’s always on the verge of personal fouls. That can cause problems if a guy doesn’t know how to control himself, but you want a guy that’s relentless and is trying to make plays.”

Marsh was one of three Bruins selected Saturday. The New York Jets chose receiver Shaquelle Evans in the fourth round and the Pittsburgh Steelers took linebacker Jordan Zumwalt in the sixth. UCLA had a total of five players drafted, including linebacker Anthony Barr in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings.

Linebacker Devon Kennard, selected by the New York Giants in the fifth round, was the only USC player chosen Saturday. USC had three players selected in the draft. Safety Dion Bailey, tight end Xavier Grimble and defensive lineman George Uko, who left USC with a year of eligibility remaining, were not drafted.

A tall order

With Arizona drafting 6-foot-6, 248-pound Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech in the fourth round, Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians will continue his tradition of bringing along huge quarterbacks. That tradition includes Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer, all 6-5. Then again, those quarterbacks were drafted No. 1, No. 11, and No. 1, respectively.

Cleaning up

The Edward Jones Dome will look mighty familiar to Mo Alexander, a Utah State safety taken in the fourth round by the St. Louis Rams. That’s because Alexander once worked as a janitor at that stadium.

His is more complicated than a typical Cinderella story, though. Alexander didn’t play football in 2012 because he punched a teammate at a party and was sentenced to a year in jail. All but 45 days of that sentence were suspended, but Alexander was kicked off the team, and spent part of his time on the dome’s cleaning crew. He was reinstated before last season.

Of his year away from school, Alexander said: “It made me the man I am today. It’s a lesson learned. Me and my teammate, we’re great friends, it was a mistake. The Rams organization, they know about it, and it made me a better man today.”

Brawn and brains

Defensive tackle Caraun Reid, selected in the fifth round by Detroit, became the first Princeton player in the modern era to be drafted in the first five rounds. He impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl, at one point notching sacks on consecutive plays.

In the fourth, the New York Giants took Boston College running back Andre Williams, whose college teammates nicknamed him “Edgar,” as in Edgar Allan Poe, because of his penchant for writing. Williams is a poet who’s working on a book called, “A King, a Queen, and a Conscience.”

The biggest brain could be John Urschel, the Penn State guard taken in the fifth round by Baltimore. Not only did he graduate in three years with a 4.0 as a math major, but he has one master’s degree in math, is working on a second in math education, and taught two math classes at Penn State.

His Twitter handle? @MathMeetsFBall.

In an interview with ESPN, Philadelphia Coach Chip Kelly explained why he prefers to draft players who have graduated, or are on track to graduate, as opposed to ones who left school early.

“No. 1, I think it shows you the intelligence factor, and No. 2, it shows that they’re committed to establishing goals and following through on their goals,” Kelly told the network. “You’re face some adversity, whether it’s in school or on the football field. You’ve got a bunch of driven guys, and that’s evidence that they are driven. It shows you what we’re looking for here, that combination of mental toughness and that high football intelligence.”