McCarron Vs. Thomas: Who Has The Better Chance At Leading An NFL Team?
By Bill Lund
Drafting quarterback can make or break a head coach's career, especially if you are a team without a solidified starter. Where would Pete Carroll be without Russell Wilson? Would Chuck Pagano be as successful if the Colts hadn't had the No. 1 pick in 2012? Top quarterbacks do not have to be first-round selections to be successful. Players like Brad Johnson (9th round, 1992) and Matt Hasselbeck (6th round, 1998) were both good enough to lead their teams to the Super Bowl, with Johnson winning one with Tampa Bay. Joe Montana and Russell Wilson were both third-rounders, and we all know the Tom Brady saga. Finding a quarterback is part luck and part ability to spot potential that others don’t see. That’s what happened with Brady and Montana, arguably the two best QBs of all time.
It is not only finding a QB, but developing him in an offense that can utilize his skill set efficiently. The QBs in the 2014 draft range from having elite athletic and measurable skills to displaying the intangibles of leadership and decision-making of a “game manager.”
Two such QB prospects are as diverse in their performance as they come, but both are touted as potential Day Two selections. Logan Thomas has the prototypical frame, a cannon for an arm and athletic ability that has scouts gushing. AJ McCarron is lackluster in his athletic numbers but possesses two national championship rings, a slew of wins and experience in a pro-style offense.
As we compare these two second-tier quarterbacks, we will examine who has the biggest upside and which one is worth the risk in trying to find that all-important franchise-making player.
Logan Thomas Virginia Tech
Physically, Thomas is a freak by QB standards. He's 6-foot-6, 248 pounds, and ran a 4.61 40-yard dash along with a 4.18 pro shuttle run. Thomas has tremendous arm strength, clocking a reported 60 mph throw during the NFL combine. When Thomas stepped on the field to take his throws he looked majestic. A clean release, a flick of the wrist, his throws looks effortless, and if a QB has the tools to become elite, then you study his film.
The first thing that stands about Thomas’ film is his lack of accuracy. against Duke this past season, Thomas missed on numerous open throws and his poor performance was a microcosm of his biggest issue: footwork. Little things such as stepping to his target, transferring his weight on delivery and overall lower body position need to be addressed. His timing on throws also lack refinement and may be an indicator of poor eye recognition and progression. He also has a tendency to hold on to the ball for too long which was quite evident in his Senior Bowl performance, when he was sacked five times in limited play. Now, these are issues that are correctable, but will they translate into his throws once the bullets start flying?
His release and arm strength are well-documented. The ball explodes off his hand, driving the ball downfield with ease. This trait more so than any other is the one the gets scouts excited. Thomas is a large athlete, with good short area quickness and speed to move the chains with his feet when in trouble. His size makes him tough to bring down and he has shown good sturdiness when taking shots from defenders.
Overall, Thomas has a tremendous athletic skill set, but it has not translated to production on the field. Thomas will be a project in the NFL. Not only will he need to overcome his fundamental flaws, but he will need to show that he has rectified his issues during limited snaps in the NFL. Whichever team drafts Thomas will need to do so knowing he is a project who will take time to develop.
AJ McCarron, Alabama
McCarron is the prototypical “game manager” quarterback: nothing flashy, average measurables, but he always wins. He measured out at 6-3, 220 and posted an average 4.82 40 at the Combine. His arm strength is average and he struggles to drive the ball downfield deep. He missed on a few game-breaking deep throws that were open against LSU and Oklahoma in 2013, the latter being a loss for the Tide in the Sugar Bowl.
McCarron was highly productive for Alabama, throwing 77 TDs to just 15 interceptions over his career. He shows accuracy and touch on short and intermediate throws. When McCarron does get into trouble, it’s a result of poor footwork and trying to muscle a throw late that gets intercepted -- as evidenced by a pick six for Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
McCarron is a nifty athlete, having good awareness and an ability to move subtly within the pocket to get throws off. He won’t outrun defenders but has enough speed to get some yards and get out of bounds. McCarron won’t wow anyone with his measurables, but he has the film to back up his abilities.
McCarron wins. He is a good decision-maker and knows what it takes to lead. His has an above-average football IQ and has played well in the toughest conference in college football, the SEC. McCarron would fit into a West Coast system as a backup where he can develop and learn.
Who is the better risk?
Both McCarron and Thomas exhibit toughness in playing through injury and a fiery competiveness that is needed to lead at the next level. Thomas has shown a level of resiliency this season, having regressed from his breakout sophomore year. McCarron was able to command a lot of NFL talent on the ‘Bama roster and manage egos in leading the Tide to two national titles, while dealing with one of the most demanding coaches in all of football, Nick Saban. Thomas showed flashes of talent while McCarron showed an ability to lead and produce in the tough SEC, delivering clutch performances week in and week out.
If you need a QB to produce sooner rather than later, McCarron is the best selection. He has a better grasp of an NFL system, can handle the pressure and the foundation from which he can develop into an NFL starter. Thomas has the physical tools, but he hasn’t been able to produce in a simpler collegiate system and struggled with poor mechanics and fundamentals. It would be hard to expect him to become an NFL starter unless given a few years to iron out his issues. Most head coaches don’t have that kind of time.