Alabama Crimson Tide: E.J. Manuel



TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It should come as no surprise AJ McCarron has opted to return to the University of Alabama for his senior season. While the junior quarterback is among the best -- and maybe more appropriately the most efficient -- signal-callers in the country, his play down the stretch has done little to help his NFL draft stock.

As coach Nick Saban is oft to suggest to his players, you don't leave school early unless you are poised to go in the first round of the draft. It would have come as a shock if McCarron were to come off the board that early, leapfrogging the likes of West Virginia's Geno Smith, Southern Cal's Matt Barkley, Florida State's E.J. Manuel, Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and possibly Georgia's Aaron Murray.

"To me, he certainly doesn't look like a first-round pick," ESPN college football and draft analyst Kevin Weidl explained. Weidl said he'd start with the third round for McCarron at this point: "He needs to get stronger, sturdier in the pocket and improve some accuracy issues I saw at times."

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Leon Halip/Getty ImagesHad AJ McCarron left Alabama early for the NFL, Nick Saban would have lacked a QB with experience.
McCarron was a non-factor in the last three games he played against ranked teams this season. Weidl said he looked at the film and saw his decision-making "tail off at the end." McCarron threw for a then-season-low 165 yards at LSU on Nov. 3. The next week, he struggled against Texas A&M, breaking his streak of 290-plus pass attempts without an interception by throwing two key picks in a loss to the Aggies. McCarron rebounded nicely against a pair of sub-.500 teams in Western Carolina and Auburn, only to hit the skids again against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, attempting just 21 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown.

"He showed very good maturity in looking at all of the factors and making an informed decision on his future," Saban said in a released statement. "He has a chance to add to what he has already accomplished here while also better preparing himself for the next level. We’re excited to have him back for his senior season."

By returning for another season, McCarron has the chance to solidify his position as one of the best quarterback prospects in the country. His 173.08 passer rating was tops in college football this season. The only thing remaining for him to prove is consistency and measurables he might face at the NFL combine.

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