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Scouting Notebook: What’s Keeping AJ McCarron, Logan Thomas, Bryn Renner From Being 1st Round QBs

The 2014 NFL Draft is 291 days away from today. It’s important to keep that perspective as talk runs wild of “first round” prospects, potential draft rankings, and grades on soon-to-be seniors and juniors.  That, however, hasn’t stopped evaluators like myself and the Optimum Scouting team from compiling our scouting notes and becoming as prepared as possible for the 2013 college football season.

That also hasn’t stopped those in the media from giving their take on where some of the more well-known quarterbacks may be going come next May such as AJ McCarron, Logan Thomas, and Bryn Renner. And now’s the time to quash those high expectations bestowed on these quarterbacks before the over-hype that’s built up kicks off a potential crumble in the 2013 season in the minds of the media and fans everywhere.

Here’s the basis for why each of the previously mentioned quarterbacks already have “first round” attached to their name:

-Albert Breer dropped a bomb last week when he said that one current college scouting director feels that Teddy Bridgewater AND AJ McCarron have the best chance to take the top spot away from Jadeveon Clowney.

-Matt Miller reported that Logan Thomas carries a 1st round grade from pre-season scouting services that NFL teams use. (Miller thoroughly disagrees with that)

-Mike Mayock stated that Bryn Renner performed at the Manning academy, giving Mike Florio reason to think Renner may end up as a 1st rounder.

By general consensus, only Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater seemed to get the reputation as a potential Top 10 QB prospect, but there was no doubt that at least 1-2 quarterbacks could be waiting in the wings to eventually contend for a “franchise quarterback” draft spot with Bridgewater by May.

While we at Optimum Scouting feel that three players grade out as Top 40 senior QBs now, none of them are named McCarron, Thomas, or Renner. They are: LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, and Cornell’s Jeff Matthews.

AJ McCarron – Velocity, Aggressiveness
The assumed on-field leader of the national championship winning-Crimson Tide, McCarron has to deal with both sides of the “supporting cast” coin. On one hand, he’s been able to have long-term success and has been a model of consistency for this team, at times a game manager and occasionally (as in against LSU) a winning quarterback. On the other hand, the tremendous offensive line, running back, and this year receiver talent around him certainly makes his job easier, comparing to Matt Leinart during his USC days.

As a pure passer, McCarron doesn’t have the arm strength to make NFL throws that make players around him better. Best  (and maybe only) suited in a game managing, run-focused offense, McCarron seems to labor when asked to throw fastballs past 15 yards, and over-relies on anticipation of receivers and defenders, a skill he hasn’t fully developed yet. Realizing these limitations, McCarron seems to have developed “Brady Quinn-disease”, which is the desire to check down far too quickly, be too risk adverse, and actually hurting his team due to defense’s ability to be aggressive on shorter routes and more obvious plays. This is especially true for McCarron’s reliance on screen passes, delayed short drag routes, his offensive line’s edge protection, and Amari Cooper’s tremendous jump ball skills.

Logan Thomas – Ball Placement, Anticipation, and Handling Pressure
Coming into last college football season, Thomas had plenty of “fans” on the internet and in the NFL. Expectations were massive for the Virginia Tech quarterback. Carolina’s Cam Newton had burst onto the scene and, after comparing their size and natural talents, everyone expected for Thomas to follow suit and usher in the trend of big bodied, athletic passers.

But Thomas struggled severely dealing with the pressure of expectations. A humble, more reserved individual, Thomas wasn’t able to rise to the occasion. Dealing with a somewhat new set of senior receivers last year, he consistently looked indecisive on reading his receivers breaks and anticipating their route depth and explosiveness. Throughout the season, he seemed to consistently struggle in placing his three and five yard drop passes, and never seemed in sync with his main three passing targets. Tagging along with that, Thomas struggled in placing the ball in the short area, not setting up his receivers for YAC yards on a consistent basis.

As for his upside, Thomas throws a tight and clean ball, is flexible in adjusting his throwing motion vertically and in tighter windows, utilizes his height to transition downfield route combinations, and has the ideal body type as a runner to stay healthy in the NFL, similar to Cam Newton.

Bryn Renner – Consistency, Downfield Decision Making
After speaking with coach Larry Fedora at a coaching clinic after last season, Renner is likely set to take a massive step in terms of his and the offense’s production. Similar to the progression eventual NFL draft pick Austen Davis had while at Southern Miss with Fedora, Renner’s comfort-ability in the offense should start to show this season. An offense predicated on quick key reads and decisiveness, Renner slowly developed his understanding of the offense and began to “flash” more and more in the offense.

However, expecting Renner to jump from flashing passer to elite prospect is adding far too high of expectations on the passer. He has the arm strength and the snapping quick release to be effective downfield  and on outside breaking routes, but hasn’t placed the ball away from defenders in both settings as well as a future NFL passer needs to. Downfield, his touch can be a bit erratic, and he needs to utilize his lower half more in those type of throws (and overall with more consistency). Expecting Renner to develop is wise. Anticipating him becoming a 1st rounder is potentially giving Larry Fedora too much credit in his ability to develop him.

Each of those three quarterbacks likely will end up being Top 4 round selections. Thomas likely has the best chance to rise to 1st round consideration levels if he has the type of Cam Newton-like season many expected last year. McCarron may be the “safest” bet of the three quarterbacks to be selected in the Top 100. And Renner may take the biggest step of all three in Larry Fedora’s offense.

But expecting each of these quarterbacks to garner 1st round consideration seems quite outlandish at this point in time and based on their 2012 play. After a “punted” quarterback draft last year, however, team’s may make the jump on taking 4-5 quarterbacks in round one.

Each of these talented yet in need of further development quarterbacks is already being thrust into that discussion. For better or for worse. And we’ll find out soon enough, when college football (finally) kicks off.