Atlantic City, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - It may have been a year or two late but the Maxwell Football Club honored Alabama's AJ McCarron as the collegiate player of the year on Friday at the Revel Resort.
The soon-to-be NFL quarterback was awarded the 77th annual Maxwell Award even though he and the Crimson Tide followed up back-to-back national championships with a uncharacteristic two-loss campaign in 2013, a monster season for most programs but certainly a disappointment for Nick Saban's SEC powerhouse.
You can probably call this latest piece of hardware a lifetime achievement award for McCarron, who finished his college career with a gaudy 36-4 record as the starter at Alabama and almost earned a third consecutive national title before the Tide stumbled with consecutive losses after an 11-0 start.
Despite his prodigious success in college's football's best program, though, few NFL scouts believe McCarron projects better at the next level than say Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles of Central Florida.
Bridgewater is more accurate scouts say while Manziel is the better athlete, and Bortles is straight out of central casting when it comes to what an NFL quarterback is supposed to look like.
Conversely, McCarron's strengths are more intangible and they don't revolve around his skill set. He's a leader who has performed on the biggest stage and carries himself as such, flashing the kind of confidence to embrace the microscope all starting NFL QBs are placed under.
"I think I have a real chance to be the best quarterback in this draft," McCarron told The Sports Network on Friday.
"I think anybody that doesn't take A.J. in one of those earlier rounds is going to make a huge mistake, because I think he's going to be a very, very good player," the Alabama mentor recently told ESPN.
The definition of early is up for debate. McCarron isn't going to challenge the draft status of any of the projected first-round cadence callers like Bridgewater, Manziel, Bortles or Fresno State's Derek Carr.
Heck, a lot of NFL teams now rate Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, the Walter Payton Award winner at the FCS level, as a better prospect than McCarron.
That said, the former Alabama star is likely to go somewhere in the second round and certainly no later than the third.
"First of all, (McCarron) has all the athletic talent to make all the throws that he needs to make at the next level," Saban said. "Guys who can make quick decisions, process the information and throw the ball accurately are the guys that usually end up being pretty good NFL quarterbacks."
Saban's right of course. Some of the most successful signal callers in the NFL -- players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees -- have proven a top- tier work ethic when mixed with accuracy and a natural football IQ can result in really special things.
Scouts from all 32 teams were at Alabama's Pro Day earlier this week with defenders CJ Mosley and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix serving as the headliners. Plenty also were interested in McCarron, though, with Oakland and Minnesota showing particular interest.
"I had 70 throws. It was a great day," McCarron said. "A lot of coaches were saying it was a lot different than any scripted QB pro day workout they have seen and they really liked it. The two organizations that spent time with me personally were the Oakland Raiders and then the Minnesota Vikings. They both showed a lot of interest."
Each of those franchises of course is quarterback desperate right now. Both Oakland general manger Reggie McKenzie and his head coach, Dennis Allen, are on a short leashes and neither seems all that enamored with incumbents Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin.
Meanwhile, after swinging and missing badly on Christian Ponder in the 2011 draft, Vikings football chief Rick Spielman probably doesn't have the political capital to take a signal caller at No. 8 overall, meaning Minnesota will be using recently re-signed veteran Matt Cassel as a bridge while looking for the long-term answer in Round 2 or 3.
McCarron acknowledged Spielman and new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, as well as offensive coordinator Norv Turner and QBs coach Scott Turner all made the trip to the Cotton State to get a feel for the signal caller.
"They are an unbelievable organization," McCarron said of the Vikings. "Great guys."
McCarron also knew what they would be looking for.
Most of the concerns with the former Alabama star involve his perceived lack of arm strength. He is never going to wow you in shorts and a t-shirt. That's the domain of the athletes or prototypes.
But, you don't need the Brett Favre fastball or the Michael Vick 40-time to turn a franchise into a consistent playoff contender. However, nearly everyone stipulates a player needs to reach a certain athletic threshold to succeed and the Vikings, along with everyone else, wanted to see if McCarron's arm was good enough.
"Usually (a pro day is) high-completion-percentage-type throws," McCarron said. "Slants, hitches and that wasn't what I was setting out to do.
"I wanted to throw deep early in the workout. I wanted to be as up-tempo as possible. That way I got tired and threw deep the whole workout. Deep digs, deep comebacks and then later deep gos and deep posts to show I can last a long period of time throwing the ball. Just because I wasn't asked to do it in college doesn't mean I cant do it."
So can McCarron do it?
"They (the Vikings' contingent) were all impressed and said that's what they wanted to see was (the) deep outs and those deep throws," McCarron said. "They felt like I made a huge impression on them."