What would you do if you were a quarterback who couldn't seem to earn respect?
You won two national championships in college, broke every school passing record, won 36 games as a starting quarterback, and did it all in the Southeastern Conference, college football's biggest stage. At the same time, your career didn't end on a high note. You got blown out in the Sugar Bowl, your mistakes played a big role in the loss, and those who had already been questioning whether or not you could be an NFL quarterback are growing even louder.
The Senior Bowl is your chance to get back some respect. It's being played in your hometown of Mobile, Ala. All of the top prospects in the country will be there. You're one of six quarterbacks invited to a week of practices that provide an opportunity to work closely with NFL coaches and scouts and build some momentum entering the pre-draft process.
You accept the invitation, right? As logical as it seems, that's not what Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron did. Instead, he says he will focus on preparing for the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day.
"I really appreciate being invited to play in the Senior Bowl," McCarron told AL.com. "It is quite an honor and something I've dreamed about while growing up in the Mobile area. However, at this time, I'm putting all of my focus and energy into preparing for the NFL Combine, pro day and the rest of the pre-draft evaluation process. Therefore, I won't be taking part in the Senior Bowl."
McCarron isn't the first quarterback to decline an invitation to the Senior Bowl. The pre-draft process has become a chess game, especially for quarterbacks. Every move they make and every word they say is scrutinized. Last year, Geno Smith skipped the Senior Bowl. He slipped out of the first round in April and fired his agent. Once upon a time, Brian Brohm and Brady Quinn also eschewed Mobile to avoid the intense spotlight the Senior Bowl can bring.
For some, the move makes sense. Maybe a high draft slot is all but guaranteed and the only thing the Senior Bowl could bring is an injury or another unexpected obstacle. Most view the game as an opportunity, however. That is exactly what McCarron should have done. He is not a lock to be a first-round pick. In fact, some wonder if he is worth a pick during the first two days of the draft. The Senior Bowl would have been a perfect chance for him to quiet some doubters.
What are people questioning about McCarron? They are questioning his arm strength and accuracy, his occasional lapses in decision making and his ability to perform at a high level when he isn't playing on one of the most talented teams in the country. The Senior Bowl would have been a level playing field for him to face those questions, and unless he is also questioning his own ability, there is no reason for him to skip.
The one aspect most refused to question about McCarron was his competitiveness. It may be vague in definition and not applicable to whether or not he can succeed in the NFL, but McCarron was a competitor at Alabama. Those who cite his win total in college as a plus do so to highlight his competitiveness. By eschewing a chance to compete, McCarron will now have another question to answer over the next few months.
Missing the Senior Bowl doesn't necessarily kill McCarron's stock. He was a mid-round pick before he declined the invitation, and he is still likely a mid-round pick. What it does do, however, is give McCarron one less chance to prove himself a one less chance to win a team over before May. In the process, it raises even more questions about him as an NFL prospect.
Logic pointed to McCarron accepting the invitation, but the Alabama quarterback decided to take the chance that he wouldn't end up like Smith, Quinn or Brohm. He better be ready for the NFL Scouting Combine.