Why I think AJ McCarron is a better quarterback than Johnny Manziel.

I posted this on Facebook prior to the National Championship game:

  • “Four hours from now, college football watchers will be thinking either “Brian Kelly is the best college coach in America,” or “A.J. McCarron is the best college quarterback in America”. What say you?”

First of all, note that I didn’t explicitly say “AJ McCarron is the best QB in America,” but this would later be the position I came to defend.

The next morning a smartass friend posted the results of a google search for “AJ McCarron best qb”  with the comment “Why is everyone thinking it and no one saying it? WEIRD.”  After initially bashing my argument without his own answer to the best-QB question, this person stated that Johnny Manziel was the better quarterback.

Johnny Manziel is a more exciting player than McCarron.  But you could also say that Michael Vick is more exciting than Peyton Manning.  At the end of the day, here’s why I believe AJ McCarron is a better quarterback than Johnny Manziel.

Key Games with 2+ TD passes

  • McCarron– 5  (of 8)
  • Manziel– 4  (of 8)

Key Games with 3+ TD passes

  • McCarron– 2  (of 8)
  • Manziel– 2  (of 8)


  • McCarron– 25.4
  • Manziel– 36.1

completion %

  • McCarron– 64.5%
  • Manziel– 65.4%

yards/ completion

  • McCarron– 13
  • Manziel– 11.5

TD %

  • McCarron– 8.4%
  • Manziel– 4.1%

INT % 

  • McCarron– 1.5% 
  • Manziel– 2.4%

Passer grade:

  • McCarron– 112.5
  • Manziel– 91.7

As with everything you will encounter on this site, we’re trying to project college players to the NFL.  Sorry I’m not sorry, but NFL QBs that run have minimal shelf life.  I need a guy that can throw the ball.  With the exception of pass attempts, almost every passing indicator is even or favors McCarron.  Because pass attempts can be attributable to style of offense, game situation, etc., I do not think of it as a good or bad thing, but instead is just a thing.

When you equalize pass attempts and just focus on rates, the system I use to grade quarterbacks says McCarron is a 112, Manziel is a 92.  Relatively speaking, they’re both outstanding players, with a score of 95 being my cutoff for an ‘elite QB prospect.’  I just think AJ McCarron is the better quarterback, and certainly the better quarterback prospect.

And while we’re on the subject: why is Case Keenum a ‘system QB’ when he puts up huge numbers in Sumlin’s offense, but nobody would ever dare to call Manziel a ‘system QB’ in Sumlin’s offense?

4 thoughts on “Why I think AJ McCarron is a better quarterback than Johnny Manziel.

  1. Some stats favor Manziel while some others favor McCarron. Can you at least explain why certain stats are better than others and why these stats tell you that McCarron is better?

    I am not disagreeing with your opinion. I think arguing that McCarron is the “better” of the two QBs is a valid argument. However, I would like to hear why you actually think he is better.

    Just curious…thanks!

  2. Hey Travis,
    Thank you for your comment and your ongoing readership. I put a lot into this blog and it’s great to know they’re appreciated.

    The one thing that really jumps out in the numbers from a pro-Manziel perspective is that he throws more passes. Virtually everything else points toward McCarron. Once you clear a certain hurdle for pass attempts–basically weeding out option style offenses– which both guys have, it’s not really a good or bad thing that Manziel throws more often; it’s just a thing.

    When I run them through my formula, I have to ‘equalize’ their attempts. Because we’re trying to project college players to the NFL, I use a round number that is about what they might throw on Sundays, 30 or 35 passes would work. In this case I’ve chosen 35. From there, McCarron’s higher YPC, td%, and int% take over.

  3. More subjectively, I think that Kevin Sumlin is an offensive genius and is able to get the most out of his players. Looking at his time as HC of Houston or as a coordinator at Oklahoma, neither Case Keenum, Jason White were anything (let alone anything special) in the NFL, despite putting up outrageous college numbers.

    McCarron is noticeably better–and slightly bigger–than Saban’s last protege, McElroy, who people generally thought was an okay player, except that he was too small. McCarron is operating in a pro-style offense, compared to Manziel’s arrangement.

    It’s actually interesting to compare Keenum’s 2008 season (year 1 under Sumlin) to Manziel’s 2012 (year 1 under Sumlin). As best I can tell, they are similar size QBs, similar–above average– passing talents, both allocated about 51-55 touches per game (manziel ran 10 times more per game than Keenum) Certainly Manziel’s level of competition is much higher, but that’s not to say that Keenum disappeared against BCS quality talent.

    Keenum played 6.5 BCS teams from 2008-2011
    2011: UCLA, Penn St
    2010: UCLA (injured knee halfway thru game)
    2009: Oklahoma St, Texas Tech, Mississippi St
    2008: Oklahoma St

    Compare his numbers from those 6.5 games vs Manziel’s 8 key games in 2012

    Completion %
    Keenum- 66.6%
    Manziel- 65.4%

    Keenum- 11.1
    Manziel- 11.5

    Keenum- 4.9%
    Manziel- 4.1%

    Keenum- 1.7%
    Manziel- 2.4%

    Overall Grade:
    Keenum- 97.5
    Manziel- 91.7

    Case Keenum was an all time record-setting passer, but was labeled “too small” and a “system quarterback.” when it came to his NFL evaluation Why, when Manziel exists in that same system, is it NOT okay to call him a product of the system? From what I can tell, he’s just as much of a product as Keenum was, except he is more of a running threat.

    Comparatively, AJ McCarron is just plain good in a pro-style system, and only appears to be getting better.

  4. by the way, how much did you love that ‘one point safety’ in the fiesta bowl? Did you see a spike in blog traffic as a result of people searching that term on Google?

Comments are closed.