In 2013, quarterback Kellen Clemens came off the bench for the St. Louis Rams and kept the team afloat for nine games. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t exciting, but Clemens finished the season 4-5 in relief of starting quarterback Sam Bradford. It didn’t take Clemens long to parlay that performance into a two-year deal worth $3 million from the San Diego Chargers.
Clemens’ fortune is the Rams’ loss. While the team is confident starting quarterback Sam Bradford will be healthy for the start of the season, they lack an ideal backup in the event he falters. Sure, Austin Davis might have potential, but he couldn’t beat out Clemens for the backup role last year in training camp.
If there’s any draft to find a backup quarterback – as the Rams have stated they’re interested in doing – this is the year to do so. Even beyond the projected first round picks – Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater – there are strong prospects to be found in the subsequent rounds.
Like AJ McCarron.
The former Alabama Crimson Tide signal caller is not among the most heralded prospects in the 2014 Draft. Scouts question his arm strength; they don’t see much upside.
Yet you can’t argue with the results. In three seasons as the starter in Tuscaloosa, McCarron compiled a 37-3 record. He won back-to-back National Championships, the first quarterback to do so in the BCS era. Prior to Alabama’s loss to Oklahoma in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, McCarron had as many championships as he did losses in his collegiate career.
Cynical fans might say McCarron was just the beneficiary of the outstanding team around him. True, he didn’t lead an air-raid attack. Nor did fans confuse him for Michael Vick or Cam Newton on the ground. But McCarron is a steady pocket passer who rarely makes mistakes.
The Rams offense doesn’t need a dual-threat quarterback or someone who can heave the ball 70 yards downfield. Look at what they were able to do with Clemens – and his 54.5 percent career completion percentage – under center.
Bradford is still the man in St. Louis. Head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have reiterated as much. But he hasn’t been the model of health during his first four seasons, missing 15 games and playing hobbled in more during his sophomore campaign in 2011.
And then there’s the elephant in the room: Bradford’s contract. What if he gets hurt again? What if he doesn’t progress as hoped? If either of those worst case scenarios were to take place, the Rams might decide it’s time to move on from Bradford. Having a solid option like McCarron could ease that transition if needed.
More than anything, the Rams need a backup quarterback who can learn their system and perform ably if/when called upon. At this point, they’re not looking to challenge Bradford with another potential starter. But having someone like McCarron, who has played admirably on the biggest stages, would offer a nice insurance policy.