New Bengals quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt (here in his Green Bay days with Aaron Rodgers) likes experience in college prospects.
As Raymond Anthony McCarron Jr., heads to free agency amid ruffles and flourishes, the Bengals are quietly trying to find the next AJ. If they go back to the well they'll be wading into the middle of April's draft for their future back-up quarterback.
It's time to look at what the Bengals did in the offseason of 2014 now that Andy Dalton is their only quarterback on the roster who has thrown an NFL pass. Remember? They signed a battle-scarred veteran back-up with 79 career starts in Jason Campbell in March and delightedly drafted McCarron in the fifth round, where they felt he slid despite terrific makeup and experience.
That's as good a road map as any. Some mid-range names to ponder, according to NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang, are Western Kentucky's Mike White and Richmond's Kyle Lauletta. Both were on fire in last month's Senior Bowl leading the South to 45 points in a rout over the North and Lauletta took home the day's MVP.
Also in the mix for the Bengals is No. 3 quarterback Jeff Driskel, a sixth-round pick of the 49ers two years ago. But his broken non-throwing arm is a question mark heading into the spring. Some veteran free-agent candidates with ties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (Matt Barkley) and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt (Ryan Fitzpatrick) are among the annual slew of veteran journeymen, ranging from a Carson Palmer backup (Drew Stanton) to a Bengalskiller (T.J. Yates).
The draft is a lot more intriguing. The Bengals go into each round looking for upgrades, but it's highly doubtful they'd take a quarterback in the first round given that they're all in on Dalton and they've got bigger holes if they decide to keep the 12th pick. Plus with some analysts believing four quarterback will be gone in the top ten, it's moot. With Dalton their main man, it's probably moot long before that.
The conventional wisdom is that there are five first-round QBs with Louisville's Lamar Jackson joining the top four of UCLA's Sam Darnold, USC's Josh Rosen, Wyoming's Josh Allen, and Alabama's Baker Mayfield. It's all guesswork and the guess here is the Bengals won't start thinking about a QB until the third round, where they're expected to have two picks. But that's about when guys start sliding into the third day, a la McCarron.
In a similar scenario in 2014, Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin and his staff jumped all over Andy Dalton in the fifth round and four years later he's one of the NFL's more coveted free agents.
"I think there are several (quarterbacks) outside of that top five," Rang says. "Somewhere in day two (rounds two and three) and possibly in early day three (rounds four to seven) that have potential starter traits."
The 6-4, 221-pound White, like Driskel a standout high school baseball player, is a South Florida transfer and once he settled in Bowling Green in 2016 his 8,189 yards and 622 completions were second-most in the country. Plus, he threw 63 TD passes.
Rang has written White's knocks are he's got a long, baseball-style release and he's a little raw since he really didn't break away from baseball until his senior year in high school to start at quarterback for the first time. But Rang also says he's got a big arm, a nice touch, and all those intangibles you want when it comes to character.
The 6-3, 217-pound Lauletta, the CAA Player of the Year, is another intangible guy in the McCarron mold. When he wasn't a team captain the last two years for the Spiders, Lauletta was CAA all-academic as a freshman. He lit up the Senior Bowl with three TDs and eight of 12 passing and had the NFL Network broadcast team raving about two throws.
On one TD pass Rang's web site said Lauletta "initially looked to his back on the touchdown to (the tight end), sliding to his left to buy time before firing a strike away from the defender …" He also threw a TD pass on a post pattern that split a cornerback and safety.
"Both of them have less than elite arm strength, but they have enough velocity on the ball to make NFL throws," Rang says. "They certainly have the accuracy that you're looking for as well as the poise. Those are some of the traits I'm looking at in those Day Two kind of quarterbacks that project very well to the NFL."
Other names you'll hear according to the draftnicks for the next two months are Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, Washington State's Luke Falk, and Missouri's Drew Lock.
Also making the draft even more intriguing is that the Bengals have a different coordinator and quarterbacks coach from that '14 draft that plucked McCarron. But Van Pelt's wish list is pretty universal in Bengaldom when he mapped it out in a recent interview with Voice of the Bengals Dan Hoard.
"One thing I like to see in a quarterback is experience. I would take a guy that's a three-year starter at a big school over a guy that's a one-hit wonder if the skill sets were equal," Van Pelt said. "The accuracy, the toughness, the ability to move within the pocket and extend plays, not just be a statue in there. So you have a little athleticism to negotiate the pass rush. Accuracy and decision-making would be two of the top (traits)."
It's that experience that was McCarron's big selling point after leading Alabama to two national titles and it looks like these guys have played a lot of ball, too. White played 17 games at South Florida before playing 27 at Western Kentucky. Lauletta played 39 at Richmond, Rudolph 42 at Oklahoma State, Falk 42 for Washington State and Lock 37 at Mizzou.