McCarron was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama. He attended Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School from kindergarten to fourth grade before transferring to St. Paul's Episcopal School. At the age of five, McCarron was severely injured in a jet-ski accident and almost died. He first played football at Trimmier Park and then Langan Park in Mobile. He played on the same park team as future college teammate Mark Barron. During McCarron's junior season of high school, St. Paul's went 14-1 and went on to win the state championship against Briarwood Christian School off a missed PAT. While attending St. Paul's, McCarron was recruited by several football programs in the Southeastern Conference, including Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, and Tennessee. He committed to the Crimson Tide on May 3, 2008, becoming the only quarterback signed by Alabama for their 2009 recruiting class.
He capped off his high school football career at the 2009 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
In his first season at Alabama, McCarron accepted a redshirt and did not play during the season as the team went 14–0 to capture the 2009 National Championship. During his redshirt freshman year, he did see some playing time, appearing in nine games as the Crimson Tide finished 10–3. His first collegiate touchdown pass came during the season opener when he connected with wide receiver Julio Jones on a 29-yard pass. He passed for a total of 389 yards and three touchdowns during the season.
After a tight competition for the starting quarterback position during spring practices, McCarron was named as the co-starting quarterback alongside Phillip Sims for the team's 2011 season opener versus Kent State, and later became the de facto starter by starting in every game. In his first start in college, he passed for 226 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions as Alabama won 48–7. His first road start for Alabama came the following week, as the Tide traveled to State College, Pennsylvania. His performance of 163 yards with no turnovers helped Alabama defeat Penn State 27–11, which came to be the last loss for head coach Joe Paterno. Another solid performance, alongside running back Trent Richardson, helped him get a victory in his first SEC start, a 38–14 win versus #14 Arkansas.
During the course of his sophomore season, McCarron led an 11–1 overall record during the regular season, including 7–1 record in conference. Alabama's only loss of the season came during a 6–9 overtime defeat at the hands of #1-ranked LSU. During the game, he completed 16-of-28 passes for 199 yards with one interception. By remaining unbeaten during the rest of the regular season, Alabama again met LSU at the Superdome for the national championship. His performance of 234 yards passing earned him Offensive Player of the Game in a 21–0 rout of the Tigers. During his first season as starting quarterback, he passed for a total of 2,634 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions and a BCS National Championship.
McCarron had a strong start in his second year as starting quarterback for Alabama as the Tide started off the season with a 9–0 record. In his first five games of the season, he passed for 999 yards and 12 touchdowns with zero interceptions. His good start to the season, including a comeback victory over LSU, had several media members put him as a dark horse candidate for the year's Heisman Trophy. His first interception, and Alabama's first loss, of the season came in the team's 10th game of the season.
In their first year in the SEC, Texas A&M and eventual Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel came into Bryant–Denny Stadium and upset Alabama 29–24. McCarron's second interception of the game seemingly sealed Alabama's loss, as he threw an interception on a fourth & goal pass with under two minutes remaining. Both he and Alabama rebounded to remain unbeaten during the rest of the regular season, which led them to the 2012 SEC Championship Game versus Georgia. With the help of running back Eddie Lacy, Alabama battled with the Bulldogs to win 32–28 and earn a shot to play for the 2013 BCS National Championship against No. 1 Notre Dame.
On December 12, 2012, ahead of their game versus Notre Dame, McCarron announced that he would be coming back to Alabama for his senior season. On January 7, 2013, Alabama met Notre Dame for the 2013 BCS National Championship. The Fighting Irish were led by their defense and Heisman runner-up Manti Te'o to an unbeaten 12–0 regular season record. However, their defense was overmatched as Alabama rolled 42–14 to capture their third BCS National Championship in four years behind McCarron's 264 yards and four touchdown passes, which allowed him to become the first quarterback to win back-to-back BCS titles. During his junior season, he threw for a school-record 30 touchdown passes in a season, as well as 49 touchdown passes over his career. He was named winner of the 2012 CFPA Quarterback Trophy on January 22, 2013.
McCarron made the cover of Sports Illustrated's October 30, 2013, edition, which asked whether he was one of the best college players ever. At that time, McCarron (whose team was 10-0) was a long shot for the Heisman Trophy.
As a senior in 2013, McCarron was again a second-team All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) selection. During the season, he passed John Parker Wilson to become Alabama's all time passing yard leader. He also broke Greg McElroy's record for passing yards in a season with 3,063.
Coming out of the University of Alabama, McCarron was projected to be drafted in the second or third round. He was said to be a great game-manager, decision maker, and thought to be a possible future NFL starter. He also stated that he was told by teams he would be selected as high as 15th but no lower than 34th.
McCarron was selected in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft with the 164th overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. Surprisingly, along with University of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, McCarron's draft value drastically dropped during the draft, as he was the ninth quarterback selected, out of the total 14. It was reported that teams felt during pre-draft interviews that he came across cocky and over-confident. When asked what his best attribute was during an interview at the combine, McCarron responded, "Winning!"
On May 22, 2014, the Cincinnati Bengals signed him to a 4-year, $2.4 million contract with a $181,652 signing bonus.
In August 2014, the Bengals placed McCarron on the reserve/non-football injury list due to shoulder soreness, meaning that he would miss at least the first six weeks of the 2014 season. With Andy Dalton entrenched as the starting quarterback for the Bengals, and veteran Jason Campbell as his backup, the Bengals did not plan for McCarron to see significant playing time during his rookie season.
On December 9, 2014, McCarron was activated after linebacker Vontaze Burfict was placed on Injured Reserve.
McCarron was named the backup quarterback to begin the season after he defeated Keith Wenning and Terrelle Pryor in a quarterback competition during training camp. He played in his first pre-season game on August 14, 2015, completing 11/15 passes for 97 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He started in the last pre-season game at Indianapolis and completed 15 of 28 passes for 219 yards.
In Week 9, he appeared in his first career game against the Cleveland Browns. On November 29, 2015, he completed his first career pass attempt for a 3-yard completion against The St. Louis Rams. The following week, McCarron completed 2 out of 3 passes for 19-yards against the Cleveland Browns.
On December 13, 2015, starting quarterback Andy Dalton fractured the thumb on his throwing hand while trying to make a tackle in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although the Steelers won 33–20, McCarron came in and completed 22 of 32 passes for 280 yards, with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The following week, McCarron became the first Alabama quarterback to win an NFL game since Jeff Rutledge of the New York Giants in 1987, when the Bengals beat the San Francisco 49ers 24–14. In his first career start he completed 15 of 29 passes and threw 1 touchdown. On December 28, 2015, McCarron completed 22 of 35 passes for 200 passing yards and a touchdown in a 17-20 loss to the Denver Broncos. On January 9, in the AFC Wild Card round, McCarron completed 23 of 41 passes for 212 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, but the Bengals lost to the Steelers, 18–16, ending their season.
McCarron played in one game in 2016 and recorded no statistics.
McCarron was born to Dee Dee Bonner and Tony McCarron on September 13, 1990. He also has a younger brother named Corey McCarron who formerly played tight end at Alabama but currently plays fullback at Middle Tennessee State.
He became engaged to model and longtime girlfriend Katherine Webb in March 2014. They were married on July 12, 2014, in Orange Beach, Alabama. On December 8, 2015, McCarron and his wife announced they were expecting a baby boy in 2016. Webb gave birth to their son Raymond "Tripp" McCarron III on May 24, 2016.
McCarron is a devout Catholic. McCarron has a tattoo of Jesus and a cross on his chest.