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Michigan's 2021 Quarterback Picture

There isn't much clarity at quarterback for Michigan heading into the 2021 season.

Jim Harbaugh has signed his extension and he's currently trying to figure out how to fill the vacancies on his staff. Once that happens, he and his assistants can really hit the recruiting trail, comb the transfer portal and begin preparing the team for the 2021 season. One position that is going to need a lot of attention, is quarterback. No one knows who will start at QB heading into next year's campaign, but we do know the candidates that will battle for the right to be Michigan's quarterback. Someone will start, and the others won't. Here's why...

JJ McCarthy

Why he will...

In a previous article, I made my stance on JJ McCarthy crystal clear - there’s no use in delaying the inevitable. For Michigan, JJ McCarthy is the inevitable. The general consensus to those both inside and outside of the program is that McCarthy is the future, and many are ready for the future to begin now. While there’s very little question that the fan base is ready, the big question is whether or not McCarthy will be ready by the time the 2021 season kicks off. I think the answer to that question is an emphatic ‘YES’. As it currently stands, there is no true QB1 currently in Ann Arbor and none of the competition has significant in-game experience - and McCarthy knows it. I expect McCarthy to arrive on campus with an unmatched drive to win that top spot and to be a legitimate threat to do so when fall camp begins. If the competition between the top three contenders is anywhere near close, I expect Harbaugh to make a bold move and pull the trigger on his prized quarterback recruit. — Christopher Breiler

McCarthy is very talented, very motivated, very mature and ready to be Michigan's quarterback, at least to himself. I'm not saying he's not actually any of those things, but he believes in himself and has been Michigan's future quarterback for a long time. He committed to the Wolverines, led the class right up to signing day and is set to be on campus this weekend. He wants to be Michigan's quarterback and frankly, he's good enough to be. Without any major hurdles to overcome in terms of being low on the depth chart, McCarthy is going to come in confident, focused and driven to win the starting job. — Brandon Brown

Why he won't...

Given the way things have transpired over the last six seasons, I’m not sure that Harbaugh is looking to gamble right out of the gate and roll with a true freshman quarterback - although I think most Michigan fans would prefer it. Instead, I expect Harbaugh to protect his prized quarterback recruit by giving him a year to develop within the program before unleashing him on the Big Ten. Barring some significant development over the next eight months, I expect that Harbaugh will play it safe and roll with McNamara out of the gate. Unfortunately, fans will likely have to wait until 2022 for the McCarthy era to officially begin in Ann Arbor. — CB

It's really hard for a freshman quarterback to win the job and hang onto it. McCarthy is talented and mature beyond his years, but he's not on the same level as Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence or Tua Tagovailoa, and none of theme started as a true freshman. It's just a lot for a kid who was playing high school ball the year prior. McCarthy is a little slight and honestly hasn't been hit a whole lot during his prep career. The speed and physicality of the game in the Big Ten is going to be a shock to his system and might be a little too much for him to be the guy in year one. — BB 

Cade McNamara

Why he will...

Cade McNamara replaced a struggling Joe Milton with Michigan trailing Rutgers on the road in week five. It became apparent very quickly that McNamara was more polished than Milton. Not only did he show great touch and accuracy right out of the gate, but he also showed tremendous poise on the road while engineering an impressive comeback win in double overtime. Unfortunately, McNamara suffered a season ending injury the very next week against Penn State and the hope he provided for salvaging the 2020 season quickly came to an end. Even so, I believe that Cade McNamara gives Michigan the best shot to win in 2021, which is why I expect him to be the week one starter. — CB

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McNamara showed in flashes that he can be decisive, accurate and explosive with his throws. He came in and moved the ball when Joe Milton couldn't and made some of the prettiest throws we've seen from a Michigan quarterback in years. He obviously hasn't played much, and he did get dinged up last year, but he was beyond productive in high school and seems to have a high level of confidence. McNamara just seems like a gamer to me. He's not as touted as McCarthy, or as athletic as Milton, and he probably doesn't have the arm talent of either of them, but he's productive and smart with the football. He understands how to throw the ball in all situations and seems to have a great grasp on what he's doing out there. — BB

Why he won’t...

It’s honestly hard for me to come up with a solid reason for why Cade McNamara won’t be the starter for week one. Even with limited reps in 2020, I think the general consensus is that McNamara gives Michigan the best shot over Milton. However, there’s a new quarterback on the roster who is going to garner a lot of early attention - JJ McCarthy. If anyone is able to steal that starting spot away from McNamara in 2021, I believe it will be the true freshman who arrives in Ann Arbor with a ton of hype and a lot of expectation. If the QB competition between McNamara and McCarthy is anywhere near close this fall, McNamara may very well find himself in that No. 2 spot. — CB

There aren't many knocks on McNamara. Everything negative you can say about him, isn't actually that bad and doesn't seem to keep him from being effective. He doesn't have a rocket arm but he's got enough arm strength. He's not an elite runner but he's athletic enough to move around in and out of the pocket. He's not very big but he's not slightly built like McCarthy is. The biggest issue for him is that he couldn't stay healthy last year. As I said, he's not the biggest quarterback in the world and a pretty routine tackle effectively ended his season in 2020. He's also not much of a runner, which should be a pretty big part of Josh Gattis' offense with so many read-option elements built into it. If he doesn't end up starting, it'll likely be because Joe Milton or JJ McCarthy brings a more dynamic aspect to the offense. — BB

Joe Milton

Why he will...

Physically speaking, Joe Milton is the most impressive quarterback currently on the Michigan roster. At 6-5, 245 pounds, Milton looks like he was built in a lab and specifically made for Big Ten football. There’s no question that he struggled throughout the 2020 season but, to be fair, the entire program struggled throughout the 2020 season - coaching staff included. Milton showed flashes of why so many were excited to see him get a shot, but he also showed why many were concerned - particularly when it came to accuracy and decision making. All of that can be corrected through good coaching and, now that Harbaugh is committed to being more hands-on with the quarterbacks, I hope to see Joe Milton make significant progress this offseason. If Harbaugh can get the most out of Milton, I think Milton is Harbaugh’s guy in 2021. — CB

I'm still not ready to give up on Milton. At 6-5, 243 pounds, with 4.6-4.7 speed and one of the strongest arms in the country, he should be so much better than he is. I know the accuracy has been an issue, but there's just so much intrigue there. I can't help but think about how he'd look at Ohio State, Oklahoma or Clemson. Those teams seem to mold their offenses around the strengths of their quarterbacks and make them look like stars. I'm not sure Milton has been put in the best positions to succeed while at Michigan. Per recent photos of him, he was also playing hurt last year. If he's healthy and ready in 2021, I think he'll have a shot to be the guy yet agin. Milton certainly has star qualities, but he does need to be better at what he can control. — BB

Why he won’t...

As mentioned above, Milton has all of the physical traits you want in a quarterback. Unfortunately, the Michigan coaching staff has yet to prove it can actually develop quarterbacks regardless of potential. That lack of development was apparent as Milton struggled his way through the 2020 season, often making questionable decisions and struggling to be accurate on a consistent basis. For a guy who had spent two years within the program developing, the lackluster result on the field was concerning to say the least. Even with McDaniels out, the inability to develop a quarterback still falls at Harbaugh’s feet - I don’t anticipate that changing enough to make Milton the guy in 2021. — CB

Despite having every physical gift a quarterback needs, Milton just has never been very effective in a Michigan uniform. He's inaccurate too often, seems to struggle making the right decisions and often misses reads on option plays. Now, if he was being told not to run last year because of his injured throwing hand, he gets a bit of a pass, but the accuracy problems and turnovers date back to his days as a prep star. He won't start for Michigan if he can't hit open receivers and can't take care of the ball. That's what we saw too often last year and that's why McNamara got his chance. — BB