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The J.J. McCarthy hype train is full speed ahead

Could the Vikings take a chance on the Michigan quarterback in this year's draft?
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With a couple of weeks until free agency starts, the Minnesota Vikings have major questions at quarterback. Kirk Cousins is a free agent and after his dance moves at the NFL Honors showcased his surgically repaired Achilles tendon, there could be a bidding war the Vikings may not be able to win.

The possibility of Cousins leaving has led many Vikings fans to the draft, where one of the strongest quarterback classes in recent memory could lead to a new signal caller. But if there's one name that is gaining steam at the beginning of the process, it's Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy.

McCarthy helped lead the Wolverines to a national championship last season but his usage brings questions. McCarthy threw for 2,991 yards, 22 touchdowns and four interceptions for Michigan this year, but Jim Harbaugh leaned heavily on a running game that featured NFL prospects Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards.

Despite Michigan's tendency to run the ball, one NFL executive remains bullish on McCarthy's potential and believes he could wind up being the best quarterback in this year's draft.

"All the hype is about Caleb Williams [but] I'm telling you, J.J. McCarthy is going to be the best quarterback in this draft class," The anonymous executive told the NFL Analysis Network. "The kid has the it factor."

To this executive's credit, McCarthy has a lot of the tools associated with a modern quarterback. McCarthy's 72.3 completion percentage is impressive, but becomes more impressive with a 5.9 percent big-time throw percentage according to Pro Football Focus.

PFF defines "big-time throws" as "a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window." A high big-time throw percentage shows a willingness to make throws in less than ideal conditions but McCarthy's 2.9 percent turnover-worthy play rate also signals he makes good decisions.

By comparison, Cousins logged a 2.3 percent turnover-worthy play rate but had a 3 percent big-time throw rate. Josh Dobbs had a 2.7 percent big-time throw rate and a 4.4 turnover-worthy play rate and Nick Mullens had a 5.2 percent big-time throw rate but a 7 percent turnover-worthy play rate.

McCarthy also blends a strong arm and solid decision-making with a level of athleticism, running for 632 yards and 10 touchdowns over his three seasons with the Wolverines. While those numbers don't put him on par with Williams or LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, it is enough for draft analysts such as FantasyPros Thor Nystrom to be enticed by his potential.

During an appearance on SKOR North's Purple Daily podcast, Nystrom declared that McCarthy was closer to the top three quarterbacks – including Williams, Daniels and North Carolina's Drake Maye – than the draft's second tier of prospects including Washington's Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon's Bo Nix.

"I might be ranking J.J. McCarthy in my top three quarterbacks," Nystrom said. "...I've heard all of this nonsense on Twitter like 'Oh look at his stats' and people that have never watched the kid play that he stinks. Outside of the look at the high-leverage stuff and per-pass and everything like that, the kid is a killer.

"He was a ballyhooed recruit coming in, he just won the national title game and last season, he was No. 5 in the nation in PFF's wins above replacement and he played a really good schedule last year and was a killer on it."

While analysts such as Nystrom are warming up to McCarthy, it hasn't hit the rest of the draft community. McCarthy is ranked 29th on NFL Mock Draft database's big board but has yet to be a consensus pick for any team among 579 total mock drafts.

Other draftniks have jumped on board, however, including CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso, who mocked McCarthy to the Vikings with the 11th overall pick in next year's draft.

While the Vikings have been rumored to have aggressively pursued Anthony Richardson, who went to the Indianapolis Colts with the fourth overall pick in last year's draft, and already doing their homework on this year's class, a trade into the top three picks seems unlikely with the Chicago Bears, Washington Commanders and New England Patriots all seeking their own quarterback solution.

If Williams, Daniels and Maye are selected with the top three picks, it could lead the Vikings to take a flier on McCarthy – even if Cousins returns this offseason. Even then, there's no guarantee that McCarthy will be available as the NFL continues its golden rule at the quarterback position.

If you win, you're the GOAT. If you lose, you need to be replaced.

Ask Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson, who have achieved franchise quarterback status but can't get past Patrick Mahomes. Or Brock Purdy, who is still questioned despite leading the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl.

It's a delicate balance and should make McCarthy's draft stock interesting to follow in the weeks leading up to the draft.