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2024 NFL Draft: Is Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy a Good Fit for the Vikings?

McCarthy is one of the second-tier quarterback prospects the Vikings could consider.
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The NFL draft is still a ways away and notoriously hard to predict, but the consensus right now is that quarterbacks Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Jayden Daniels will be the top three picks on April 25th. If the Vikings can't trade up into that top three, they'll be left to consider the three second-tier QB options: J.J. McCarthy, Michael Penix Jr., and Bo Nix.

McCarthy is a fascinating prospect whose profile is rather different from the other two. Penix and Nix are fifth or sixth-year seniors who will be 24 when their rookie seasons begin. They were both Heisman finalists last season after finishing first and second in the nation in passing yards (by a lot) on high-powered Pac-12 offenses. McCarthy, meanwhile, is a true junior who just turned 21. Operating Michigan's run-heavy offense, he finished 35th in the country in passing yards with less than 3,000 in 15 games. To cap an undefeated season, McCarthy led his Wolverines team over Penix's Washington Huskies in the national championship game.

Jan 8, 2024; Houston, TX, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) passes the ball against the Washington Huskies during the third quarter in the 2024 College Football Playoff national championship game at NRG Stadium.

Should the Vikings draft J.J. McCarthy in the first round?

The Vikings just spent last week watching Penix and Nix closely at the Senior Bowl. They're also undoubtedly doing significant homework on McCarthy, who wasn't in Mobile. The former four-star recruit from the Chicago suburbs has garnered massive praise from new Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh, who once coached Andrew Luck at Stanford. McCarthy is rising during this draft process and seems to currently be viewed as the QB4 — ahead of Penix and Nix. A couple recent mock drafts from notable analysts have had McCarthy going 12th overall to the Broncos and 13th overall to the Raiders. The Vikings, of course, have the 11th pick.

McCarthy's lack of passing volume complicates his evaluation a bit, as scouts have a comparatively limited sample size to work with when watching his tape and forming opinions. He averaged just under 200 passing yards per game over the last two seasons, throwing 44 touchdown passes and nine interceptions (three of which strangely came in a September 2023 game against Bowling Green where he only attempted 13 passes). McCarthy shined in the national semifinals against Alabama — he went 17 of 27 for 223 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks in that win — but all he needed to do in the title game was complete ten passes for 140 yards, as Michigan ran for over 300 yards and four scores in their 34-13 victory.

Even on a smaller sample size, McCarthy has shown a lot to like as a passer. He's a good processor with impressive arm talent and the ability to make plays outside of structure. He ran for 508 yards and eight touchdowns over the past two seasons, and that yardage number would be higher if college rushing stats didn't include yards lost to sacks. McCarthy earned a 90.8 PFF grade in 2023, including marks above 92 in intermediate and deep passing. He shined out of play-action and completed over 72 percent of his attempts.

There are plenty of examples of big-time arm talent on McCarthy's tape, he just didn't get the opportunity to show that off as much as the other top quarterbacks in this year's draft. The upside is clearly there when you look at his arm strength, accuracy, and touch.

"He's mobile and tough as nails, and scouts praise his arm strength and ability to make difficult throws in big situations," wrote ESPN's Matt Miller

"McCarthy has projectable physical tools with an NFL arm and above-average mobility. Scouts consistently bring up his intangibles as a strong selling point for their coaches because of his retention, recall and competitive toughness," wrote The Athletic's Dane Brugler.

A recent mock draft from Josh Edwards at CBS Sports has the Vikings taking Florida State EDGE Jared Verse with the 11th pick, then trading up from 42 to 27 to take McCarthy. That could be an ideal scenario if McCarthy slides towards the end of the first round, which may not happen. He's getting more top-20 buzz and figures to help himself with his athletic testing at the combine in a few weeks.

"I wouldn't be surprised if J.J. McCarthy went higher up in this draft than he was originally mocked," said Bleacher Report's Jordan Schultz. "I like J.J. McCarthy a lot, and I like the fit in Minnesota. That's a really potentially good home for (him)."

With his relative lack of experience, McCarthy probably needs some development at the NFL level. That could make the Vikings a strong fit for him. Whether they re-sign Kirk Cousins or add a cheaper bridge quarterback, McCarthy could be someone who doesn't start in Week 1 of his rookie year, instead using that time to grow behind the scenes under Kevin O'Connell and Minnesota's offensive staff.

McCarthy may not be quite the same level of prospect as Williams, Daniels, or Maye, but he has franchise QB potential nonetheless. He's a proven winner who arguably possesses greater upside than Penix and Nix in the QB4 conversation. Keep an eye on the Vikings as a team who could be interested in McCarthy at No. 11 overall.

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