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  • Writer's pictureElijah Southwick

Can J.J. McCarthy Live Up to the Hype?

Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy is the hottest name in NFL Draft circles right now. He’s a virtual first round lock at this point, and his odds to be the No. 2 overall pick in the draft have shot all the way up to +300 on DraftKings Sportsbook as of the time of this writing. 

McCarthy, Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels seem to be the only quarterbacks with a chance to be selected in the top five of this year’s draft, and the order in which they’re taken is one of the biggest mysteries in football. After the Bears presumably draft Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall pick, it’s anybody’s guess right now as to where quarterbacks will fall.

Names like Malik Willis and Will Levis in recent years have been central to the NFL Draft quarterback rumor mill only to see their draft stock fall outside of the first round. Willis’ case was more extreme, as his top five buzz became a harsh reality of falling all the way to No. 86 overall. Levis fell to just the No. 33 overall pick and is in line to be a full-time starter in 2024. Coincidentally, the Tennessee Titans stopped both quarterbacks’ draft slides.

McCarthy seems poised to maintain his draft stock in the last month of the process. He’s already had his college head coach (and now Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh) vouch for him as the draft’s top quarterback, and Raiders head coach Antonio Pierce gave him high praise at the recent Annual League Meeting.

“J.J. McCarthy, you’re talking about a national champion,” Pierce said. “A winner. So, I don’t know how he’s not in the top three.”

That’s an extremely candid comment from Pierce, a first year head coach of a team that is no doubt seriously evaluating the quarterback class. Of course, the NFL Draft is full of smokescreens and Pierce could be playing games with his comment, but everything about Pierce’s tenure as Raiders head coach and his status as a former player suggests he’s a stand up guy and wants what’s best for everyone.

When I watch McCarthy, I see a natural thrower with accuracy and arm talent. He has good pocket awareness, mobility, and he can throw on the run. His physical tools compared to the other quarterback prospects aren’t as impressive. He’s not as big as Drake Maye (although they’re relatively similarly sized), not as fast as Jayden Daniels, and obviously not as good of a thrower or playmaker as Caleb Williams.

I like what I see in McCarthy, and his 27-1 career record as a college starter is extremely impressive. He has the makings of being a potentially successful NFL quarterback. The NFL’s current group of average starters and above all have a range of physical tools. I think it’s fair to say McCarthy meets most of the minimum threshold requirements to play the position. All that being said, I have next to no interest in betting McCarthy at +300 to be the No. 2 overall pick.

McCarthy’s small sample size as a college passer will likely worry some teams. His 713 career pass attempts in three seasons are by far the lowest among the draft’s top four quarterbacks. Maye, who threw just 10 passes as a freshman compared to McCarthy’s 54, finished with 952 career pass attempts in three seasons, the next fewest of the group.

Teams may worry that McCarthy benefited from playing at Michigan in a way that Maye and Daniels didn’t in their college careers. Will that stop teams from drafting McCarthy in the top 5-10 picks? Probably not. But will it be enough to keep McCarthy from jumping Maye or Daniels on draft boards? It’s very possible.

I see McCarthy as capable of being a solid NFL starter or better, but adjusting to the NFL from his low volume college passing offense could be a big challenge. Maye and Daniels are closer to “finished products” than McCarthy given their tools and college careers. That’s not to say they’ll be better players, but it might be time to pump the brakes of McCarthy’s draft buzz and temper expectations for his first year in the league.

Elijah Southwick is the lead sports content writer for Degen Magazine. His work has appeared in several news and sports publications.

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