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2024 NFL Draft: J.J. McCarthy worth the hype? Making case for, against taking rising QB prospect in top five

Every NFL Draft has a wild card — a player who skyrockets up the board or plummets down. 

There were rumors Malik Willis could be in play for the Lions with the second overall pick in 2022. Instead he went 86th overall. Will Levis slid to the second round last year. On the flip side, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance were top-three picks in 2021. Daniel Jones went sixth overall in 2019.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy is the clear wild card of the 2024 NFL Draft. The hype train in the last month has been a sight to behold.  He is a top-five pick in most mock drafts. Many, including former Vikings GM Rick Spielman, have linked McCarthy to the Vikings, who have the draft capital (No. 11 and No. 23 overall picks) to move up in the draft for McCarthy. Former Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh called him the best quarterback in this draft

So is McCarthy worth the immense hype? Before you say hard pass, here’s a case for both sides.

Case for McCarthy being worth the hype

The case for McCarthy being worth the hype, worth a top-five pick and worth a team like the Vikings, Raiders or Broncos trading up for goes something like this. 

One of the biggest selling points about McCarthy is the success he had in college. He went 15-0 and won a national championship at Michigan last season. His 27-1 record is the third best by a quarterback in FBS history. 

Record is more of a team stat than a quarterback stat, though, but McCarthy was also very efficient as a passer. He was sixth in completion rate (72%), ninth in pass efficiency (167.4) and third in ESPN’s Total QBR (89.2) last season. 

He was poised under pressure and made enough off-schedule throws, ranking top 10 in college football in completion rate (63%), yards per attempt (9.5) and pass efficiency (168.2) when pressured last year. 

Nobody was jumping off their couch with the arm strength and speed McCarthy flashed in college. Despite the lack of production in both areas (more on that later), however, he silenced some critics after his NFL Combine and pro day performances. He ran the sixth-fastest three-cone drill (6.82 seconds) of any player at the 2024 NFL Combine. It was the best by a quarterback since 2019. He also threw a football 61 miles per hour at the combine, the third best at the combine since 2008 behind Josh Allen (62 mph) and Joe Milton III (62 mph), according to research from Ourlads. 

I can’t say I’m putting much stock into a throw velocity drill, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others are. If the viral Zach Wilson pro day throw can generate the hype it did, I buy it.

McCarthy still doesn’t possess the flashy arm or speed you would expect of a top-five pick in 2024, but he was a successful, experienced college quarterback who can throw with anticipation and accuracy. He also has underrated athleticism. Sound familiar? He could be a better version of Brock Purdy and could excel in the right fit. After Purdy helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl last season I’m sure more teams are talking themselves into a quarterback with his skill set. 

J.J. McCarthy vs. Brock Purdy NFL Combine McCarthy Purdy

Height

6-2.5

6-1

Weight

219

212

Hand size

9″

9 1/4″

Throw velocity

61 MPH

52 MPH

Three-cone drill

6.82 sec

7.21 sec

20-yard shuttle

4.23 sec

4.45 sec

Case against McCarthy being worth the hype

Does a team really want to overpay for a quarterback in the top five or 10 picks who is not a dynamic playmaker?

McCarthy was not asked to do as much as the other top QB prospects in a Michigan offense predicated on running the football. He accounted for 36% of the Wolverines’ touchdowns and 56% of their total offense last season, numbers well below the other 2024 first-round QB prospects. 

Pct of Team Offense Last Season Among 2024 First-Round QB Prospects TD Yards

Jayden Daniels

63%

70%

Michael Penix Jr.

57%

71%

Drake Maye

60%

64%

Caleb Williams

55%

62%

J.J. McCarthy

36%

56%

McCarthy may have raised a few eyebrows on the radar gun at the NFL Combine, but didn’t show elite arm strength in college. He had 11 completions thrown at least 25 air yards last season, 53rd in the FBS. The other first-round QB prospects all ranked in the top five and more than doubled McCarthy’s total.

Completions of 25+ Air yards Last Season Among 2024 First-Round QB Prospects FBS Rank

Michael Penix Jr.

37

1st

Drake Maye

27

3rd

Caleb Williams

26

4th

Jayden Daniels

25

5th

J.J. McCarthy

11

53rd

McCarthy also didn’t put up any video game numbers in college. His career high in passing yards was 2,991 in 2023 and 306 rushing yards in 2022. It’d be rare to see a quarterback taken near the top of the draft with that type of production. 

The last quarterback drafted in the first round with zero college seasons of 3,000 passing yards or 500 rushing yards was Christian Ponder in 2011 (11th overall pick by the Vikings). The four quarterbacks in this category since 2000 are Ponder, Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller and Joey Harrington. Rodgers seems like more of the exception here. The last quarterback drafted in the top 10 with zero college seasons hitting those numbers was Harrington in 2002 (third overall pick by the Lions).

Verdict: Not worth the hype

My verdict? He’s not worth the hype because he doesn’t have the college production or Grade A arm strength or speed to warrant a team drafting him in the top five, and potentially giving up two or three first-round picks to move up for him. Even if he could be a better version of Purdy, that would require a perfect fit, and we won’t know if McCarthy has elite anticipation and processing skills until we see him reacting to NFL defenses. 

If McCarthy does go in the top five it’ll be because of today’s NFL economy that overpays and overdrafts quarterbacks. There’s been at least three quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 in four of the past six years after it happened four times in the previous 51 drafts. Teams are burning through cash and quarterbacks like never before. Quarterbacks account for the 10 highest-paid players in the league, and last year’s starting quarterback crop had its youngest average age since 1956.

The numbers show that drafting quarterbacks in the first round is a major gamble. Consider that only 41% of quarterbacks drafted in the first round from 2011-20 signed a second deal with their draft team. The 2021 draft class serves as a major buyer beware as well. Five quarterbacks were drafted in the first round and Trevor Lawrence was the only one to have his fifth-year option picked up.

Now, drafting quarterbacks is a complete crapshoot and McCarthy could absolutely end up being a stud, but I’d like to see more evidence pointing toward that before making a major investment. It wouldn’t shock me to see a team trade three first-round picks to move up for him. As the Lance trade proves, this would not be a wise approach. There’s been five trades in NFL history where a team gave up three first-round picks, and none of them has panned out well.

In 2022, the Browns traded three first-round picks for Deshaun Watson and gave him the biggest deal in NFL history. The 49ers’ trade for Lance in 2021 was arguably the worst move in draft history. Washington gave up three firsts for Robert Griffin III. The Vikings’ trade for Herschel Walker helped spark the Cowboys dynasty. Also in 1976, the 49ers gave up three first-rounders for Jim Plunkett, who later won two Super Bowls for the Raiders. Those deals are some of the worst in NFL history for the teams who gave up a trio of first-round picks.

Just because a team shouldn’t overpay for McCarthy doesn’t mean it won’t. The over-under for McCarthy’s draft pick is 5.5 at Caesars Sportsbook. BetMGM has the Vikings as the favorite to draft McCarthy (+100), followed by the Patriots (+350), Giants (+400) and Broncos (+700). 

No matter what side you’re on, we can probably all agree this is setting up to be one of the top storylines (if not the top) in the 2024 NFL Draft. 

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