QB Prospect Gaining Steam in Vikings Universe

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

It is a big offseason for general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as he must decide if Kirk Cousins should continue to be Minnesota’s signal-caller or if it’s time to head in a different direction with the organization after having the veteran under contract for half a dozen years. He holds the 11th overall pick in April’s draft–perhaps too late to get one of the top passers, but still in range to get a decent one.

QB Prospect Gaining Steam in Vikings Universe

QB Prospect Gaining Steam in Vikings Universe
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

With Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Jayden Daniels expected to fly off the board early in the first round, the Vikings could only lure them to Minnesota by facilitating a costly trade. While rumors surfaced about Adofo-Mensah’s interest in trading up for one of them, shipping three first-round picks or a star player like Justin Jefferson away could be too risky.

Alternatives include more potential first-rounders with Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr., and J.J. McCarthy. Penix Jr. has a lengthy injury history, and Nix is controversial because of the offense he played at Oregon. In addition to that, both players will turn 24 before their first offseason workout in the NFL arrives. Their upside can be questioned.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy celebrates after the 34-13 win over Washington to win the national championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.

Less productive in college but roughly three years younger, McCarthy’s name is slowly gaining interest in the fanbase. But there are still some reservations, especially because McCarthy was a game manager in the college playoffs and, quite frankly, his whole tenure in Michigan.

While guiding his Wolverines to the national title, he only topped 150 passing yards once in his final five games. A Sean Mannion-esque stat line in the championship game of 10/18 completions for 140 yards and neither a touchdown nor a pick is not quite the statistical explosion fans hope for from their new franchise quarterback.

That raises the question of why he is even intriguing and in consideration of coming off the board in the first round. And it is a totally fair question. Can he actually play, or did he just ride a dominant running game and defense to a title?

Still, Vikings fans ran wild with speculations about the QB on Thursday. Is he worth the 11th pick, is he a second-rounder at best, should the Vikes trade up? Oh well, here’s a jersey swap. That’s what McCarthy would look like in purple.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

McCarthy has some traits NFL teams will love besides the casual talker of he is a winner. The Michigan product is a good athlete. While he won’t run around like Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields, he has the quickness to run for first downs when plays break down, and he can be a threat to perform some read-option plays. That athleticism also allows him to make plays outside of the pocket with his arm after buying some time with his legs.

Where he excels is the execution of a play. If his coordinator draws up a play and wants him to make one read before delivering the ball to a certain receiver, he will do that. That sounds basic, but coaches love it. McCarthy won’t turn the pass down, run around, and look for a different play. No, he will execute the play just like his coach wants him to.

The term game manager is certainly overused in the NFL, and nobody wants one. But it means a quarterback doesn’t force the issue and takes what the defense gives him. Successful quarterbacks are described that way. To truly elevate a team, those game managers need to possess the skills to perform out of structure and make high-level throws.

The 21-year-old can’t do that at the same level as the top guys in the draft, although he has shown flashes of it.

Drops One Hint
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Where he is interesting for the Vikings is when head coach Kevin O’Connell calls a play that opens up a receiver, especially Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, or T.J. Hockenson. He will likely get the ball there without frequent errant throws or bad decisions. He is also fantastic in the medium range, an area O’Connell’s offense mainly targets.

Another fascinating aspect is that McCarthy is 21 years old. Sitting a year behind Cousins might make sense and is by no means bad for his career. He has all the time in the world to develop into the best version of himself at this age.

Broncos insider Benjamin Allbright has recently tweeted: “League is definitely higher on McCarthy (top 10) and lower on Nix/Penix (day 2/3) than media/fans according to the people I talk to.”

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

The draft isn’t an exact science, but he wouldn’t even fall to the Vikings if that was true. Atlanta could select a passer with the 8th overall pick. Denver (12) and Las Vegas (13) could be just as interested in drafting McCarthy. Teams like the Jets (10) or the Saints (14) might also want a developmental passer in their building, someone to provide an alternative plan besides employing Aaron Rodgers and Derek Carr.

Jaime Eisner from the Draft Network quote tweeted Albright’s report and added some context: “I’d guess this will pick up more steam after the Combine, but I’ve heard the same sentiment. The massive upside and lack of medical red flags could make J.J. McCarthy the QB2 or QB3 on many teams’ boards.”

He then continued in the comment section: “I do think the order of the top 4 will be different for several teams. I’ll see what the talk is when I get to Indy at the end of the month, but there is a lot of gushing about McCarthy right now.”

There is a scenario in which the Vikings fall in love with McCarthy and trade into the top ten to get him. The seventh spot to jump Atlanta could be the right one. Tennessee currently holds that one.

While that might be underwhelming at first because McCarthy doesn’t run a 4.3, his right arm isn’t a bazooka, and his collegiate production is weak, his mature play at this age, combined with still decent physical tools, make him an intriguing upside prospect.

Board Got Thicker
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy looks to pass against Iowa during the first half of the Big Ten championship game at Luca Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

With Cousins’ future with the organization in question, and even if he returns, he will be 36 when Week 1 arrives, the Vikings need to find his successor. If they think McCarthy is that guy, they shouldn’t care about potentially flipping an additional draft pick to grab him. All that matters is if he is good or not. The price is irrelevant; just ask the Chiefs or the Bills if they like their QBs they moved up to get them.

It is still relatively early in the draft process, and players will rise and fall in the following weeks and months. There will also be some false rumors. But McCarthy to the Vikings could happen on April 25.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt