Vikings Found a Franchise Quarterback in J.J. McCarthy

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Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) takes a moment to watch TCU celebrate after Michigan lost, 51-45 at the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 31 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. © Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK.

The Minnesota Vikings have made their first choice in the NFL draft, and it is the player they want to lead the organization for the next decade. While Drake Maye was long rumored to be the guy, J.J. McCarthy, out of Michigan, joined the purple team as the tenth overall pick in the draft. The 21-year-old passer is an intriguing prospect, although he has been fairly controversial in the pre-draft process. 

Vikings Found a Franchise Quarterback in J.J. McCarthy

Vikings Get a Franchise Quarterback in J.J. McCarthy
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) warms up before Ohio State game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

McCarthy grew up in Illinois and played high school football in Florida for a year because of the COVID-19 restrictions in Illinois. He won the state title in Illinois and Florida. As a highly-touted recruit, McCarthy wanted to join the Ohio State Buckeyes because he was a fan of them growing up.

He accused head coach Ryan Day of lying as a recruit because he allegedly told him he wouldn’t sign a quarterback in the 2021 recruiting class until the summer. Kyle McCord signed in April, and McCarthy pivoted to Ohio State’s rivals, saying, “I used to like them, now I want to kill them.”

That chip on his shoulder summarizes McCarthy’s personality. He is a fierce competitor and does whatever is necessary to prove people wrong and to win football games.

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In his true freshman season in 2021, McCarthy was primarily Cade McNamara’s backup but still threw for 516 yards and five touchdowns. The competition in his second season extended into the regular season, though McCarthy started every game except for the first one in 2022. His passing numbers increased to 2,719 yards and 22 touchdowns. 

As the unquestioned starter in 2023, McCarthy led the team to the national title, throwing for 2,991 yards and 22 touchdowns. With him as the starter, Michigan lost only one of 28 contests. While his numbers are subpar compared to the other prospects at the top range of the draft, those statistics don’t tell the whole story. 

Strengths

McCarthy’s mobility is excellent. He can easily escape the pocket and is a fluid runner with solid speed, agility, and vision. He threatens the defense as a scrambler and on designed runs. In his last two seasons in college, McCarthy rushed for over 500 yards and eight scores. While he doesn’t quite possess the size to be used as a rusher too often, his athleticism is an asset in the running and passing attack. 

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Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy makes a pass against Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner during the first half of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024.

Another plus is undoubtedly his mentality. McCarthy is always poised on the pocket and never panics. Before every game, he meditates to calm his mind, which shows on the grass. Defenders coming at him or receivers struggling to get open, no matter what he is facing, he can keep a relaxed mind and either make a play or limit the damage by throwing the ball away, taking sacks, or creating something on his own. That will come in handy at the next level when everything is faster. 

One advantage is his experience in a pro-style offense. Many prospects never play under center, but it is still used in the NFL. McCarthy doesn’t need to learn it and can focus on other things. He already masters designed rollouts and play-action, which are important elements in Kevin O’Connell’s offense. The Michigan prospect can operate both on schedule and out of structure. 

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McCarthy’s arm is underrated, as he can sling the ball into tight windows. His short and medium games are electric. He’s also comfortable throwing on the run and making plays off-platform inside and outside the pocket. When he isn’t pressured, his mechanics are nearly flawless and extremely repetitive. 

Elite toughness is another aspect of his personality. Perhaps growing up playing hockey, he was even viewed as a potential pro hockey player in his past; he does take hits like a pro, something Vikings fans saw with Kirk Cousins under center for years, and still delivers the throws. 

His timing is elite in this draft class. He rarely holds the ball too long and usually makes the correct throw at the right time. He also mostly throws accurate passes and doesn’t have the unnecessary misfires some other prospects in the class do.

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Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) signs autographs during the national championship celebration at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Weaknesses

On the flip side, the Vikings get a quarterback who was never asked to dominate on the field and who could hide behind a strong running game. While it isn’t his fault at all that he wasn’t the leading force of the offense, it is still negative on his report card that he didn’t have signature performances with 450 passing yards and five scores.

His deep ball is a work in progress. He possesses the arm to throw it over the top but is too inaccurate. Unless he can fix that issue, his ceiling will be limited. Hitting big plays is an important component of winning football games in the NFL, and someone needs to hit Jordan Addison and Justin Jefferson deep. 

He also must learn to protect his receivers. While he doesn’t miss throws, his ball placement isn’t ideal, and wideouts must unnecessarily slow down or stretch to grab the ball. His throws to the sidelines also need some work, especially to the left side of the field, and the touch passes were a point of emphasis on his pro day. He can do it, but it didn’t show up enough on tape. 

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Purple Bottom Line

McCarthy is a pro-ready quarterback who can start early in his career. While he didn’t have the elite production at Michigan, he has all the tools to become a franchise quarterback, and at age 21, there is room to grow. He is also a perfect fit in O’Connell’s offensive system, and the only thing missing is the deep ball. When Michigan needed him to make a play, he delivered most of the time. The newest Viking is at his best when the game is on the line, and he has already experienced the biggest stage.

With Sam Darnold in place, he isn’t asked to step onto the field earlier than he should be. He will get time to grow under the tutelage of O’Connell and former NFL quarterback Josh McCown, who was hired as the quarterback coach. The solid offensive line and elite receiving threats will help him produce early in his career. 


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

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