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2024 NFL Draft Scouting Report: J.J. McCarthy

J.J. McCarthy had been an enigma to me for quite some time now. Perhaps quite not literally, but the perception of him feels entirely too positive or negative, with little middle ground for a kid who's only 20 years old. A recent example of the former would be a Tom Pelisero report on the NFL Network alluding to the idea that the Michigan quarterback might be in play with the second pick, leading to his odds of going No. 2 jump from +2500 to +400 in a matter of hours some days ago.

At that point, I tried to discover what McCarthy was about. I figured he's likely not as bad as some of his more prominent detractors may think. Having seen enough of him, his supporting cast certainly helped out, but he didn't have the success he did on complete accident. On the other hand, I also figured there's no shot he's the caliber of guy who should be going top two in this draft of all drafts, right? Well, here's what I now think after a few days of film review.

Player Bio

Name: J.J. McCarthy

Jersey: No. 9

Position: Quarterback 

School: Michigan

Class: Junior

Height: 6'2" 1/2

Weight: 219 lbs 

Games Watched: vs. Iowa and TCU (2022), vs. Michigan State, Ohio State, and Alabama (2023)

RAS Score Comp:

J.J. McCarthy RAS Comp

Player Breakdown

Arm Talent (13.5/15)

Right out of the gate, McCarthy has much better arm talent than I had anticipated. He's not entirely on the level of either Caleb Williams or Drake Maye, but he's not too far off Jayden Daniels, having watched all four. McCarthy gets the ball out with tremendous zip and put up throws in excess of 45 air yards without much trouble. There were some occasions where I thought he could've driven the ball a bit more on out-breaking stuff, but this is by no means a trouble spot for him. (This throw is an incompletion, but I couldn't believe this was even close to on target)

Accuracy (12.75/15)

I was largely impressed with McCarthy's ability to hit accurate passes over the middle of the field, especially on seam shots inside the numbers. However, I thought he could've been a bit better at times working deep down the boundary, and based on the heat map you see below, there's something to that from a numbers standpoint. I also thought McCarthy would sail passes while under duress, just enough for me to say it's a slight issue.

Decision Making (10.75/15)

Although he only had nine picks in two seasons, I thought McCarthy was very liberal with putting the ball in danger, far more so than I would like. While he got away with a lot in Michigan, I don't think he'll be afforded those same opportunities as an NFL quarterback, and no game demonstrated that more than his only loss as a Wolverne: the 2022 Fiesta Bowl against TCU.

This first pick isn't so much about processing, more so about where McCarthy decides to put this ball. You cannot give this DB any shot of making a play on this ball and lay it near the sideline. So there's free seven points for TCU right there. The second pick is about McCarthy tipping his pitches and then making a brutal decision. The guy who picks him off here is current 49ers linebacker Dee Winters, who might have had one of the best CFB performances I've ever seen in this game, and he reads him like a book, as you can see on both views. McCarthy had a wide-open out route five yards further downfield, which makes this especially bad. 14 free points in what was a six-point loss, you do the math.

On the whole, McCarthy's wreckless abandon at times was a little jarring, and I'm surprised he didn't get burnt more than he did. He's capable of making some ridiculous tight window throws, but it was at the expense of making safe and smart plays at times. As good as some of the defenses in the Big10 are, NFL defenses, especially defensive coaches, are infinitely better and will 100 percent try to bait him into making great danger throws. If there's one reason McCarthy should sit year one, this is it.

Progressions (7.75/10)

Not getting as many chances to pass as his colleagues in this draft class, McCarthy had only so much multiple progression work to do. I thought there were times in the 2022 games when he would visibly freeze up trying to hit his second read, but there was enough improvement in the 2023 games for this score not to be significantly lower.

Pocket Awareness (9.25/10)

McCarthy's feel in the pocket was excellent, more often than not. He had a pretty good feel for blindside pressure, and his internal clock is good enough, even with room for improvement as he enters the NFL. I also liked that he was occasionally willing to take big hits if a good throw was available.

Anticipation/Touch (8.75/10)

While going to the well on tight-window throws will backfire on him in the NFL at his rate, McCarthy's ability to put enough zip or air underpasses to make tight-window throws is already elite. While I think he has room to grow in terms of reading defenders and hitting some tighter timing, he'll probably improve there before long.

Out of Structure (9.25/10)

Both as a runner and passer, McCarthy has good instincts to make plays when things break down in the pocket. I thought the Michigan State game was the best example of that, making a handful of good plays on the run, but the biggest thing he needs to eliminate is the double-back around runs when he's feeling the heat. He got away with some of that in college, but there's no shot NFL defenders are missing tackles in those situations.

Mobility (9.25/10)

Michigan got McCarthy active with his legs fairly often, having designed runs (draws, read options) for him in the book, and they loved to get him in motion as a passer. What surprised me was how good of a rusher he was, though. The perceived three guys ahead of him on the pecking order are all better, but McCarthy isn't that far off at all.

Mechanics (4.75/5)

Outside of some woes stepping up in the pocket, McCarthy is as mechanically sound as any guy in the draft. His throwing mechanics are particularly good, and his footwork is still in a good spot at 20 years old.

Player Summary

I can't say I anticipated McCarthy being this well-regarded, but here we are. Hands up, I wasn't familiar with the finer aspects of his game. Even with that said, I firmly believe, both before and after this report, that he should not take a meaningful snap in 2024 before Week 17 or 18, barring some injury situation. Some of his weak spots concern me just enough, and I believe the best thing for him long-term is to ride the bench in year one, the same thing he did in Michigan.

Assuming that does happen, meaning he ends up somewhere with the luxury or realistic option to do that, I think McCarthy can become a very good NFL quarterback. He's only 20 years old, his best football is still likely years out, and he already has a ton of high-leverage snaps in just two real seasons. To me, that's invaluable. It's better to take things closer to the Mahomes/Love route than rush him into the fire and shake his confidence long-term.

Rookie Projections: High-End Developmental Backup (Should sit the entirety of Year One)

Third-Year Projections: Fringe Top-10 Caliber Quarterback

Final Grade (86/100): Late 1st-Round Talent

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