J.J. McCarthy’s NFL draft projection is all over the map. Here’s what pro scouts are saying

Michigan Wolverines junior quarterback J.J. McCarthy will have a huge decision to make after the season — return to Michigan for his senior year or enter the 2024 NFL Draft.

McCarthy’s amassed a 25-1 record as Michigan’s QB1 and finished 10th in Heisman Trophy voting this season. McCarthy ranks highly in a variety of statistics after throwing for 2,630 yards with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions this season, along with 146 yards rushing and three scores. McCarthy currently ranks third in ESPN’s Total QBR metric (89.2), second in the nation in completion percentage (74.2) and sixth in passer rating (170.3).

Because McCarthy is a dual-threat quarterback and has displayed steady accuracy and stellar arm strength he’s destined to be the highest-drafted quarterback in the Jim Harbaugh era. Harbaugh, Michigan’s head coach, has called McCarthy a generational talent at quarterback for Michigan and even feels he’s “very much like Andrew Luck.”

McCarthy has yet to decide if he’ll head to the pros and says he’s only focused on Alabama, but that hasn’t dissuaded analysts from putting McCarthy in mock drafts and draft rankings.

Here’s a look at what scouts and pundits are saying about McCarthy.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper feels McCarthy’s a wild card and could drop to Day 2

“[An intriguing wild card at quarterback is] Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, who has been one of the most difficult evaluations of this entire class,” Kiper said. “He has the tools to be in the mix for that No. 3 QB spot, but he just didn’t convince me down the stretch. Where were the “wow” throws? I didn’t see him go through progressions much. Sure, he only had four interceptions, but three of those came against … Bowling Green? Plus, he wasn’t asked to beat teams with his arm, partly because the Wolverines blew out all of their opponents until November. It’s clear McCarthy has a ton of talent, but not all NFL teams are going to be in love with him, which means he could drop to Day 2. I have him as my No. 7 QB right now.”

Washington Post NFL Insider Jason La Canfora is hearing McCarthy could go in the first round

It struck many people as odd how little he has been asked to throw the football as the Wolverines soared up the national rankings and cruised to a Big Ten title. That was true even against lesser programs; in the middle stage of the season, McCarthy had 23 passing attempts against Maryland, 17 against Indiana and 20 against Minnesota. “But people really like him,” the evaluator said. “I hear what you’re saying, but they really like him. I think he goes [in the first round]. [Coach Jim] Harbaugh knows how to get him ready to play up here. He’s got one of the best lines in the country and one of the best running games in the country. … So the coach wants to run the ball and play it safe. I don’t think that will keep him out of the first round.”

ESPN draft analyst Matt Miler spoke with an NFL scout who compared McCarthy to Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins

You know who’s going to go higher than anyone thinks?” asked an AFC East scout last week via text. “J.J. McCarthy.”

The Michigan quarterback is loved by scouts who have studied his game and have seen the junior passer throw in person. McCarthy is efficient; he has posted a QBR of 89.2, good for third in the nation, while throwing 19 touchdown passes to four interceptions.

”I think a lot of people haven’t done a deep dive on McCarthy yet,” said a scout who covers the Michigan area. “But when they do, he’s going to rise. He would dominate an event like the Senior Bowl.”

The main knock on McCarthy’s game this year has more to do with the Wolverines than his skill set. Michigan’s scheme doesn’t ask for a lot of pure passing from him. The Wolverines run the ball early and often, with McCarthy attempting only 287 passes this season (77th in the FBS) and averaging 19.3 per game against their three ranked opponents toward the end of the season. He didn’t attempt a single pass in the second half of a 24-15 win over Penn State in mid-November!

And because Michigan throws only 44.5% of the time (124th out of 133 teams), McCarthy hasn’t been able to showcase his passing ability to a high level. That has led to questions the junior simply can’t answer on tape. He must rely on the pre-draft process, should he declare for the draft. As of now, McCarthy sits at No. 19 overall on my board, but he could absolutely rise as we get closer to draft time.

”To me, he’s an athletic Kirk Cousins,” said the Michigan region scout.

CBS Sports’ Ryan Wilson believes the playoffs will greatly influence McCarthy’s draft stock

”J.J. McCarthy has the arm and open-field athleticism to be in the first-round conversation. And there are NFL teams that really like those physical tools. But he needs to play with more consistency than what we saw this season at Michigan. Now some of that is a function of playing in that offense, but he may be asked to do more now in the playoffs, and if he plays like a lot of us think he’s capable, he’ll force his way into the QB3 conversation.”


McCarthy returning to Michigan or entering the draft could greatly hinge on how he performs against Alabama, and whether Michigan makes the National Championship and wins it all. As things currently stand, it feels like there are at least three quarterbacks ahead of McCarthy on draft boards — USC’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye and LSU’s Jayden Daniels. There are also a couple other quarterbacks who could be selected before McCarthy, Oregon’s Bo Nix and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. In short, there’s plenty of talent at quarterback in this draft class.

McCarthy, who turns 21 in January, could benefit by coming back to Michigan next season to bulk up further and add a little more seasoning to his game. This is the first season McCarthy has weighed more than 200 pounds — he’s currently listed at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds and still needs to add weight to his frame to absorb big hits. He puts himself in harm’s way too often and takes unnecessary hits running the ball, and that could have devastating consequences in the NFL. McCarthy suffered an injury on a run in November against Penn State and was less than 100 percent for the remainder of the regular season.

Pros and cons to McCarthy’s game aside, if he’s a major catalyst en route to a Michigan national championship, it’s hard not to see him declaring for the draft. Strike when the iron is hot, especially when there are more quarterback-needy teams than usual in the NFL.

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