Tom E. Curran

Is it time to prepare for a J.J. McCarthy reality in New England?

The Michigan quarterback has become a polarizing figure in New England.

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J.J. McCarthy, who’s unexpectedly elbowed into the top quarterback conversation, is in Foxboro on Monday to visit the Patriots.

Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels –two kids who’ve been projected top-three picks since November – have already been to Gillette.

So J.J. -- a Michigan Man in town on Patriots' Day -- gets to leave the most recent in-person impression.

Which means J.J. and the entourage get to say, “Shop us last, you’ll love us!!!!”

Which is what people are afraid of/warning against. Locally and nationally, myriad experts and regular Joes are not fired up about J.J. The Interloper.

The simple fact his stock rose so much late in the process when no games are being played makes him suspect.

The criticisms are that he (in no particular order):

  • Was simply the chauffeur for a loaded Michigan offense.
  • Has a fraction of the production and reps that Daniels and Maye had.
  • Has benefited from the tireless work of his bespectacled hype man, Jim Harbaugh.
  • Is too short.
  • Has too long a windup.
  • Struggles in a muddy pocket.
  • Is inaccurate downfield.
  • Is benefiting from Maye/Daniels fatigue that emerged after months of having their tape examined and critiqued.

Some of the McCarthy slams are well-researched and objective. Like this from Diante Lee at The 33rd Team, which simply lays out the misgivings and laments the lack of evidence:

"McCarthy’s passing profile is reminiscent of eras long left in the past when it comes to quarterback scouting — against top competition the last two years, you’d be lucky to cobble together more than a dozen throws that directly translate to the next level. 

"The lack of pure volume makes him a tricky evaluation. The system he played in manufactured and restricted so much of the quarterback’s decision-making process that you’re left to evaluate McCarthy’s tools more so than you would the other consensus first-round guys in this class."

Others feel a little kneejerk. Like this from Tiki Barber:

“The J.J. McCarthy thing, I’m tired of hearing it. Stop with the J.J. McCarthy thing. His film doesn’t say he’s a first-round quarterback. His film doesn’t say, ‘I need to get rid of all my assets and go draft this guy,’ because a lot of what he does doesn’t translate.

"The scheme that he ran at Michigan — and maybe this is an indictment on the scheme and not necessarily on him — but it didn’t highlight the things that you need to do, second-, third-level reads, multiple combo routes that you have to get correct. He didn’t do any of that stuff. They were run-based and he thrived in it because he was good at — that’s what Jim Harbaugh wanted him to do.”

And then there’s the reasoned from the seasoned, like this from Mel Kiper Jr.:  

“He to me is kind of a wild card. I’m waiting for him to have that game where you say he’s a top-five pick, he’s a top-10 pick, he’s a mid-first-rounder. He was the toughest player at any position to really evaluate because they didn’t ask him to carry the team.

“He wasn’t asked to do that. They had Blake Corum, they had Donovan Edwards. They had eight men, nine men deep on the o-line. They had multiple tight ends, they had receivers. …But he wasn’t asked at Michigan to carry that team.

“To say ‘I know what J.J. McCarthy is going to be’ you gotta have a leap of faith there as he’s a great competitor. He’s a Josh Allen type of a competitor. He’s super smart. He just turned 21 years of age. He had two really good years. He didn’t throw picks, but the picks that he did throw were kind of memorable.”

We could find all the counterpoints to those critiques, like this from Thor Nystrom a month ago on the Patriots Talk pod, but what’s the point of that? They are all just outside opinions on projections. Informed opinions, perhaps. But opinions.

The only opinion that matters is the one collectively held in Foxboro. And the only concrete report so far about what the Patriots and de facto GM Eliot Wolf are going to do came from Sportskeeda's Tony Pauline, a guy whose life has been the NFL Draft for about three decades.

🔊 Patriots Talk Podcast: Is J.J. McCarthy now the object of Patriots' desire? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

“What I heard from other general managers -- not from the Patriots but other general managers -- is that Eliot Wolf, the de facto general manager for the Patriots, is in love with J.J. McCarthy,” Pauline said two weeks ago.

“And right now, the feeling is that J.J. McCarthy -- or at least Eliot Wolf is pushing for J.J. McCarthy, and that seems like it’s going to be the pick. I could understand the love for J.J. McCarthy. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it because whether it’s J.J. McCarthy or any of these Michigan kids, they have acquitted themselves well during the interview process.”

You can dismiss it “smokescreen season” or scoff and say, “everybody lies…” but in my experience, that itself is a lie. There’s plenty of truth out there from scouts, GMs and coaches every year.

If Pauline is hearing from other “general managers” (as in, multiple) that Wolf is pushing for McCarthy, that’s persuasive. Unless the GMs decided to get together and make up what Wolf’s disposition was. And what’s the benefit of making up a lie that another team is on the verge of overdrafting (in the opinion of some) McCarthy?

To justify the anonymous GMs’ own interest in McCarthy? To justify a potential trade up? I mean, I guess. More likely, though, it’s the truth. Wolf loves McCarthy.

So, why? Aside from the simple fact that McCarthy is actually pretty friggin’ talented -- as this video showing every throw and every run from 2023 demonstrates -- why would Wolf pass on the siren’s song of Maye’s arm strength and build or the breathtaking dual-threat ability of Daniels if either is there at No. 3 alongside McCarthy?

Highlights of Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy

Let’s make some sense of it.

Phil Perry and others have pointed out that Wolf led the charge in 2018 for the Browns to take Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick. There are plenty of stylistic and personality similarities between McCarthy and Mayfield. And there are similarities between the run-based offense Michigan ran and the one offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt ran at Cleveland.

Further, the Patriots aren’t talented enough at the skill positions to run a wide-open offense anyway. So, for the offense they’ll run, McCarthy is the safest, most prudent pick rather than Daniels or Maye.

Plus, he won a national championship, played at a big program and has a high floor. He’s a safe and stable pick. What’s not to like?


There is trauma. Wolf, if he chooses McCarthy, had better understand he’s putting the kid in a position where he’ll need to earn the region’s embrace.

And McCarthy had better understand that – like Mac Jones – he’ll be joining an NFL offense that is literally less talented than the one he left in college.

The protection will not be nearly as good. The receivers won’t be as good. The offensive system – in Year One under a brand-new staff – will not be as polished and efficient as Harbaugh’s was at Michigan.

When you draft a “high floor” player who is a “win with, not because of” type player – basically, Mac – you make sure the situation around said player is stable and organized.

If he doesn’t have the physical tools to run or throw himself out of problems, isn’t physically built to withstand great punishment and doesn't have the right people around him, start scouting high school seniors and the Class of 2028 right now. You’ll be right back at the top of the draft in four years.

Mac’s flaws were apparent. In 2021, they were hidden and covered up. He was the best of the first-round quarterbacks because he had the best situation. By 2023, after two seasons in the worst situation, he was arguably the worst of the five.

McCarthy, Daniels and Maye are all much more physically gifted than Jones (who, it should be pointed out, was a whisker away from being the No. 3 pick in 2021). Aside from Trevor Lawrence, all three are arguably better than the rest of the 2021 first-round class – Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Justin Fields.

Forget B.S. superstition about how many quarterbacks can be found in a draft. Every single one of the QBs the Patriots hosted will win games at Gillette.

How many? Ultimately, that’s not up to whoever they draft. It’s up to Wolf. If he truly “loves” McCarthy – or Maye, or Daniels – he better shower him with presents in the form of talent. And the entire team needs to buy-in without reservation on whoever it is.

Otherwise, divorce is almost certain. And they are messy. And expensive.

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