J.J. McCarthy mock draft 2024: Best fits for Michigan QB, from Broncos to Falcons

J.J. McCarthy might be the most interesting quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Turn on the tape for a random McCarthy game, and there will be flashes of an explosive quarterback prospect, one who has the legs to outrun defenders and the arm to make pinpoint throws. Turn on another game, and there will be a completely different quarterback, one who largely hands the ball off and is asked to do little in a Michigan offense that leaned heavily on its running game.

The Wolverines’ star quarterback won back-to-back editions of “The Game,” claimed two Big Ten titles, took the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff twice and led Michigan to a national championship in his final season.

Yet McCarthy is still a bit more of an unknown relative to the other top quarterbacks in this class. Those signal-callers either were starters for four-plus years (Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr.) or were the focal point of their offenses throughout their collegiate careers (Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye).

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In 2023, Michigan faced all of its toughest challenges in the back half of the season: road games at Penn State and Maryland, a home game vs. Ohio State, then neutral site matchups with Iowa, Alabama and Washington. The Wolverines won all six games.

McCarthy, though, never had more than 221 passing yards in that stretch. Just once did he complete more than 17 passes, and in just two of those games did he have at least one touchdown pass. Against Penn State, he did not attempt a pass in the second half and attempted just eight overall — he completed seven for 60 yards.

But when McCarthy was put to the test for the Wolverines, he delivered. That’s why he is still considered by many to be the fourth-best quarterback in the class and a likely first-round pick.

McCarthy will participate in the 2024 NFL Combine, where he has the potential to show off both his impressive speed and his electric arm. And there are several teams likely to take a look at him as a first-round option with the hopes of developing him into a starter in the NFL.

Here are a few teams who could be matches for McCarthy in the draft.

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Best fits for J.J. McCarthy

Denver Broncos

The Broncos almost certainly will move on from Russell Wilson. The question is whether Denver opts to replace the veteran quarterback via the 2024 draft or if the franchise will wait until 2025.

McCarthy would appear to be a natural replacement for Wilson. Like Wilson, he possesses a strong arm and can be an effective runner. McCarthy also can get the ball out quick, a hallmark of Sean Payton offenses, and is effective at avoiding sacks when the play breaks down.

One big question is if McCarthy would be ready to step into a starting role right away or would benefit more from some time to learn on the job. But in Denver, he’d have a tremendous mentor in Payton with a solid offensive line and playmakers ready to help him avoid a rebuilding situation.

Denver drafts 12th overall, which could put the Broncos in a decent spot to take McCarthy should he fall past the Falcons and Vikings.

MORE: TSN’s Vinnie Iyer predicts the first two rounds of the NFL Draft 

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have all the offensive pieces. They just need the quarterback. Bijan Robinson, Kyle Pitts and Drake London can create a dynamic offense, but in 2023, Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke couldn’t harness the talent.

McCarthy is a similar quarterback to Ridder in playing style: Both are dynamic, mobile quarterbacks who can read defenses effectively. But McCarthy has a stronger, more accurate arm, with a quicker release. Combine him with Robinson and a strong offensive line, and there could still be a dynamic option running game that keeps defenses guessing.

Raheem Morris and Zac Robinson will bring a different offensive style to Atlanta than the team had under Arthur Smith calling the shots. McCarthy could be an asset to the new system, particularly in gap runs and play-action passes where he gets on the move.

The Falcons select with the No. 8 overall pick, and McCarthy could be worth a shot for an Atlanta team that could be a QB away from contention.

Las Vegas Raiders

The Jimmy Garoppolo experiment did not work out for the Raiders.

Las Vegas gave him a lofty three-year, $72.75 million deal. But when he wasn’t injured, he was throwing interceptions at a league-leading rate, which led to his benching before the end of the season. 

The Raiders aren’t quite a ready-made contender like the Broncos or Falcons. Though Davante Adams and Michael Mayer are standout receiving options, there are questions on the offensive line, and there’s no starting running back. Still, Las Vegas could be a fit for McCarthy.

New offensive coordinator Luke Getsy spent plenty of time coaching Aaron Rodgers, whose playing style could be seen as the best-case scenario for McCarthy. He also coached an offense that maximized the running game in Chicago with Justin Fields, and he could get more from McCarthy in the running game than he got from Rodgers in Green Bay.

The Raiders would have to hope McCarthy slides past several other teams who might want him in order to draft him at No. 13. 

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks might not be looking for a new quarterback in this year’s draft. Geno Smith continues to perform well after his breakout 2022 season, and he’s still under contract for both 2024 and 2025 at reasonable cap hits relative to the overall quarterback market.

But if Seattle is looking to find its successor for the 33-year-old Smith, McCarthy could be a fit. He might benefit from time to gain experience as a backup to Smith. And McCarthy’s style is both comparable to how Smith plays and would be an ideal fit for offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb.

There would be an element of familiarity between McCarthy and new Seahawks coach Mike McDonald, who was Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 2021 when McCarthy was a freshman. It would give the young head coach an opportunity to bring in another Michigan man to become the future signal-caller of the offense.

Seattle picks 16th, so it could take some luck of McCarthy falling in the draft for the Seahawks to land him.

Minnesota Vikings

There’s a case to be made the Vikings are a decent fit for McCarthy regardless of what happens with Kirk Cousins. The free agent will be 36 at the start of next season, so he is not likely to be the long-term answer at quarterback. He’s also coming off an Achilles tear, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be the same QB he was before the injury. Additionally, there’s a chance he winds up walking in free agency and signing with another team. 

Kevin O’Connell is an offensive mind who has worked wonders in maximizing pocket-passing quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford and Cousins. In McCarthy, he’d be coaching someone that better fits the modern style of QB in someone with enough mobility to be an effective scrambler and passer on the run who can also stand in the pocket and deliver throws over the middle as needed. 

Should Cousins return, McCarthy would have a chance to learn from the veteran quarterback and gain experience in an NFL system before eventually taking over as the starter. Minnesota has watched the Packers create an effective system of drafting the heir apparent before he’s needed work to wild success, and with the No. 11 pick, the Vikings could well be in a position to land him.

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