Is Jim Harbaugh praising J.J. McCarthy to make Chargers’ NFL Draft pick more valuable?

Jim Harbaugh and J.J. McCarthy won a national championship together at Michigan less than three months ago. So it makes sense that Harbaugh has nothing but good things to say about McCarthy leading up to the NFL Draft.

Not everyone is buying Harbaugh’s motive, though.

No, the Chargers aren’t expected to have interest in McCarthy. As much as Harbaugh might like his former quarterback, there is no questioning Justin Herbert’s status as the franchise signal-caller in Los Angeles.

That doesn’t mean Harbaugh can’t use McCarthy to help out his own team.

Many NFL evaluators are skeptical of Harbaugh’s praise of McCarthy, which included calling the 21-year-old the top quarterback in the draft ahead of Caleb Williams, according to Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson

“To say that statement has elicited some eye-rolls would be a vast underestimation of how it was received in many personnel departments,” Robinson reports, indicating that a good number NFL minds don’t trust Harbaugh’s hyperbolic praise of his former player.

“Jim [Harbaugh] needs everything but a quarterback. So every quarterback that gets taken before [the fifth pick] is a win for him,” an evaluator told Robinson.

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That could be a motive behind Harbaugh’s statements about McCarthy. The Chargers hold the No. 5 pick in April’s draft and don’t need a quarterback, but they do have needs throughout the rest of the roster, including at wide receiver and on the offensive line.

If McCarthy is drafted within the top four picks, that likely would see three or even four quarterbacks take up the slots ahead of the Chargers’ pick. That would increase the options for Los Angeles at both wide receiver and offensive tackle.

There could also be the possibility that the Chargers want to slide down from the No. 5 pick and add assets to help fill out a barren roster. If a quarterback-needy team truly believes in McCarthy, Los Angeles could get real value by trading down and giving up the No. 5 pick so another franchise can draft the quarterback. 

Then again, it’s not uncommon for a coach to be a major proponent of a player he once coached. This just isn’t a dynamic often seen in the NFL, as it’s rare for coaches to jump from the collegiate head coach to NFL head coach like Harbaugh did in January. 

Two sides of the coin can both be true: Harbaugh is a fan of McCarthy’s potential, and it absolutely might benefit his team if McCarthy is drafted before the Chargers are on the clock. 

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J.J. McCarthy NFL mock draft

Here is McCarthy’s placement in some recent notable NFL mock drafts.

  • No. 11, Vikings (SN’s Vinnie Iyer)
  • No. 3, Patriots (CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco)
  • No. 4, Broncos (ESPN’s Matt Miller)*
  • No. 4, Vikings (NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah)*
  • No. 6, Giants (NFL Network’s Charles Davis)

* — Via trade

Is Harbaugh’s praise of McCarthy making a difference? Whether it is or it isn’t, it certainly seems like a possibility that McCarthy will come off the board before the Chargers pick. Mock drafts from three major outlets project McCarthy to be selected ahead of the No. 5 pick, with two projecting a team to trade up and make the pick. 

SN’s Vinnie Iyer has McCarthy lasting until the No. 11 pick, however, while NFL Network’s Charles Davis sees McCarthy coming off the board at No. 6 to the Giants. With four weeks remaining until the 2024 NFL Draft, McCarthy remains one of the biggest wild cards of the quarterback class. 

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