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Raiders’ QB options in 2024 draft: Is a Michigan man the way to go?

The NFL draft is about projection at its core.

Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy is the face of that concept this year. Teams will spend endless hours leading up to April’s draft figuring out how the quarterback’s play will translate to the NFL.

It’s not about what McCarthy showed on film in college. It’s what he didn’t. Evaluators need to determine whether McCarthy has what it takes to put a team on his shoulders because Michigan didn’t ask him to carry its offense. He averaged just 22 pass attempts per game last season during the Wolverines’ national championship run.

There is reason to believe McCarthy can handle more responsibility. His size, arm strength, intelligence and athleticism all pass NFL muster. He was 27-1 as the Wolverines starter and played well in high-level situations. But because he wasn’t often asked to be “the man” at Michigan, there will be questions about what he can be at the next level.

That’s what makes McCarthy one of the more polarizing quarterbacks this class. He’s next up as the Review-Journal continues to examine the Raiders’ options in April’s draft:

J.J. McCarthy

2023 stats

He played 15 games and completed 72.3 percent of his passes for 2,991 yards while throwing 22 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Strengths

McCarthy’s impeccable record as a starter will resonate with NFL teams. He brings a winning pedigree.

The 21-year-old also still has so much room to grow. He isn’t a finished product by any means and his ceiling is sky-high.

McCarthy’s transition to the NFL should be smooth as well. He played in a pro-style offense at Michigan under Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh, which gave him experience taking snaps from under center.

An exciting aspect of McCarthy’s game is his ability to make plays off schedule.

His 71.4 percent completion percentage when throwing while scrambling was the best among the draft’s top six quarterback prospects, according to the website Pro Football Focus. Oregon’s Bo Nix (58.6) was the only other passer above 50 percent.

McCarthy also showed the ability to deliver on money downs. He helped Michigan gain a first down 55.1 percent of the time when facing third-and-7 or longer, according to NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein. None of the other top six quarterbacks led their team to even a 40 percent conversion rate in those situations.

Weaknesses

McCarthy can miss what should be easy throws in the NFL.

He was also able to throw to his first read often thanks to Michigan’s superior talent and scheming. He sometimes struggled when he did have to go through his progressions.

McCarthy’s arm is adequate but not a cannon. He needs to prove he can drive the ball down the field consistently.

Why he fits the Raiders

The Raiders haven’t had a young quarterback with this many exciting traits in a long time.

McCarthy can make plays in and out of structure and still has plenty of potential. His experience in an NFL-style offense should also make his transition to the professional game easier.

Why he doesn’t fit

The Raiders will have to trade up from the 13th overall pick to get in position to draft McCarthy. It would be an aggressive move for a player that still requires plenty of projection.

He also might not fit what the Raiders are looking for if they want someone who is willing and able to push the ball downfield.

What they’re saying

“When you dig into the tape and really watch it and watch on third downs where (the Wolverines) throw the ball and they do put the ball in (McCarthy’s) hands, there’s a lot to like with him. He has a really, really quick mind. He has a quick release. Just everything he does is real smooth. He can rev it up and drive the ball in the seams. He can extend plays, keep his eyes up. There’s some elements of Alex Smith coming out of college where Alex Smith had a similar build, played the game from the shoulders up really well and was pretty athletic to get out and make some plays.” – Daniel Jeremiah, NFL media draft analyst

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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