Are We Counting JJ McCarthy Out as Vikings Starting QB Too Soon?

J.J. McCarthy, Minnesota Vikings
Credit: Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

As soon as Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback JJ McCarthy walked into TCO Performance Center for the first time, it was clear team brass, specifically head coach Kevin O’Connell was on a mission to downplay any and all hype related to the highest drafted quarterback in franchise history.

Projections on when McCarthy would start were pushed back and those inside the Vikings organization have continually pointed to Sam Darnold, who was signed for $10 million over the offseason. Their message: McCarthy probably isn’t going to start anytime soon.

Don’t count JJ McCarthy out as Minnesota Vikings starting QB just yet?

But now that training camp is just three weeks away, there’s some new chatter developing around the MN Vikings’ QB situation. And this time around, it has a slightly different feel to it.

Let’s start with Albert Breer (Sports Illustrated), who wrote Monday that O’Connell plans to remain disciplined with JJ McCarthy. He also noted, however, that the QB conversation in Minnesota could “evolve and change as camp gets going”.

And as for the Minnesota Vikings, I’d expect Kevin O’Connell to be disciplined with JJ McCarthy and give Sam Darnold every chance to be the guy. Those three situations, to me, could all evolve and change as camp gets going.

Albert Breer (Sports Illustrated)

It is pretty clear that Sam Darnold will be getting the starting quarterback reps to start training camp. The head coach has said as much. But Vikings fans must remember that just because Darnold is the starter going in, doesn’t mean he’ll be the starter when they break camp in the fall.

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There’s a reason JJ McCarthy was drafted in the top-10 of the 2024 NFL Draft. McCarthy has arm talent, he’s mobile, smart, and a proven winner. He’s the future of the franchise, so why can’t he hit his supposed “benchmarks” faster than expected?

It’s all about the benchmarks…

Breer isn’t the only deeply rooted NFL insider hinting at a realistic possibility that JJ McCarthy earns the Vikings’ starting QB job out of camp. Dan Graziano (ESPN) did the same on Monday, reminding fans about the benchmarks KOC has set for him.

If he hits them before the season starts, then the only thing between JJ and QB1 would be the play of Sam Darnold. And let’s be real, that’s not the same as beating out Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or even Kirk Cousins.

The Vikings selected J.J. McCarthy. They have a very detailed and specific developmental plan tailored to J.J. McCarthy. They actually made one for several different quarterbacks because they didn’t know which one they were going to draft.

The way it works is if McCarthy hits certain benchmarks by certain dates. Sure, he could be the week one starter, but if not, they’re happy to go with Sam Darnold until J.J. McCarthy is ready. So watch J.J. McCarthy throughout camp in the preseason, see how he’s advancing through that program that they have set up just for him.

Dan Graziano (ESPN SportsCenter)

At this point in time, it’s still unclear what these benchmarks are and how much more work McCarthy needs. It’s been identified that he’s working on his footwork and reading defenses at an NFL level but what else?

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Training camp is right around the corner. Darnold may get the nod early, but changes can happen in a blink of an eye. The fans are behind JJ McCarthy, the coaching staff is behind McCarthy, the players are behind McCarthy.

It would be foolish to already pencil Darnold in as the starting quarterback come week one against the New York Giants. It’s too early, and like Breer said earlier… things can “evolve and change as camp gets going”.

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