Why the Minnesota Vikings should trade up for quarterback J.J. McCarthy

Minnesota Vikings, J.J. McCarthy
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The Minnesota Vikings have positioned themselves to trade up for a quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft. Amid ongoing debate over which signal-caller Minnesota will take, we’re making the case for the Vikings to draft quarterback J.J. McCarthy.

Caleb Williams is obviously not an option as Minnesota will be facing the Chicago Bears quarterback twice a year. So, the choice comes down to McCarthy, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels. In the first part of our analysis series, I’m making the case for the Michigan Wolverines quarterback.

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Let’s dive into our argument.

Trading up for J.J. McCarthy

Minnesota Vikings trade, J.J. McCarthy
Credit: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Washington Commanders are still open to trading the second overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, but no team has come close to meeting the team’s asking price. While Minnesota could theoretically put together a strong enough package, the likely outcome is Washington taking its highest-rated quarterback. So, a deal can instead be made with the New England Patriots.

  • New England Patriots receive: 11th overall pick, 23rd overall pick, 129th overall pick, 2025 4th
  • Minnesota Vikings receive: 3rd overall pick

Obviously, this deal leaves Minnesota with just three picks in the top 150 selections and it would only have first-, third- and fifth-round picks in 2025. However, the benefit of having a quarterback on a rookie-scale contract is the ability to use that cap space on free agents. As a result, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah can still add talent on both sides of the ball for the next four years.

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Now with a potential trade package established, we can dive into the similarities between McCarthy and Kirk Cousins before examining the overall fit in Kevin O’Connell’s system.

Comparing Kirk Cousins and J.J. McCarthy

Minnesota Vikings quarterback
Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a reason the common J.J. McCarthy NFL comparison has been to Kirk Cousins since 2023. Like with the former Vikings’ quarterback, McCarthy doesn’t have elite arm strength nor is there a premium physical tool that would be a so-called trump card over his peers. In fact, McCarthy’s average arm strength can be first compared to Cousins in terms of their effectiveness and frequency of throwing deep.

Deep Passing (20+ Yards)

J.J. McCarthy stats vs Kirk Cousins stats on deep throws via Pro Football Focus

Obviously, neither the Vikings nor the Wolverines attempted a lot of downfield shots in 2023. Cousins ranked 39th among qualified quarterbacks in deep-throw rate (8 percent) and McCarthy placed 97th among FBS quarterbacks at 13.8 percent.

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However, working in front of the sticks is a big part of Minnesota’s offense. Cousins had the seventh-highest rate of short throws (46.9 percent) among quarterbacks with 200-plus total attempts last season. As for McCarthy, 45 percent of his throws went 0-9 yards through the air.

Short Throws (0-9 Yards)

J.J. McCarthy stats vs Kirk Cousins stats on short passes via PFF

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Minnesota does lean pretty heavily on the play-action game, with 31.1 percent of Cousins’ dropbacks last season occurring on that concept. A year prior, Cousins attempted a play-action pass on 28.5 percent of his dropbacks (fifth-most in the NFL). For the sake of our statistical comparison, we’ll use 2023 data from Pro Football Focus.

Play Action

J.J. McCarthy stats vs Kirk Cousins stats on play-action (Pro Football Focus)

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No statistical comparison is perfect and data requires context, but the numbers do help paint a bit of a picture of how O’Connell could use McCarthy similarly to Cousins. Now, we’ll examine why McCarthy is perfect for the Vikings’ coach.

Why J.J. McCarthy is perfect for the Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings, J.J. McCarthy
Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Achieving success in the NFL as a young quarterback comes down to a variety of factors. Talent certainly plays a role, but we’ve seen plenty of highly gifted passers turn into draft busts. Many times, that’s because the environment and coaching staff around them don’t provide them the right structure to be successful.

On the other hand, having a strong support system can make all the difference in a player’s development and production. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy is a perfect example of this, as are players like Jalen Hurts, Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff.

Related: 2024 NFL Draft order, picks by team

Kevin O’Connell comes from the Sean McVay coaching tree and both NFL head coaches have been heavily influenced by their former colleague Kyle Shanahan. All of this ties into the modern Shanahan system, which O’Connell has adapted to his liking.

Schematic fit matters, especially at quarterback. For as physically gifted as Jayden Daniels is, his issues – throwing over the middle and bailing on plays when pressed – mesh terribly with the type of offense O’Connell likes running. As for Drake Maye, while he’s more talented than McCarthy, he also freelances more and poor decision-making is a bane of O’Connell’s existence as a coach. That’s why McCarthy stands out.

ESPN NFL analyst Mina Kimes said it best to Dan Orlovsky on a recent episode of The Mina Kimes Show featuring Lenny, McCarthy feels like a quarterback designed to play for O’Connell.

“J.J. McCarthy is like if I typed into ChatGPT, ‘Show me a Shanahan quarterback.’ Throws over the middle of the field, throws on time, manages the pocket well, athletic, he has functional athleticism I like to call it. He has all of those qualities.”

Mina Kimes on quarterback J.J. McCarthy

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O’Connell wants a quarterback who will stick to the play design and is willing to make throws over the middle of the field. It’s highlighted by Kirk Cousins, who consistently excelled at making passes over the middle of the field past the line of scrimmage.

  • Kirk Cousins stats throwing over the middle (PFF): 122.8 QB rating, 75.2% completion rate, 10.04 yards per attempt, 7.76% TD rate, 2.33% INT rate

Whether he’s being pressured or standing from a clean pocket, McCarthy has the confidence to target the middle of the field frequently and there’s more than enough velocity to fit the football into tight windows.

J.J. McCarthy breakdown by Derrik Klassen of Reception Perception

The questions about whether or not McCarthy is a ceiling-raising quarterback are fair and he rarely showed at Michigan that he can take over a game and carry the offense. In other systems with a much worse supporting cast, McCarthy would likely not be successful; because of his physical limitations. However, he checks every box O’Connell looks for in a quarterback and he’s certainly more athletic than Cousins.

McCarthy should be the Minnesota Vikings quarterback in 2024 and beyond. While repeating the experience with Cousins doesn’t sound ideal, the benefit of this is that McCarthy’s athleticism gives him a higher ceiling and his rookie-scale contract makes him a much better value for Minnesota. If Williams and Maye are the first quarterbacks off the board, the Vikings should move up for McCarthy.

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