Michigan Football enters the 2019 season with hype as high as it has ever been for the potential to have elite play at the quarterback position in a new and exciting offense. It is not Shea Patterson or bust for the Wolverines, however. Jim Harbaugh has improved the quality and the competition of the room through both recruiting and the transfer market as much as any since he arrived in Ann Arbor.
Here is a rundown of what the quarterbacks will look like this season.
Shea Patterson, senior
2018 stats: 13 games played (13 starts), 210-for-325 passing (64.6 percent), 2,600 yards, 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 76 rushes, 273 yards (3.6 ypc), two touchdowns
Patterson is Michigan’s starting quarterback and there’s no reason to believe it will not remain that way as long as he stays healthy. Assuming that Josh Gattis’ offense truly does open things up, we should see the shackles come off of Patterson this season and allow some of the natural arm talent and running ability to be more on display. Pass attempts increasing naturally could raise the turnover numbers, which would see the lunatic fringe of the fanbase calling for him to be benched, but no matter any reported “push” from below him on the depth chart, Patterson is the guy.
Dylan McCaffrey, junior
2018 stats: Five games played, 8-for-15 passing (53.5 percent), two touchdowns, 10 rushes, 99 yards (9.9 ypc), one touchdown
A broken collarbone cut short McCaffrey’s first season of game action with the Wolverines, but he was still able to flash some potential in mop-up duty prior to his injury. Heading into his third season with the program, he certainly could have starting ability if called upon and the backup quarterback position is certainly in a much better spot that it has been in quite some time. However, for whatever reason there’s a portion of the fanbase who has seen enough in the above sample size to think he should start over Patterson. We aren’t there yet and he still has some developing to do, but one would assume his time is coming soon.
Joe Milton, sophomore
2018 stats: Four games played, 3-for-4 passing (75 percent), 58 yards, one interception, seven rushes, 31 yards, one touchdown
Milton, who has a missile for his arm and did get some run last season after McCaffrey’s injury. The arm talent is there when watching him during spring practices and in warm-ups, but he is still raw and needs time to develop. One day, he will be the guy fans clamor for if McCaffrey throws an incomplete pass somewhere along the line.
Cade McNamara, freshman
2018 stats (high school): 12 games played, 177-for-282 passing (62.8 percent), 39 touchdowns, six interceptions
McNamara is the “break in case of emergency” quarterback this season in his first year with the program, but comes in as the seventh-ranked pro style quarterback in the 2019 class out of Reno, Nevada. Barton Simmons of 247Sports compared him to Chase Daniel of the Chicago Bears.
He played in a spread-out system which allowed him to throw a lot of balls in high school. He is accurate, has good placement and touch and can throw into windows. His best asset may be his ability to throw from odd angles and on the move without needing to have his feet set. While he has not posted big rushing stats, he shows good ability to elude pressure and extend plays. He has taken good care of the the football with an over 5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio his sophomore through senior seasons. His intangibles, in general, are a major asset. He will have to adjust to the speed of the college game and throwing into tighter windows. He has the quick release and necessary velocity for that, but did not see consistently high-level secondary speed in his high school career. Intangibles and accuracy are likely to carry him to a productive college career and he could develop into an NFL draft choice.
Michael Sessa, senior
Sessa is hard to miss on the field at 6-foot-8, 215 pounds and actually made his Michigan debut under-center last season in the game against Rutgers. His profile on the team website says he was the scout team’s Offensive Player of the Week last year for the team’s game prep against Wisconsin.
Ren Hefley, freshman and Andy Maddox, freshman
Both of these guys are new additions to the program and there is not any background available on them on Michigan’s official website. Hefley, a Bryant, Arkansas native, visited during the Wisconsin game last year and was offered a spot as a preferred walk-on and has a similar build as McNamara and likely fills a scout team role.
Maddox also visited for the Wisconsin weekend and was offered a preferred walk-on spot with the program. He grew up a Michigan fan and was profiled by Evan Petzold of WolverinesWire after making his decision.
Michigan’s quarterback situation is as good as it has been since Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2015. For as much as we hear the “how come Harbaugh can’t find a quarterback” routine, year five sees his best and deepest QB room yet with a potential All-Big Ten performer in Patterson, a seemingly capable backup and future starter in McCaffrey and a couple of talented lotto tickets in Milton and McNamara. As we have seen, this position group as Harbaugh recruits it has a tendency to get crowded, which leads to transfers, but that is a by-product of bringing in too many guys who are capable players. More will be expected moving forward as the Wolverines give a little more license to their signal-callers to show what they can do, but the present and the future look bright for the Wolverines after years of quarterback roulette.
The haters, of which there are many, will say that Harbaugh still has not had “his guy” come in and do big things because Patterson is a transfer, but that bit does not get thrown around with Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma or guys who have won with transfers across the country. And therein lies the answer — winning. If Michigan is able to do what with Patterson under center this year, it may help to quiet some of the (unwarranted) criticism.