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What Cade McNamara brings as a dark horse in Michigan’s starting quarterback battle

The signal-caller is the third name in the mix, but the one receiving the least amount of discussion.

Army v Michigan Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The quarterback derby is the biggest offseason story for the Michigan Wolverines and the prevailing thought since the end of the season is that it would wind up being a battle between Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton. And while that is still the case, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis maintains this is more of a triple threat match as opposed to a prize fight between two contenders.

That’s where redshirt freshman Cade McNamara comes in.

“I think all three can gives us opportunities to win games,” Gattis told the media on a Thursday video call. “We’re just going to have to catch them up. No guy’s out front, no guy’s behind. There is no order. It’s not based on last year. It’s not based on depth chart last year. Those things are not important. What the depth chart last year was, was irrelevant because we had one quarterback who was our starter. So it doesn’t matter who was listed as a 2, it doesn’t matter who was listed as a 3. Shea Patterson was our quarterback.”

We (somewhat) know what McCaffrey and Milton are bringing into the quarterback competition. McCaffrey is a tremendous athlete who projects to be an upgrade in the QB run game, though with perhaps not as much arm talent and a history of injuries under his belt. Milton — while still a very athletic quarterback — brings a cannon of an arm to the table, but lacks the game experience and is still a work in progress in varying the velocity and trajectory of his throws. There is a plethora of talent here that the Wolverines feel good about with whoever emerges for the job.

The lack of equal spring reps might make it more difficult like an under-the-radar McNamara to make up a ton of ground, especially given that there at least is likely a private pecking order of how the staff would hope to go through this decision. But taking Gattis’ words at face value, we should take a look at what McNamara brings to the table.

McNamara, who redshirted last season as a true freshman, was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and the No. 7-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2019 class, per the 247Sports composite ranking system. He was also the state of Nevada’s top-ranked player and came in as the No. 268 rated player in the country.

Prior to his commitment to Michigan, he had previously pledged to join the Notre Dame Fighting Irish before backing out and opening things back up. His offer sheet also included Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, USC, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Nevada and San Diego State.

Most evaluators knocked his height coming into college, as he stands at 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds. That is not a big issue in the grand scheme of things these days, considering there are a variety examples ranging from Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Baker Mayfield as players who have made it to and played well at the NFL level that have measured in at less than “traditional” size.

McNamara was throwing into a lot more open windows in high school than he will at the college level, but his passing stats pop off the page pretty impressively. McNamara played in 49 career games in high school and threw for 12,084 yards with 146 touchdowns and 35 interceptions while completing just over 58 percent of his passes. Though he improved his completion percentage to just under 63 percent in his senior season, throwing 2,995 yards with 39 touchdowns and six interceptions.

The touch on his passes and ability to place the football in spots where only his targets can get it remains impressive upon revisiting his high school film, especially on the deep ball. That in particular is something Michigan fans should circle as a positive given struggles there in recent seasons. The ball comes out fairly quickly, but from a lower arm slot than you’d like to see. That is probably the biggest improvement that can be made and is what makes his development still a work in progress.

McNamara probably is not as big a threat in the quarterback run game, but an often-leaky offensive line in high school forced him to learn how to make plays on the run and stretch things out long enough to make something happen. He certainly did not show himself to be all that scared by pressure and having to fight off a rush plays into why some of his completion percentages were lower in high school despite showing off an accurate arm.

Our Jonathan Simmons did a film study on McNamara back in 2018 following his commitment and goes deeper on what made him such an intriguing prospect at the time, so check that out here for a further scouting report (with gifs!).

It is impossible to truly evaluate given that McNamara has not taken a single snap in college, but it feels like there is a higher floor here than some people may be giving him credit for. It remains to be seen how good he can be — or if he actually has a shot to make this a three-man battle as soon as 2020 — but it is not hard to see why the staff felt like he was fit, even if he was recruited primarily by former passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton. Everything he does still fits the Gattis offense, which is a spread-based attack with a west coast-style emphasis in the passing game.

The best guess here is that McNamara might be closer to Case Keenum than Baker Mayfield by the time he leaves college, but there is a reason Gattis and Michigan will not leave his name out of the mix for the starting job. They have been recruiting quarterbacks they hope can develop and play at some point. McNamara looks like a high-major starter if/when he gets the opportunity to play.

There might be traits with McCaffrey and Milton that shine above what McNamara can do — and make no mistake about it, those will likely determine this battle — but he’s a steady third option that will be in the mix to crack the two-deep this fall. Beyond that is anyone’s guess.