There are many uncertainties surrounding college football right now. The 2020 season is still in jeopardy, and even if a season does occur it might do so with empty stadiums or a limited schedule. Still, it is never too early to take a look at the Michigan depth chart and the players slated to contribute whenever football does resume. Join us as we comb through the roster and answer key questions heading into this fall.
Dylan McCaffrey, redshirt JR
247 Composite Ranking: 4 stars (PRO 5, Overall 123)
2019 Stats: 10-20 passing, 116 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT; 13 rush, 67 yards, 1 TD
After appearing in just a handful of games in both 2018 and 2019, Dylan McCaffrey finally controls his own fate. Committing in 2017, the pro-style quarterback was a highlight of Jim Harbaugh’s first full recruiting class at Michigan, but the transfer of Shea Patterson relegated him to the bench for the first half of his career. Now entering his fourth season in Ann Arbor, McCaffrey will have every opportunity to win the job and spend two years at the helm.
Of course, there is no guarantee that he will get the starting nod. Joe Milton is just as talented and also has his sights set on the vacancy left by Patterson, as does Cade McNamara, who nominally has a shot as well. What could have been an offseason rife with competition has been derailed by the ongoing pandemic, creating even more uncertainty regarding the pecking order. McCaffrey has all of the tools to turn himself into a Michigan legend, but first he must win the job.
Will McCaffrey be Harbaugh’s first truly elite quarterback?
A top-five quarterback in his recruiting class, McCaffrey has long been seen as the answer for fans longing for the perfect prototypical passer. He has good decision-making skills and above-average footwork, with decent arm strength and solid accuracy; among the key traits, he checks every box. The Andrew Luck comparisons are uncreative given the Harbaugh connection, but from an expectations standpoint the analogy is certainly there.
Unfortunately the most defining part of McCaffrey’s Michigan experience has been injuries, with a broken collarbone ending his 2018 campaign and a concussion knocking him out for the middle part of last season. There is some thought that he might have been able to challenge Patterson for the job during the middle of 2019, but his injury against Wisconsin wiped that opportunity away. By the time he returned to health he was able to be no more than the second option.
Accordingly, we have seen very little from the redshirt junior in game action. He has thrown just 35 passed in his college career, almost exclusively in garbage time. McCaffrey has looked good in his limited snaps, throwing the ball accurately and moving well within the pocket. His desire to beat defenses with his feet seems like a perfect fit for Josh Gattis’ offense, and he is much quicker and more elusive than one might expect given his stature. If the goal is to utilize weapons in space, it does not hurt to include the quarterback too.
Almost everything about McCaffrey is still potential as opposed to proven, but the little we have seen from him should give fans hope. There will be some bumps along the way, but a full year of McCaffrey would likely be the top quarterback performance of any of Harbaugh’s seasons at Michigan. Every report about him speaks about his athleticism, his intangibles, and his command of the position. If he can stay healthy and win the opportunity, a season with McCaffrey in charge could turn a lot of heads nationally.