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Ranking the top five Michigan quarterbacks of the Jim Harbaugh era

The top five since 2015.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

The years keep flying by and the amount of quarterbacks who have suited up for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan keep on increasing. There has been some reliable quarterback play through the years, some that wasn’t up to snuff. Here are the top five quarterbacks of the Harbaugh era.

5. J.J. McCarthy (2021-present)

Five-star recruit (No. 25 overall prospect), No. 5 QB in 2021 class

McCarthy may be No. 5 on the list now, but he’s likely to keep rising up this list. McCarthy showed flashes of his potential as a true freshman — he has a tremendous arm, he’s incredibly fast, Harbaugh says his attitude is like a kid in a candy store, he’s already a leader on the team, and he’s hungry for playing time and championships. McCarthy won a National Championship in high school at IMG and is destined to become Michigan’s starter sooner or later. Harbaugh threw McCarthy into the fire aplenty last year in high leverage situations, and that’s a trend that will continue and increase.

McCarthy threw for 516 yards, five touchdowns with two interceptions. 124 yards rushing and two rushing scores in 2021.

4. Wilton Speight (2014-17)

Three-star recruit (No. 427 overall prospect), No. 23 pro-style QB in 2014 class

Wilton was an overachiever and a Brady Hoke recruit who Harbaugh took a liking to and ultimately won the quarterback competition in 2016 over John O’Korn. Speight knew his role in the pro-style offense and didn’t try to do too much with one of the best defenses in the nation. Speight and the Wolverines were very close to beating Ohio State and making the Big Ten Championship game, the College Football Playoff, but unfortunately this was the “J.T. was short” game and Ohio State won in overtime. Speight would return as starter in 2017 but an injury against Purdue derailed his career at Michigan and he’d end up transferring to UCLA. Speight was appreciative of his time at Michigan and was grateful for the opportunity Harbaugh gave him.

3. Jake Rudock (2015)

Transfer from Iowa

Harbaugh leaned on Rudock during his first year coaching at Michigan, and Rudock surprised the masses. Rudock was a game manager at Iowa, but by the end of the year he was lighting it up for the Wolverines. Rudock threw for 3,017 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Wolverines went 10-3 and demolished Florida in the Citrus Bowl 41-7 and Rudock was the bowl MVP.

2. Shea Patterson (2018-19)

Transfer from Ole Miss

There were sky high expectations for Patterson when he transferred, and the truth wound up being somewhere in the middle. Patterson struggled on the road against Penn State, didn’t beat Ohio State, but did beat Michigan State twice and put up some solid statistics. During Patterson’s two years at Michigan he threw for 5,661 yards, 45 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. Shea Patterson was a good QB, just one that couldn’t keep up with the Buckeyes in high scoring games, and didn’t win a bowl game.

1. Cade McNamara (2019-present)

Four-star recruit (No. 268 overall prospect), No. 7 pro-style QB in 2019 class

McNamara’s the only quarterback on this list that accomplished something the other four did not — beat Ohio State, win a Big Ten Championship, and make an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

McNamara was a facilitator who didn’t lose Michigan games while also making plenty of clutch throws throughout the year. McNamara wasn’t flashy in 2021, but he was steady, he was efficient, and brought great leadership at the quarterback position.

Whether McNamara’s 2021 will lead to a great 2022 remains to be seen, but the bottom line McNamara has already carved out a legacy at Michigan and will always be remembered for one of the best seasons Michigan’s had the last 50 years, and certainly the best season of the Harbaugh era.