The Michigan Wolverines landed a legitimate building block for the future when signal-caller J.J. McCarthy announced he would be joining Jim Harbaugh’s program 18 months ago. With a program as hungry and needy for elite quarterback play as Michigan is, this obviously came with a ton of hype and fanfare that has not slowed down.
And now he’s officially signed.
McCarthy elevated to five-star status in the months following his decision to come to Ann Arbor and he currently stands as the No. 22 overall player in the country and second-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2021 class, per the 247Sports Composite.
To compare his ranking with other Jim Harbaugh quarterback recruits, here is what came before him:
2016: Brandon Peters (primary recruiter: Jedd Fisch) — Four-star prospect | 6th-ranked pro-style QB | No. 61 player nationally
2017: Dylan McCaffrey (primary recruiter: Fisch) — Four-star prospect | 5th-ranked pro-style QB | No. 123 player nationally
2018: Joe Milton (primary recruiter: Pep Hamilton) — Four-star prospect | 9th-ranked pro-style QB | No. 204 player nationally
2019: Cade McNamara (primary recruiter: Hamilton) — Four-star prospect | 7th-ranked pro-style QB | No. 268 player nationally
2020: Dan Villari (primary recruiter: Josh Gattis) — Three-star prospect | No. 42 pro-style QB | No. 1,222 player nationally
We all know recruiting rankings are a total crapshoot. However, it is far from a hot take to say McCarthy is by far the best quarterback recruit in the modern history of the program.
McCarthy is easily the most polished quarterback prospect Harbaugh has recruited to Michigan. All of the above guys have had some sort of mechanical flaw or flaws to work on with their game, but I do not see a ton of that with McCarthy. He can make about every throw on the field and has boasted impressive arm talent throughout the duration of his high school career, which finished at IMG Academy this past fall. Mechanically, everything looks good for a player his age, and that should only continue to get cleaned up and improved as he develops as a player. He is not exactly a dual-threat, but he is mobile enough to be a factor in the QB run game and make plays off-script.
The thing that strikes me the most about McCarthy is how infectious an attitude and personality he has. Michigan has not had a ton of that at the quarterback position the last number of years. McCarthy is a winner and a prospect who has made big plays in big games. Aside from that, he is a leader and gets people to follow him and he wears the pride he has for his team on his sleeve. Anyone who follows him on social media knows how vocal and active he is in his support for Michigan and the players that choose to follow him and his efforts in keeping the group together in the 2021 class should not be overlooked.
People want to play with — and for — this guy. That’s really not something that has been said about a lot of passers here over the last 15 years or so.
The knocks on him are well-documented and really only pertain to his size and frame. That is not something I tend to put too much stock into. Continued weight training and development will play a part in sorting that out.
So that brings us to the outlook portion of this piece. We thought that whoever won the starting QB job this year between Dylan McCaffrey, Joe Milton and Cade McNamara would be set up to start for multiple years, but we have seen how that has played out. McCaffrey might be done at Michigan, Milton never really got rolling and McNamara played well when his number was called, but ended the season injured.
Nobody is safe and nothing is figured out there.
Given the Wild West nature of the transfer portal, it stands to reason there might be some more movement there with somebody, especially if changes come to the staff. That scenario would open things up in 2021 for McCarthy to battle for the starting quarterback job with McNamara and/or Milton. It once felt like a redshirt season could potentially be in play, but it feels like McCarthy has a real shot to play early with how young the team should be again next season. He’s got to earn it, though.
McCarthy, who is enrolling early and will be with the program in January, is not coming to Michigan to sit for three seasons and I do not think he will have to. I see a multiple-year starter with a high floor coming into the program and believe he might be ready to roll the moment he hits campus.
There are comparisons out there ranging anywhere from Kyle Allen to Drew Brees. If they land somewhere in the middle, you’d have to feel pretty good about what he brings to the table.
Regardless of who is here coaching next year, there is not a scenario in play where McCarthy is not a major piece to whatever the next iteration of this program looks like. Given how he has galvanized the 2021 class, fans are right to be excited about him but should be careful to overhype him. Let the process play itself out and see what type of guy you have.
Given his personality, skill-set, and the fire he brings to the table, they have something to work with here.