What Former First Overall Pick Does Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy Remind Daniel Jeremiah Of?

Could J.J. McCarthy be the modern era's Alex Smith? One prominent NFL Draft analyst says he bears similarity to the former first overall pick.

There’s an equal amount of optimism and uncertainty for J.J. McCarthy’s projection as a 2024 NFL Draft prospect. One prominent NFL Draft analyst provided a player comparison for McCarthy that blends both of those feelings together.

Daniel Jeremiah Compares J.J. McCarthy to Alex Smith

In his two years as a starting quarterback with the Michigan Wolverines, McCarthy was one of college football’s most successful passers. He brought the Wolverines two Big Ten titles and a national championship in 2023. And in 2023, he passed for 22 touchdowns and four interceptions at 72.3% completion.

By all conventional metrics, McCarthy is a stellar QB prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft. He’s young, he’s talented, he’s accurate, he’s a winner. But still, McCarthy has many split on his actual grade and ranking amongst QBs like Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Jayden Daniels.

There’s a prevailing belief that McCarthy wasn’t always asked to elevate the Wolverines, and that muddies his projection as a first-round QB who’ll be asked to elevate an NFL team. Nevertheless, many NFL Draft analysts still hold a tepid optimism toward the 21-year-old.

During a conference call with media on Thursday, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah fielded a question about McCarthy and acknowledged the concerns. However, he ultimately concluded that the tape does show more than what meets the common eye.

“I’ve said he’s an acquired taste,” Jeremiah stated. “You’re watching TV, and you’re saying, ‘They don’t really ask him to do much.’ But when you dig into the tape, and you really watch, on third downs, where they put the ball in his hands, there’s a lot to like with him.”

Jeremiah then went on to describe some of the more appealing qualities of McCarthy’s game and even gave a player comparison — matching McCarthy’s skill set with a passer who went No. 1 overall in his respective class.

“He’s got a quick mind, a quick release. Everything he does is so smooth. He never gets bored with completions. Some guys in this class get in trouble with big-play hunting, but McCarthy will take those completions. I finished watching him, and I thought there were some elements of Alex Smith. Smith played the game really well from the shoulders up and could get the ball out well.”

Smith went No. 1 overall to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2005 NFL Draft — an infamous decision, seeing that Aaron Rodgers went to the Green Bay Packers at 24th. Nevertheless, Smith grew to become a quality NFL starter and had a few very productive prime years.

Interestingly, there’s an argument to make that Smith — who was 21 years old as a rookie, just like McCarthy — was thrown into the fire too early as an NFL starter. In his debut season, he threw 11 interceptions to just one touchdown.

But over time, Smith built himself up, and he peaked when he joined up with Andy Reid in Kansas City. Smith went 50-26 and made three Pro Bowls with the Chiefs, with his best season coming in 2017, when he threw for 4,042 yards, 26 touchdowns, and just five picks.

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Smith was known for his athleticism, poise, accuracy, and ability to work the quick game and keep his offense on schedule. McCarthy may have a bit more fearlessness to his style, but as a slender, athletic signal-caller who can manage the game, he and Smith bear some similarities.

Going further, there might be a lesson to take from Smith’s career and apply to McCarthy’s. McCarthy has exciting upside, but he might function best in a situation where he isn’t rushed onto the field like Smith was. That way, he’ll be ready when he’s finally called on to elevate.

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