Maybe we should pay a little closer attention to Jim Harbaugh when it comes out with a seemingly wild take on quarterbacks. It’s easy to say that Harbaugh, the former Michigan head coach, is simply gassing up his former player, J.J. McCarthy, to help boost his stock in the 2024 NFL Draft amid a loaded class of QBs.
But for Harbaugh to come out this strong and say McCarthy is worthy of the No. 1 overall pick above the likes of Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels is among the hottest takes you’ll ever hear.
“Arm talent, athleticism, IT factor, winning with numbing repetition.” Those are all valid attributes McCarthy possesses; he did go 27-1 as a starter in Ann Arbor and just won a national championship.
THAT SAID, to put in perspective how incredulous it is for Harbaugh to proclaim McCarthy as QB1, DraftKings currently lists Williams as the -900 favorite to be the No. 1 pick, followed by Maye (+450) and Daniels (+1000). Williams is widely viewed as the best prospect since Trevor Lawrence, or even Andrew Luck. McCarthy is tied with Alabama right tackle JC Latham and cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry at +15000 (150-to-1) to hear his name called first on draft night.
Speaking of Luck, Harbaugh was the one who coached him up in college at Stanford and he favorably compared McCarthy to Luck back in September as ” a quarterback that’s once in a generation.”
JJ McCarthy is reportedly thought to be “very much like” Andrew Luck according to Jim Harbaugh (Michigan HC).
Harbaugh also said that McCarthy is a “once in a generation” type of QB.
Here’s why I’m not ready to laugh Harbaugh out of the room…
Back in October 2009, when Luck was a redshirt freshman, right before the Cardinal knocked off two top-10 teams in a row in Oregon and USC, Harbaugh proclaimed that Luck was the best quarterback in the country, over the likes of Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, Kellen Moore (39-to-3 TD-INT ratio at Boise State, don’t hate!), Russell Wilson, and other good college QBs like Jimmy Clausen, Blaine Gabbert, and Andy Dalton who’d go on to be high draft picks.
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh on best QB in NCAA: "I think Andrew (Luck) is the best quarterback in the country. I've not seen a better one."
Wasn’t a popular opinion at the time whatsoever. Stanford finished that season 8-5, but went 12-1 the next year, which was the springboard Harbaugh needed to leap to the NFL as the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach.
In the midst of getting his first shot in the pros, taking over a once-proud 49ers franchise that was in absolute shambles, it would’ve been easy for Harbaugh to move off Alex Smith. The former No. 1 overall pick hadn’t lived up to that billing and was viewed as a damaged-goods bust. Harbaugh immediately resurrected Smith’s career and brought San Francisco within one win of the Super Bowl in Year 1.
Harbaugh had already been instrumental in the second-round selection of Colin Kaepernick in the 2011 draft. When Smith went down injured during the 2012 season with a passer rating well north of 100 and a 70% completion rate, Kaepernick shined. Rather than pivoting back to the veteran Smith, Harbaugh rode Kaep’s hot hand all the way to the Super Bowl, where he lost to his brother John and the Baltimore Ravens. Smith was off to Kansas City to play extremely well and serve as Patrick Mahomes’ predecessor; Kaepernick guided the Niners to third straight NFC Championship Game appearance the following year.
Believe Jim Harbaugh can unlock Justin Herbert?
"I do. That's what Harbaugh does. He unlocked Alex Smith, and saved his career. … As a player, Colin Kaepernick was becoming a star under Harbaugh. He's a great coach." — @Chris_Broussardpic.twitter.com/6bMKgrGtUf
I know that Kaepernick hasn’t gotten another chance in the NFL because of his outspokenness on political issues. Many argue (disingenuously, I opine) it’s because he wasn’t a good-enough QB. Either way, realize how much Harbaugh bet on him, how much Harbaugh got out of him, and how far Harbaugh advanced his career because of him.
On this day in 2013, #49ers QB Colin Kaepernick runs for a playoff record 181 yards in dominating divisional round win over the #Packers 45-31.
Obviously, Harbaugh won’t advocate for the Chargers to trade up to No. 1 and acquire McCarthy, since he’s over the moon about getting to coach Justin Herbert. That’s about the only scenario I could fathom where McCarthy would be the first pick, though. Enough Chicago Bears fans already want to keep Justin Fields. Those who don’t want to cling to Fields really want Caleb Williams. I’m emphatically in the “draft Williams, trade Fields” camp.
Here's the easiest way to figure it out: There's the ignorant that pull 3 good Fields plays a game and try to build a mansion around it, and then there's commonsense that knows Caleb Williams will be chosen in April, giving the Bears the best QB they've ever had. https://t.co/BhpPdSq8GV
Soldier Field might get defaced beyond recognition if J.J. McCarthy is tabbed as Chicago’s next franchise quarterback over Williams.
Having said that, just look at Harbaugh’s latest track record at Michigan. Somehow, during the Shea Patterson heyday, Harbaugh was blamed by local media for not getting more out of him as an alleged QB whisperer. Did you ever hear Harbaugh hyping up Patterson as some future NFL star? Nope! As was the case with the long line of mediocre field generals Harbaugh was saddled with as he rebuilt Michigan’s program from the ground up, doing the best he could on the recruiting trail to convince top prep players that the Wolverines were coming back. Often to no avail, at least early on.
Mind you, Patterson still led the Wolverines to 19 wins in two years as the starter after transferring in from Ole Miss, with 45 TD passes to only 15 INTs. Let me drive this point home: Patterson, the best QB Harbaugh had before J.J. McCarthy — sorry to offend the enthusiastic Jake Rudock Fan Club that probably exists out there somewhere — went undrafted in 2020 and is now in the CFL as a backup.
Overall point being, Harbaugh doesn’t just talk out of his rear about quarterbacks. I don’t think the guy is capable of lying. For all the in-jest articles I’ve written about Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal and joking conspiracy theories, the one thing about Harbaugh that he’s even admitted is he doesn’t have a good poker face. Everywhere this man goes, winning ensues right away.
So yeah, before you laugh off J.J. McCarthy as a prospect worthy of the No. 1 overall pick, you can’t say Jim Harbaugh didn’t tell you so when he goes into the NFL and balls out. Because Harbaugh’s offense emphasized the running game so much, McCarthy’s evaluation is a tricky one.
I see him as a fringe first-round guy. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t reconsidering based on Harbaugh’s bold proclamation alone.