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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed May 29 - 04:00 PM | Thu May 30 - 09:55 AM

NFL Notes: What to make of McCarthy?

After finishing the season as a second-round prospect, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy has rocketed up the draft board thanks to some praise from his college coach Jim Harbaugh.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy signals in the second half of an NCAA college football game.
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy signals in the second half of an NCAA college football game.

Ever since the end of the college football season there have been three quarterbacks bunched together at the top of most of the ratings. Ever since Jim Harbaugh left Michigan to become the new head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, a fourth has been added to the list.

Those two facts may not necessarily be mutually exclusive.

Harbaugh has been vocal with his views on J.J. McCarthy, the quarterback who was at the helm when his Wolverines captured the national title with a convincing win over Washington. Shortly after the game, Harbaugh told the media that McCarthy was the best quarterback in the draft and that he believes he will enjoy the best career of any of the deep crop of passers entering the league.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) and head coach Jim Harbaugh talk in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana.
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) and head coach Jim Harbaugh talk in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana.

That includes Caleb Williams, the presumptive first overall pick, as well as Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels and North Carolina's Drake Maye. Harbaugh has repeatedly told everyone that McCarthy is the best, and since he began making those statements his former quarterback has risen sharply in the rankings.

McCarthy is reportedly in town for an official pre-draft visit with the Patriots, and many believe he's a legitimate option for New England with the No. 3 pick. Eliot Wolf and Jerod Mayo already met with Maye and Daniels, and a recent report indicated that Wolf is leaning strongly toward McCarthy as his preferred passer.

It's not an entirely uncommon phenomenon when it comes to quarterbacks in the draft. Players often make meteoric rises during the pre-draft process, enhancing their status with strong pro day workouts, interviews and intangibles. Mac Jones was considered a second-round pick when his season ended with a national championship, and by the time the draft rolled around some thought San Francisco would take him at No. 3 before he ultimately fell to the Patriots at 15.

So, moving up the board without playing games is not all that rare. But in McCarthy's case there may be more than a little smoke screen involved – and it may start with Harbaugh.

The Chargers are set to pick fifth, and with Justin Herbert already in place they are one of the few teams picking in the top 10 with absolutely no need at quarterback. The top three teams – Chicago, Washington and New England – all would appear poised to select one, leaving Arizona at 4 as the lone team standing between Harbaugh and the Chargers ability to pick the best position player in the draft.

Could it be possible that Harbaugh has pumped up McCarthy so much as a way to entice someone into taking him so he could then grab Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers or whichever prospect he deems as the best? If the Commanders or Patriots take McCarthy, it could add extra incentive for a team to trade up with the Cardinals to pick one of the other quarterbacks. Or the buzz could lead to a trade to get McCarthy himself if he were available at 4.

Either way, McCarthy's sudden potential burst into the top five doesn't smell right, and my feeling is the Patriots are still more interested in Daniels and Maye and one of those two will ultimately be the pick at 3.

Ripple effect

The Eagles made some news on Monday when they announced an extension for wide receiver DeVonta Smith. The Eagles were set to pick up Smith's fifth-year option but instead gave him three additional years worth up to $75 million, which will keep the former Alabama star in Philly.

The move illustrates a point when it comes to projecting free agency, particularly among the more talented players such as Smith. The Patriots are obviously looking for wide receivers and some have pointed to the potential boatload that could be available in free agency next season. But the reality is most of the top targets, like Smith, will wind up either being extended or dealt.

Vikings WR Justin Jefferson (left) and Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase (right)
Vikings WR Justin Jefferson (left) and Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase (right)

CeeDee Lamb, Justin Jefferson, Ja'Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle are just a few of those scheduled to hit the market, and Cincinnati's Tee Higgins and San Francisco's Brandon Aiyuk are two others looking to become free agents in 2025 as well but might still be traded before this season. In reality, most of those players will either be re-signed or be involved in major trades.

That could also be the case for A.J. Brown in Philly now that Smith has been extended, although not likely until a year from now. Brown arrived from Tennessee after a blockbuster draft weekend trade in 2022, and is on the books for three more seasons. If the Eagles are looking to shed some salary, perhaps he could be on the move but he's quite affordable in 2024 and his dead cap hit would be over $43 million if he were dealt. So, any move for Brown is likely at least a year away.

Under the radar

When it comes to the Patriots 30 official pre-draft visits, the quarterbacks have received most of the attention – and with good reason. But a pair of wide receivers also have made their way to Foxborough, and each has some intriguing qualities to offer. The Patriots reportedly hosted Central Florida's Javon Baker (6-1, 202) and Oregon's Troy Franklin (6-2, 176) over the past week or so.

Franklin is the more dynamic of the two with elite speed (4.41 40 at the Combine) and a tall, lanky frame. He can be explosive at times and is considered a solid route-runner. He set a school record with 14 touchdown catches last season and racked up 1,383 receiving yards for the Ducks. Franklin is projected as a Day 2 pick by many of the publications.

Baker is more of the outside, X-receiver (although has the versatility to play inside as well) the Patriots lack and showed excellent ball skills at UCF. He began his career at Alabama, appearing in 20 games with nine catches for 116 yards and a touchdown over two seasons. He excelled after transferring and could be a late-Day 2 option or a prime candidate to get selected early in the fourth round.

Given the Patriots needs at quarterback and tackle, it's not surprising to see Wolf focusing on receivers slated to go a bit later in the draft and given the depth at the position there should be quality players like Franklin and Baker available to choose from.

Watching the UFL

I won't pretend to be an expert on the spring league's combination of the XFL and UFL but there have been some sequences that have caught the eye in recent weeks. Specifically, the league uses the modified on-side kick method where a team trailing late in the game can opt to try what in essence is a fourth-and-12 play from its own 28-yard line following a score in place of the on-side kick.

Two such plays took place over the past two weeks, and both were easily converted, leading to last-second winning field goals for the team trailing each time.

While the plays added some late-game excitement, the feeling from watching the drives unfold is that the conversions are too easy. Recovering onside kicks has become almost impossible with the advent of rule-changes dictating how the players can align and the contact they're allowed to make prior to the ball arriving. But teams work hard to create two-score leads (or more) over the course of the first 58 minutes, and it should be hard to lose in that scenario.

Teams should need to do more than complete a routine 12-yard pass in order to get in position to steal a game with back-to-back scores in the waning seconds. The DC Defenders were able to erase a 28-18 deficit in the final minute thanks to the rule, and the NFL has pondered a similar amendment in recent seasons but has yet to find a solution.

The guess is a change is coming, but hopefully it's more along the lines of a fourth-and-20 scenario rather than the 12 yards necessary in the UFL. Miracle finishes should be reserved for just that – miracles – not routine completions seen multiple times in every game. It has to be more difficult than what DC did over the weekend.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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