Jim Harbaugh Is Still Using J.J. McCarthy to Help Him Win

Harbaugh coached McCarthy to a college championship

Ex-Michigan Wolverines Jim Harbaugh and J.J. McCarthy.
Jim Harbaugh may still be using J.J. McCarthy like a pawn.
Gregory Shamus/Getty

In Michigan’s 34-13 win in the College Football Playoff title game in January, Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. fell on his face and was intercepted twice on his way to finishing 27-for-51 for 255 yards and a touchdown. His counterpart, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, threw for just 140 yards and rushed for 31, but it was enough for him to improve to 27-1 as a starter for the Wolverines.

With the NFL Draft now less than a week away, McCarthy and Penix are both in play to be selected in the first round. For Penix, who played six years of college football and was the Heisman Trophy runner-up, that’s not really a surprise. For McCarthy, who played for three years in college but was overshadowed by a dominant Wolverine rushing attack, it’s a relatively new development — and his Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh might be behind it.

In the lead-up to the draft, most pundits have been in agreement that quarterbacks Caleb Williams (USC), Jayden Daniels (LSU) and Drake Maye (UNC) were the top three available signal-callers. In March, Harbaugh, who left Michigan and will be coaching the Los Angeles Chargers this season once he leaves his RV, pushed back on that narrative. “I think he plays quarterback the best of any quarterback in the draft,” Harbaugh said. “He’s incredible. So, big market, small market. Cold weather, hot weather, it won’t matter.”

Amazingly, with Thursday’s draft in Detroit looming, there are some teams that may agree with Harbaugh, and that’s exactly what he wants.

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Harbaugh may or may not love McCarthy — who some believe profiles as a more athletic version of borderline-bust Mac Jones, as an NFL prospect — but it’s 100% in his best interest to carry on as if he does. That’s because the Chargers hold the No. 5 pick in the draft, and if Williams, Daniels, Maye and McCarthy are selected with the first four picks, Harbaugh will have his pick of the remaining litter at five overall.

The Chargers, who have former NFL offensive rookie of the year Justin Herbert at quarterback, could use a game-breaking receiver after moving on from their former top-two receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams during the offseason. If quarterbacks go at 1, 2, 3 and 4 — which has never happened before — Harbaugh and LA will have their choice of top receiver prospects Malik Nabers out of LSU, Marvin Harrison Jr. from Ohio State or anyone else who strikes their fancy.

Earlier this month, the 60-year-old coach said as much. “There’s talk of four quarterbacks going in the first four picks,” Harbaugh said. “If that happens, then that pick really becomes like the No. 1 pick in the draft. If four quarterbacks go in the first four picks, that’s not like the fifth pick anymore, that’s like the No. 1 pick in the draft for teams that have a great quarterback already. It’s such a great pick, everybody can analyze that.”

And everybody can also see why Harbaugh is pumping up a player who could end up as a flat tire in the NFL.

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