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New QB McCarthy says Vikings 'just a perfect fit'

During the lead-up to the NFL draft, J.J. McCarthy became convinced that the Vikings — with Kevin O'Connell calling plays, 17-year NFL veteran Josh McCown overseeing quarterbacks and a cast of Pro Bowl offensive players populating the huddle — were the best spot for a rookie quarterback in 2024.

After the Vikings drafted him 10th overall on Thursday night, McCarthy said the other five first-round quarterbacks all shared his opinion.

"First, the organization's outstanding, and then you have the players and pieces that are around it and the coaches," McCarthy said in his introductory news conference Friday. "It was just a perfect fit for me. I talked with a lot of quarterbacks throughout this process, and it was the perfect fit for them, too. Obviously, it's a huge honor, and I hope to just prove them right."

If he is shown to be correct about the Vikings, and the Vikings about him, it might be because of a careful process the team hopes to use for the nascent stage of McCarthy's career. McCarthy, who turned 21 on Jan. 20, was the youngest quarterback taken in the first round on Thursday night, and he came from a Michigan offense that ran 60.8% of the time on its way to a national championship last season, asking McCarthy to throw just 654 times in his final two years there.

The Vikings became convinced they could win with McCarthy through a process that peered beyond his lack of work.

"A lot might have been made of the sample size, and I think you can get caught up with looking at box scores and total statistics," O'Connell said Thursday night.

But McCarthy's youth, and his relatively low usage in college, do mean he comes to Minnesota with things to learn. He'll do so while playing for a coach who's said several times he thinks rookie QBs benefit from time to develop.

O'Connell's last year in Washington came in 2019 with owner Dan Snyder pushing for first-round pick Dwayne Haskins to play, and Haskins threw 12 touchdowns against 14 interceptions while winning three of his 13 career starts. Sam Darnold, who signed a one-year deal to start for the Vikings after Kirk Cousins left in free agency, is another cautionary tale; the Jets started the third overall pick in the 2018 draft right away and let him go after three seasons, starting him on a sojourn that made the Vikings his fourth team in seven seasons this year.

Darnold is in Minnesota partially to buy McCarthy time. While the Vikings won't hold the rookie back if he's ready, they don't want to rush him before they feel he is.

"No detail is too small," O'Connell said. "It's really working at a clip that is learnable, digestible and allows these guys to really stack some days on top of each other. It'll be the same for J.J. I consider the spring a learning, teaching phase: how we handle it from a skill development phase, technique, fundamentals, all the things that a young quarterback in this league [needs]. You just wish you had more [time] every single day, and we're going to try to maximize that time, and not put any sort of preset target date of, 'Here's where we need to be at this moment.'

"It's going to be our jobs as coaches — myself, [offensive coordinator] Wes [Phillips], Josh, [assistant QB coach] Grant [Udinski] to put him in the absolute greatest learning environment we possibly can."

After the Vikings drafted McCarthy on Thursday night, General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah recalled a Zoom call with McCarthy where the quarterback asked him, "Is there any reason you wouldn't draft me?" Adofo-Mensah said he told McCarthy his smaller college workload made him "just a bit of an unknown." But the Vikings were sold on him after an evaluation process that emphasized an area where McCarthy shined.

O'Connell analyzed tape of the draft class on third downs, where quarterbacks are often required to drop back and throw without help from play action, run-pass option plays or quick throws. "You really go back and focus on those weighty downs, those third downs where you see him [at] third and 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 [yards to go], move the football team at a pretty strong clip."

According to Pro Football Focus, McCarthy had the second-best passer rating on third downs last season at 91.0, just behind Oregon QB Bo Nix's 92.2 rating. Nix's adjusted completion percentage (86.5%) also edged McCarthy's (81.5%). But McCarthy averaged 10.6 yards per target on third downs, compared to 6.3 yards for Nix.

"He made a lot of those plays," O'Connell said. "By the time I was able to absorb all the film, really get to know J.J., connect some dots and understand what we're projecting, I'm really excited to have him on our football team."

McCarthy said Friday he understood why his usage at Michigan might have given teams pause. "I guess from the standpoint of volume of reps, I can see that," he said. "But you know, this was a pro-style offense that Coach [Jim] Harbaugh ran in [San Francisco] and had success with, so just being able to do the things they expect me to do coming in here has been huge."

The foundation he has around him, the one he believes will be the envy of the 2024 QB class, is one he's eager to use.

"They have to know that you care and want to get better," McCarthy said. "So it's getting around them, exhausting those relationships and making sure I almost bug them too much about wanting to get better and learn. That's a lot of the regrets that former players have told me: they wish they spent more time with their coaches and used those resources to their utmost advantage. I plan on doing that."