The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be looking at their next franchise quarterback.
As the Buccaneers enter the 2024 offseason, one of the biggest topics facing them is Baker Mayfield’s impending free agency. Both sides have expressed a mutual interest in running it back for the 2024 season. However, Mayfield’s strong 2023 campaign will likely lead to serious interest from other NFL teams.
With Mayfield uncertain to return, Rob Rang of Fox Sports predicts the Buccaneers will select the University of Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy with the No. 26 pick as a potential replacement for the 28-year-old quarterback.
“Baker Mayfield was one of the NFL’s top bargains in 2023, setting career-highs in completion percentage (64.3%), passing yards (4,044) and touchdowns (28) while leading the Bucs to the playoffs and earning less than seven million dollars, including bonuses,” writes Rang. “He won’t re-sign for that price, which is why the Bucs may look to add a young signal-caller to continue pushing Mayfield (if the free agent is brought back) or to potentially replace him. Like Mayfield, McCarthy lacks some of the elite traits scouts would prefer, but his intangibles could help him earn a first-round selection.”
Why J.J. McCarthy Is a Potential First-Round Draft Pick
McCarthy is coming off of a season in which he led the Michigan Wolverines to a national championship. The 21-year-old lost just one game during his collegiate career, going 27-1 as Michigan’s starting quarterback over the past two seasons.
He’s a proven winner with a history of performing in big games. McCarthy threw for 221 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-20 overtime win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the college football semifinals. Michigan trailed Alabama 20-13 late in the fourth quarter before McCarthy led an eight-play, 75-yard drive to tie up the game.
As a result of his performance, McCarthy was named the offensive most valuable player of the game.
J.J. McCarthy Not Considered a Surefire First-Round Draft Pick
With that being said, he is lacking elite physical traits. He’s on the skinnier side at just 202 pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame. Furthermore, he wasn’t asked to make too many difficult throws at Michigan, especially with the Wolverines blowing out a lot of their opponents, including the Washington Huskies in a 34-13 win in the national championship game.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper isn’t too high on McCarthy, ranking him as the No. 7 quarterback in the draft and believe he could drop in the draft as a Day 2 pick.
“He has the tools to be in the mix for that No. 3 QB spot, but he just didn’t convince me down the stretch,” wrote Kiper on December 5. “Where were the ‘wow’ throws? I didn’t see him go through progressions much. Sure, he only had four interceptions, but three of those came against … Bowling Green? Plus, he wasn’t asked to beat teams with his arm, partly because the Wolverines blew out all of their opponents until November. It’s clear McCarthy has a ton of talent, but not all NFL teams are going to be in love with him, which means he could drop to Day 2. I have him as my No. 7 QB right now.”
It’s clear that the Bucs’ priority is to re-sign Mayfield, who ranked as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in passing yards, completions and touchdowns in 2023. However, if he does leave for a bigger money deal elsewhere, Tampa Bay will likely seek his replacement through the draft.
Considering the Buccaneers won’t select until the end of the first round of the 2024 NFL draft, McCarthy may emerge as their best bet.
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