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McCarthy vs. Penix - A Battle for the Championship AND Draft Slot

A quick glance at the notable different styles and paths of two quarterbacks that are competing for Monday's win, but also their long term future in the NFL.

Dave Syvertsen
01/04/2024 12:46PM ET

The final game tape of the season will be on our screens just a few days from now, the National Championship matchup starring Washington and Michigan. The upcoming quarterback class is going to be one of the most interesting groups I have scouted in recent years because of the sheer depth, but also the difference in styles and backgrounds of the players. The dual between Michigan’s JJ McCarthy and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. is a microcosm of the gap between styles and backgrounds we will see in such crowded group. The league is starving for young quarterback talent, as I project up to a dozen teams entering draft weekend with credible desire to use pick on one early (round one or two). They’ll be stacked differently across the league and here is the first look at comparing McCarthy and Penix Jr, two guys with polar opposite styles and backgrounds. Choose your flavor.

 

McCarthy (still 20 years old) arrived at Michigan after a season at IMG Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Michigan in Florida that is essentially set up to send athletes to top-flight college programs. His senior-year team outscored opponents 381-82 in 2020. Penix Jr. (will be 24 years old draft weekend) went to public school in Tampa and was a three-star recruit that landed at Indiana. Two torn ACL’s in three years limited his impact and experience, but he did start 17 games there (with a 12-5 record) and 491-yard, 5-touchdown performance against number three overall Ohio State in a near-upset.

 

Penix transferred to Washington in 2022 and won the AP Comeback Player of the Year Award. His career has accumulated over 13,000 yards, 18th best in the history of NCAA football. He has dropped back to pass 1,706 times. and scored 108 touchdowns since taking the field for the first time in the fall of 2018 (McCarthy’s sophomore year of high school). On the other side, McCarthy has dropped back less than half that amount (703) and scored less than half as much. The differences to this point are stark, but here they are facing off one another not only in the Nation Championship but also for a spot on the quarterback ladder in the 2024 NFL Draft.

 

Both were rarely pressured in college, something that keeps something unknown as they enter the process. They were sacked a combined 29 times on 872 dropbacks, a miniscule 3%. Jalen Milroe for comparison was sacked 45 times alone on 383 dropbacks (12%). They are respectively set to face off against arguably the best complete pass rush either one of them has been matched up against all year. How these two handle will weight a lot in the evaluation process over the next few months.

 

Penix is an explosive downfield thrower that loves to challenge the defense deep.  He threw passes of over 20 yards twice as many times as McCarthy did, but those plays did result in seven interceptions. Michigan’s run-heavy offense and shaky pass protection did not allow McCarthy to throw deep as often, however, but he was much mor efficient. He turned it over just once in these situations and his passer rating was 128.9 while Penix finished at 105.3. The grades and comparisons of these two can certainly come down to what kind of offense the teams want to run. Penix will bring more explosive plays, McCarthy likely brings more efficiency. Who ranks above who? This game will indeed matter when trying to answer that debate in the coming months. Penix is on an absolute high right now that is hard to ignore, but McCarthy still has more margin to obtain as he is much younger and is currently much earlier on the progression curve.