NFL Draft expert sees traits Sean Payton will fawn over in controversial draft prospect

Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton is on the prowl for a new quarterback and one prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft continues to stick out.

Denver Broncos v Chicago Bears
Denver Broncos v Chicago Bears / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton rose to prominence by building the New Orleans Saints from a constant bottomfeeder into a perennial contender. The offensive tactician helped rejuvenate not just the city, but also the career of quarterback Drew Brees. There was hope Payton could do the same for Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, who has been on a downward trajectory for several seasons.

That didn't happen. Instead, the Broncos are expected to move on from Wilson after a disastrous 2023 campaign.

Since Brees' retirement, Payton has struggled to find a quarterback who could fulfill his offensive vision. His original plan was to draft Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 NFL Draft and develop him behind Brees — and he would've gotten away with it too if it wasn't for those meddling Chiefs and their darn coach. That plan went awry, and now Payton is being linked to another quarterback prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Is Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy a perfect fit for Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton?

Payton is reportedly "enamored" with Michigan quarterback prospect J.J. McCarthy, and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah can see why.

“When you dig into the tape and really watch it and watch on third downs where they throw the ball and do they put the ball in his hands, there’s a lot to like with him,” Jeremiah said. “He has a really, really quick mind. He has a quick release. Just everything he does is real smooth. I wrote in my notes that he never gets bored with completions. Some other guys in his class get in trouble big-play hunting. If you are going to get him checkdowns or completions, he is just going to — he is never going to get bored taking those.”

McCarthy led the Wolverines to a 15-0 record and capped off his collegiate career with a College Football Playoff National Championship. McCarthy's statistical output was less impressive — he passed for more than 300 yards in just one game and passed for more than 200 yards just once. There is more to quarterbacking than gaudy statistical output, however. For quarterbacks, the work begins before the offense gets in the huddle, and even before the team steps onto the field. Their responsibilities extend far beyond taking the snap and passing the football.

A quarterback at the helm of Payton's offense needs to be able to command the offense during the pre-snap phase of the game. The quarterback must make sure his players are lined up correctly, read the defensive coverage, change the protection call to block any potential blitzes and, if necessary, audible to a different play call. All of that needs to happen within a few seconds, and the quarterback needs to be even quicker post-snap. During his 16-year tenure in New Orleans, Payton's rapid offense took 2.62 seconds to throw after the ball was snapped, the fifth-quickest in the league. In 2023, the Broncos took a sluggish 3.09 seconds to throw, fourth-slowest in the NFL.

The amount of work and detail required to be a successful quarterback is far higher than what's visible on game day, and few signal-callers possess the necessary tools to lead their men to victory. The complexity of the quarterback position makes it difficult to play, and even harder to evaluate.

"These guys have to be able to operate all that quickly, in six or seven seconds," Payton said. "It's the hardest thing for us to evaluate."

When the Broncos arrive at the NFL Scouting Combine this week, they'll likely be taking a close look at McCarthy. Only time will tell if the Michigan quarterback has the necessarily tools to bring Denver back to glory.

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