NFL Rumors: Sean Payton enamored with one particular quarterback prospect

Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton is reportedly enamored with one quarterback prospect, but is it just a smokescreen?

Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos
Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos / Perry Knotts/GettyImages
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With the 2024 NFL Draft approaching, general managers and head coaches across the league are practicing their poker faces. The decisions made in the upcoming months will ultimately define the careers and legacies of each franchise's decision-makers. With such high stakes, teams will weave intricate bluffs and counter-bluffs in an attempt to hide their true intentions.

When a team's intentions are revealed, the consequences can be dire — Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton knows that as well as anybody. During his time as head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Payton took a secret trip to Texas Tech for a visit with a quarterback he wanted to draft with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. News of his visit was leaked prior to the NFL Draft, and the Kansas City Chiefs leapfrogged Payton's Saints to select Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick.

Mahomes slipped through Payton's fingers, but the offensive tactician is reportedly in love with another quarterback prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Broncos HC Sean Payton "enamored" with Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy

Minnesota Vikings broadcaster Paul Allen said he was informed by a "pretty reliable individual" that Sean Payton is "quite enamored" with Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy. Allen outlined some differences between McCarthy and future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees,, but also suggested that Payton "covets the next Drew Brees."

"There is just a little bit of steam that is beginning to emerge locally that Sean Payton loves J.J. McCarthy," Allen said. "He’s a quarterback from a pro-style offense with a strong arm. I’m not going to say he reminds him of Drew Brees. McCarthy moves more than Drew and he’s taller, and he’s not as accurate. … [Payton] covets the next Drew Brees."

Payton has struggled to find a quarterback to run his offense efficiently ever since Brees retired following the 2020 NFL season. Payton clashed with quarterback Russell Wilson during his first year as the Broncos head coach, and Denver is expected to part ways with the struggling veteran just two years after paying him a king's ransom.

Denver's salary cap will take a significant dead cap hit if they elect to cut Wilson, and building through the NFL Draft will be the Broncos best chance to become competitive in a tough AFC West division.

"You have a desperate [Payton] who basically will beg, borrow, and steal to get exactly what he wants from this draft from a QB standpoint," Allen said. "A pretty reliable individual informed me over the weekend that Payton is quite enamored with J.J. McCarthy.”

Perhaps it's a bluff meant to deceive other teams. It wouldn't be surprising if Payton throws out smokescreens to cloak his intentions after considering what happened with Mahomes. Or, perhaps, it's a hint at the future franchise quarterback in Denver.

Amid the rumors, the public perception on McCarthy's draft stock has skyrocketed. The Michigan quarterback capped off his collegiate career with a College Football Playoff National Championship, but the Wolverines roster was built around a strong run game and dominant defense. That left McCarthy with less responsibility on his shoulders. Last season, McCarthy passed for over 300 yards in just one game. In the Wolverines last six games, he passed for more than 200 yards just once. Though he lacks the gaudy statistics, McCarthy is a legitimate dual-threat prospect who can navigate the pocket, protect the football, and throw with sound mechanics.

"The NFL is significantly higher on J.J. McCarthy than I ever could have imagined," AtoZ Sports writer Destin Adams said. "I had a direct source today share that a team in the NFC has him as their [second-highest quarterback.]"

"I think there is a significant drop off in this QB class, but most around the league think its after the fourth quarterback, not the third," another NFL executive told Adams. "[Caleb] Williams, [Drake] Maye, [Jayden] Daniels and [J.J.] McCarthy are heads and shoulders better prospects than the next group of guys." 

Every NFL Draft has its shocking moments, whether it's the Detroit Lions selecting running back Jahmyr Gibbs, the Green Bay Packers drafting quarterback Jordan Love, or the New York Giants electing to go with Duke quarterback Daniel Jones over Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins. Most of the time, these shocking decisions are met with outrage among analysts and fans, but teams typically tend to be right more often than fans. While certain draft picks may be a shock to the public, they aren't necessarily surprising to any of the 32 war rooms participating in the NFL Draft.

The general consensus can vary significantly from the league's consensus on particular draft prospects. While any draft analyst can access game footage or measurables from the NFL Scouting Combine, teams understand that evaluating a player's character is equally crucial. NFL teams conduct thorough background checks that include interviews with former coaches, teammates, high school teachers and even janitors. The goal is to understand a player's passion, work ethic and ability to cope with the pressures of professional football.

Teams employ various professionals to paint a full picture about each prospect. A medical staff conducts comprehensive physical examinations, psychologists conduct mental examinations and former FBI agents conduct background checks. Teams interact directly with the prospects during interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine, during campus visits or during private workouts. The exhaustive and multifaceted process of scouting a player helps teams minimize risks and underscores the magnitude of the investment the team is making with each selection.

It's likely that every mock draft in the media will be low on a prospect that eventually ends up being taken early in the first round. This year, maybe that player will be J.J. McCarthy being selected with the No. 12 pick by the Denver Broncos.

dark. Next. How the Saints almost stole Patrick Mahomes from the Chiefs in 2017. How the Saints almost stole Patrick Mahomes from the Chiefs in 2017