Seahawks Draft: ESPN’s Miller on J.J. McCarthy’s upside, Penix’s stock

Jan 25, 2024, 11:28 AM | Updated: 3:22 pm

UW Huskies Michael Penix Jr Heisman Trophy finalists...

UW Huskies QB and Heisman Trophy finalist Michael Penix Jr. throws against Arizona. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With the 16th pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, who will the Seattle Seahawks draft?

ESPN’s Mel Kiper is one of a few draft analysts who think the Seattle Seahawks will take a quarterback for just the third time under general manager John Schneider, as his first mock draft has Seattle selecting Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy.

With McCarthy mocked to Seattle Seahawks, how can Penix raise draft stock?

How does that sound to Kiper’s ESPN colleague Matt Miller? He joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Thursday to break down this year’s draft class, including McCarthy and UW Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

“Good, it’s really good,” Miller said of this year’s draft class as a whole. “I think it’s notably strong at positions like quarterback, wide receiver. Our guy Mel Kiper just put a mock draft out and the first six picks are quarterbacks or pass catchers. And that’s consistent with like every mock draft I do, whether it’s published or an exercise for myself, is quarterbacks and wide receivers are gonna go incredibly early. Offensive tackle, we could see six or seven in the first round. Cornerback, we could see six or seven in the first round.

“This is one of those really funny years where we might see five quarterbacks in the first round, we’re gonna see six wide receivers, six tackles, six corners, and you’re like, ‘That’s almost 32 players right there.’ So it’s really going to be dominated by what I consider the most important positions in football are those four, and this is a great year to grab those positions.”

No position dominates draft talk more than quarterback, and this year won’t be any different. USC’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye and LSU’s Jayden Daniels are all expected to be picked in the first five to 10 picks, and McCarthy, Penix and Oregon’s Bo Nix are all seen as first- or second-round picks.

How will J.J. McCarthy do in the NFL?

McCarthy didn’t have the same kind of production the other five top quarterback prospects have, in large part because Michigan was a run-first team that didn’t have McCarthy throw nearly as much as other quarterbacks.

So can McCarthy be a guy who carries an offense at the NFL level after he wasn’t tasked with doing that in college?

“I think that’s the biggest question surrounding McCarthy,” Miller said. “And McCarthy, especially compared to the other five quarterbacks in this draft who have top-two round grades, is that with him, it’s that he wasn’t asked to do a lot so it’s almost harder to evaluate him because it’s not, ‘OK, he was asked to do this and failed.’ It was that he wasn’t asked to do a lot. The Penn State game, he doesn’t throw the ball the entire second half and they still win.”

Miller said he’s heard from coaches and scouts that McCarthy has great toughness and maturity as well as a high football IQ. McCarthy also has “a good arm” and “really good mobility,” and is bigger than people realize.

“I think a lot of people look at him and maybe think he’s a little bit shorter than he is because he’s kind of almost like a squat build, but he’s 6 foot 3,” Miller said. “He’s got an NFL build. So I think with McCarthy you get excited about the upside, which is a dangerous word when we’re talking about quarterback prospects. I think you look at upside guys the last several years that haven’t panned out well, especially when they’ve been asked to play early.”

“I like J.J. McCarthy. I think 16 is right around where his range is going to be,” Miller later said. “But this would be a situation where you want him to sit behind Geno Smith and just absorb and learn … You want almost an apprenticeship for a year.”

Is Penix a first-round pick?

Despite elite production in two years at Washington, Kiper doesn’t have Penix going in the first round in his first mock draft of the offseason – and Miller doesn’t, either.

“You’ve got to start with the injuries. And I know Penix has been healthy for two years, but four years at Indiana and every year ended in injury for him,” he said. “I mean, it’s two ACLs, two shoulder injuries. So that’s where every scout I talk to about Michael Penix, every conversation starts with the injuries, and we’re gonna get clarity on that. We’ll be at the Senior Bowl next week, we’re gonna get clarity. The NFL Scouting Combine is in a month; we’re gonna get major clarity on it there.”

Penix has maybe the strongest arm in this year’s draft class, but Miller doesn’t like what he saw on intermediate routes and timing at times.

Additionally, Miller said there are questions about Penix’s delivery.

“It’s long. It’s not even that he’s left-handed. That doesn’t even matter. It’s just that the delivery is longer,” he said. “It’s not Philip Rivers long, but it is a little bit longer, the elbow drops. I think the bigger key would be trying to tie the footwork. He’s such an upper-body thrower. He’s all arm – it’s not even really core, it’s just all arm. So that’s something he’s going to have to work on once he gets to the NFL level and hopefully is working on in the lead up to the draft is that let’s tie the midsection and the feet to the arm a little bit more. I think those are the things that come up outside of the injuries most often.”

Miller sees Penix going early in the second round.

“I think top-40 feels (right). If he gets past 40, that’s probably a surprise to me sitting here right now on Jan. 25,” he said. “By April 25, we could be living in a very different world having gone through the medical portion of the pre-draft process. But he’s got a huge opportunity next week at the Senior Bowl on a team with Bo Nix. They’re gonna be throwing side by side. That is a huge opportunity to say, ‘Hey, outside of my scheme, without my amazing wide receivers, watch me throw and tell me why I’m not better than this guy.’ Everyone I talk to says first round for Bo Nix. So this would be a big opportunity for Penix to put himself in that conversation or jump Bo Nix.”

Quarterback dropoff

There’s a mighty big gap between the top-six quarterbacks in this year’s draft and the next tier of signal callers, Miller says.

“There’s a gigantic drop off after that. So there are the six quarterbacks that we’re going to talk about a lot as top 40 to top 50 guys, and then there is a Grand Canyon-like gap to the next one, which is probably Michael Pratt from Tulane, probably Spencer Rattler from South Carolina,” Miller said. “We’re talking about guys that I have rated outside the top 150 right now. And next week (at the Senior Bowl) is a big opportunity for them. They both played a ton of football, but this is not the year where you’re saying, ‘OK, round two we might be able to get a developmental guy. Maybe in round three we can get a developmental guy.’ That really doesn’t exist this year. It’s almost feast or famine. So if you’re not investing a first- or really early second-round pick in a quarterback, there’s gonna be a pretty big drop off.”

Listen to the full Brock and Salk conversation with ESPN NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

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Seahawks Draft: ESPN’s Miller on J.J. McCarthy’s upside, Penix’s stock