Vikings take QB J.J. McCarthy from national champ Michigan after sliding up a spot in swap with Jets

Former Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy talks with former defensive back Charles Woodson during the NCAA college football team's spring game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, April 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings took Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy with the 10th overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, moving up one spot in a trade with the New York Jets to make sure they didn’t miss out on their most dire need.

The departure of Kirk Cousins in free agency to Atlanta left a void — and an opportunity that Vikings leadership has been strategizing about for two-plus years.


McCarthy went 27-1 as a college starter and won last season’s national championship with Michigan, a defense-driven and run-first team that raised questions about the 6-foot-2, 219-pound passer’s potential. He completed an FBS-best 68% of his attempts under pressure last season and set the program record with a 72.3% completion percentage overall.

The Vikings entered the night with the No. 11 and No. 23 selections. After Caleb Williams (Southern California) went to the Chicago Bears, Jayden Daniels (LSU) went to the Washington Commanders and Drake Maye (North Carolina) followed to the New England Patriots with the first three selections, the Falcons pulled the first surprise by picking Michael Penix Jr. (Washington) with the eighth overall pick to develop behind Cousins.

That put the Vikings in danger of having a team like the quarterback-needy Denver Broncos or Las Vegas Raiders leapfrogging them, so they executed a swap with the Jets to ensure they would get McCarthy. The Vikings sent fourth- and fifth-round selections (No. 129 and 157) to the Jets for a sixth-rounder (No. 203) to complete the deal.

When Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was hired as general manager and two weeks later picked a quarterback expert in Kevin O’Connell as coach, the Vikings had been aiming for this day with a deep rookie class at the position and the team at a crossroads following an NFC North title with a 13-4 record in their 2022 debut and a 7-10 finish in 2023.

The highest the Vikings ever drafted a quarterback prior to this year was Daunte Culpepper at No. 11 in 1999. They’ve used a first-round pick on a quarterback only four other times in the franchise’s 63-year history, with Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32) in 2014, Christian Ponder (No. 12) in 2011 and Tommy Kramer (No. 27) in 1977 the others. Pro Football Hall of Fame member Fran Tarkenton was a third-rounder in 1961, though he was the 29th overall pick at that pre-merger time when the NFL had only 14 teams.

With O’Connell, a former NFL quarterback who directed two of the best seasons that Cousins has had in 12 years in the league, calling the plays on the sideline and superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson headlining a talented offense around him, the Vikings have a favorable environment for the 21-year-old McCarthy. They signed Sam Darnold, the 2018 third overall pick by the New York Jets, to bridge the gap and reduce the pressure on the rookie to develop quickly.

McCarthy was widely seen as the most pro-ready of all the prospects, thanks to his combination of leadership, intelligence and toughness. Still, there’s no guarantee the Vikings got the right guy, given the track record across the NFL of success by first-round quarterbacks is essentially a coin-flip proposition.

The Vikings added the 23rd pick in a recent trade with the Houston Texans for their second-round picks this year and next year.

They don’t currently own any second-day selections, minimizing their opportunity to add starting-caliber players and increasing the pressure to hit a home run in the first round. With offense accounting for the first 14 picks, the Vikings were in position to add a premier player on defense.

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