Vikings’ McCarthy Predicted to Take QB Job From Darnold Sooner Than Expected

J.J. McCarthy

Image courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings J.J. McCarthy at Vikings rookie minicamps at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minnesota.

Regardless of how the first several weeks of the Minnesota Vikings‘ season unfold, the most prevalent question is likely to remain the same — when will rookie quarterback J.J. McCarthy usurp Sam Darnold for the starting job?

Betting odds on who will start the year as QB1 have shifted in the approximately three weeks since the team selected McCarthy No. 10 overall in the NFL draft, though Darnold is currently a strong favorite at (-140) compared to McCarthy (+115), per SportsBook Review.

Minnesota’s stated plans not to rusher its rookie into a starting role until he’s hit a series of benchmarks laid out by head coach Kevin O’Connell has surely factored into those probability figures. But a desire and anxiousness to compete in an NFC North Division on the rise — not just from the front office and coaching staff, but from the fan based and top players like wide receiver Justin Jefferson — could pressurize a potential change if McCarthy is showing out in practice.

Based on the schedule and a reasonable expectation for the arc of McCarthy’s progress under O’Connell’s offense, Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report predicted that the rookie will get the nod at home against the Detroit Lions in Week 7, following the team’s bye the weekend prior.

Vikings Face Tough Slate of Opponents Ahead of Week-6 Bye

Sam Darnold, J.J. McCarthy

GettyMinnesota Vikings quarterbacks Sam Darnold (left) and J.J. McCarthy (right).

Minnesota could be playing to keep itself relevant in the divisional and wildcard races as early as Week 7 given the difficulty of the schedule early on.

The Vikings open the year on the road against the New York Giants, a bad team in 2023 but also the squad that bested Minnesota at home over Super Wildcard Weekend in the 2022 playoffs. After that, the team faces three straight opponents who won at least one postseason game last year in the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers. Minnesota then plays the New York Jets ahead of its bye week, who figure to at least compete for a playoff spot in a tough AFC East Division if quarterback Aaron Rodgers is healthy.

Gagnon laid out his argument for the Vikings switching from Darnold to McCarthy following an extra week of rest and preparation as follows:

While McCarthy may be the Vikings’ long-term answer under center, Darnold is a capable quarterback who can keep a team afloat in the right spot. Minnesota has a supporting cast that includes Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, T.J. Hockenson and Aaron Jones, so whichever player starts under center will have plenty of help.

Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick from the 2018 draft, can hold down the fort early while McCarthy gets acclimated to the NFL. After all, the 21-year-old started only 28 games at Michigan, and the Vikes run into the San Francisco 49ers (whom Darnold knows well) and the New York Jets in two of their first five games. After that, they have a bye week and a home game against the Detroit Lions. That feels like the natural spot for McCarthy’s regular-season debut.

Vikings Could Decide to Sacrifice Season in Name of J.J. McCarthy’s Long-Term Future

J.J. McCarthy, Vikings

GettyQuarterback J.J. McCarthy of the Minnesota Vikings.

If Darnold is playing well, or if the Vikings start slow and face an uphill climb to relevancy, Minnesota’s decision may prove easier.

Beyond that, there is the future to consider. And Vikings brass could simply decide that it makes more sense to sacrifice one year of competitiveness if they believe that is in the best interest of their franchise quarterback.

Such is the path that Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune suggested the team will take during a May 14 radio hit on KFAN’s “The Paul Allen Show.”

“I don’t think that their approach to the job is based on [whether McCarthy is] better than Sam Darnold,” Goessling told Allen. “I think the threshold they are looking at is [whether McCarthy is] ready to take the job and run with it and do all of the things that we want to see done by an elite quarterback in this offense? And if it’s not there yet, or if it’s not there consistently enough yet, let’s wait. I think it’s about much more about that than this year.”

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