Vikings Face Tough Call on McCarthy After Showing Darnold Early Favor

J.J. McCarthy, Denver Broncos

Getty J.J. McCarthy #9 of the Michigan Wolverines.

The Minnesota Vikings drafted J.J. McCarthy to be their future franchise quarterback — but they are betting that Sam Darnold can fend off the rookie to start the season.

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert assessed the Vikings’ quarterback situation on May 22 and noted the Vikings have a strong contingent of Darnold supporters internally, including head coach Kevin O’Connell.

“McCarthy is obviously the Vikings’ quarterback of the future, but they signed veteran Sam Darnold prior to the draft with the hope of avoiding a rushed ascension of a rookie into the starting role,” Seifert wrote. “Darnold has genuine supporters within the building, starting with coach Kevin O’Connell, and there is real hope that he can play credibly enough to avoid the typical pressure to play McCarthy before he is ready. It’s a matter of when, not if, McCarthy becomes the starter, but the Vikings hope Darnold can extend the “when” for as long as McCarthy needs him to.”

The Vikings may find themselves in a tough spot if Darnold does rise to their hopes.

If by midseason the Vikings are positioned to make a push for the playoffs and McCarthy is also ready to play, O’Connell will have to weigh which quarterback is best to play for the benefit of the entire team.

This is a trickier scenario than if the Vikings are out of the playoff picture and McCarthy can get a few regular-season starts under his belt with less pressure on him before the end of his rookie year.

J.J. McCarthy Starts Vikings Offseason as QB3 Behind Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold, 49ers

GettyQuarterback Sam Darnold, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers.

Through the first week of Vikings organized team activities (OTAs), Darnold has been the No. 1 quarterback in practice followed by Nick Mullens and then McCarthy.

A seventh-year NFL veteran, Darnold spent last season with the San Francisco 49ers and beat out Trey Lance for the backup job behind Brock Purdy. Darnold’s familiarity with Kyle Shanahan‘s offense translated to O’Connell’s scheme, which he said has similar concepts.

This is the biggest hurdle McCarthy faces in eventually taking over the starting job. He has shown to have more arm strength and athleticism than Darnold. But at just 21 years old, McCarthy is in his infancy when it comes to understanding an NFL playbook — especially an offense as complex as O’Connell’s.

It took Kirk Cousins, who went to three Pro Bowls and had over a decade of NFL experience under his belt, two years to have a comfortable grasp of O’Connell’s offense.

The bar for McCarthy to win the starting job is also higher than just beating out Darnold in training camp.

J.J. McCarthy Must Prove Himself More Than Just Beating Sam Darnold in Training Camp

J.J. McCarthy

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

Star Tribune beat reporter Ben Goessling has maintained that the Vikings ideally want McCarthy to meet a higher threshold of playing at a franchise quarterback level.

“I don’t think that their approach to the job is based on: is he better than Sam Darnold,” Goessling said on KFAN radio on May 14. “I think the threshold they are looking at is: is he 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.”

Of course, McCarthy won’t realize his final evolution as a quarterback until he plays on the field. He’s going to take bumps and bruises along the way as well.

But when the Vikings decide to unleash McCarthy ultimately depends on his development.

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