According to the data, this 2024 QB prospect is the best fit for the Vikings

Former Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy
Former Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy / Alika Jenner/GettyImages

With the draft just a few weeks away, we are entering the home stretch of preparations for the Minnesota Vikings front office. Ever since Kirk Cousins left the Vikings in free agency, and Minnesota general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah acquired a second first-round pick (No. 23 from the Houston Texans) in addition to pick No. 11, there has been an incredible buzz from fans about potentially trading up in this year's NFL Draft to select a quarterback.

While this quarterback pursuit has near universal approval among Vikings fans, the speculation over which passing prospect should be their target has picked up with varying levels of opinions and confidence. Each of the potential options has their own strengths and weaknesses.

For my debut article on The Viking Age, I wanted to drill down into what the data says about Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, and J.J. McCarthy to see how they might fit into the Kevin O'Connell offense and who I believe should be Minnesota's top option.

Which 2024 QB prospect fits best with the Minnesota Vikings, according to the data?

There are many ways to evaluate quarterback prospects. To me, the most sound analysis comes from marrying the tape and data. Ideally, you should see things on tape that are confirmed by data, and the best way to confirm your data is to watch it on tape to see what's really happening. In many instances, either tape or data can lie to you if the combined context isn't taken into account.

With that in mind, I'm admitting from the onset that this is a flawed analysis. The conclusions you see here only represent half the picture, but hopefully, Vikings fans can use this as a tool to challenge their assumptions about these players and follow it up with their own tape analysis or from the observer of their choice to come up with their own holistic belief about a player's chances for success.

First, we have to understand just what exactly O'Connell asks from his quarterbacks in Minnesota's offense. Of course, we would like O'Connell to adapt his offense around whatever quarterback they end up drafting, but there are certainly a few tendencies that ring true no matter who is under center.

PFF's Trevor Sikkema, recently shared the following about how one of the biggest aspects of the Vikings' offense is throws over the middle.

"As for the Vikings, not counting passes behind the line of scrimmage, the most passes they attempted last season came over the middle of the field between the numbers from 0-10 yards down the field (167 attempts). The second most came over the middle between the numbers from 10-20 yards (80 attempts)."

So between Daniels, Maye, and McCarthy, who throws over the middle the most? Well, Underdog Fantasy's Hayden Winks recently pulled data from Sports Info Solutions (SIS) to find an answer to this question.


Throw over Middle % (Behind LOS Excluded)

Jayden Daniels


Drake Maye


J.J. McCarthy


While Daniels had a ton of success last year, it is clear that throwing over the middle was just less of a priority either for him or the scheme. I'm sure if you drill into the tape, you'll see times where he was successful doing it. You also have to analyze if those times happened when the WR was wide open or if it was a tight window.

Both McCarthy and Maye certainly threw over the middle enough to see that they have relevant experience that will translate directly to Minnesota's offense. It would be more of a projection for Daniels; however, as it applies to all of these quarterbacks, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

If you drill down into routes over the middle that require timing and anticipation, like digs and crossers, McCarthy not only led the group in raw volume, but in percent of throws as well. Many have made arguments about McCarthy's lack of throwing volume over the last few months, but it's clear in certain areas, he does lead the pack. It just so happens it's in an area that matters to the Vikings' offense.

When it comes to timing routes overall, which is also an important aspect of the Shanahan/KOC offensive scheme, O'Connell had this to say last season.

"In the end that’s what the NFL passing game is about: rhythm, timing, understanding that the defense can and will take some things away, but progressing in rhythm.”

So which 2024 quarterback prospects were the best at throwing with rhythm and timing during their college careers?

At this point, we are already starting to see a trend emerging in the data. McCarthy not only throws the ball over the middle the most, but he also has the highest points earned on classing timing throws. While Maye also throws over the middle a ton, he is less impressive than McCarthy with the classic timing routes - even if you consider his statistically better 2022 season.

But if you were to ask O'Connell about the most important trait that a quarterback could have, he would say accuracy, and he's said this many times over the course of his tenure in Minnesota. So, which of these three passing prospects was the most accurate in 2023 and throughout their career?

While Daniels has an insane 69.1 adjusted completion percentage on his deep throws, those only accounted for 16.6 percent of his total throws. McCarthy leads the way in all throws up to 19 yards for the 2023 season and for these players' careers. For reference, according to PFF, Cousins only threw the ball over 19 yards a little over nine percent of the time in the last two years.

The vast majority of quarterbacking in the NFL happens right where McCarthy excels. There is a reason why NFL analysts like ESPN's Mina Kimes believe McCarthy is the perfect fit for the Shanahan/McVay system that O'Connell has utilized in Minnesota.

Another key element of quarterbacking, regardless of the scheme, is how a prospect handles pressure and their natural tendencies when the pocket collapses.

There is a lot to unpack here, so let's take it piece by piece.

Over the last two years, each of these three quarterbacks were under pressure roughly 30 percent of the time - with Maye dealing with pressure the most. The chart above analyzes what each quarterback does with the ball when that happens

If you look all the way to the right, you can see the "P2S" category. This tells us how often a pressure turns into a sack. For Daniels, this happened nearly a quarter of the time, which is an extreme number.

Historically speaking, this P2S metric is one of, if not the most, predictive stat when looking at what tends to stick from college to pro. If you're bad at it in college, you're almost surely going to be bad at it in the NFL when the competition is significantly more difficult.

If you want to look deeper into the history of this stat and how it translates to the NFL, check out this article from Zach Krueger of NBC Sports.

But getting back to Daniels and the data, if you take his P2S and look at how that affected his total dropbacks, he took a sack one out of every 14 dropbacks. For Maye, it was one out of every 16, and for McCarthy, it was one out of 25.

The other interesting takeaway from this data I want to highlight is just how often each quarterback actually made a targeted pass attempt. I went on PFF and looked at total dropbacks under pressure and then subtracted any throwaways.

Daniels only attempted a pass in the field of play 41.2 percent of the time. Obviously, successful scrambles happen outside that number, but that pales in comparison to McCarthy, who is targeted a pass catcher over 70 percent of the time and completed a pass 41.3 percent of the time.

To put that in perspective, McCarthy is more likely to complete a pass while under pressure than Daniels is to even attempt one! I certainly don't know for sure, but if I had to bet, O'Connell would probably like to see a pass attempt to Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, or T.J. Hockenson as the primary outcome on a called pass play.

The last big area of concentration that O'Connell has talked about is high-leverage situations. How do these quarterbacks handle obvious passing situations on third and fourth down when their team needs a big play to move the chains?

If you just look at the raw volume stats, McCarthy clearly comes out on top, but he was also put in these situations the most of any top quarterback in this year's draft pool.

If you want to dive even further into the advanced statistics, Brandon Lundberg of Football Scout 365 pulled some data from Sports Info Solutions (SIS) and looked at how quarterbacks performed on third/fourth down and 5-plus yards while throwing the ball past the first down marker. SIS has an advanced statistic called Points Above Average (PAA), and they define it the following way.

"The total of a player’s EPA responsibility on passes using the Total Points system that distributes credit among all players on the field for a given play. For passers, this includes accounting for offensive line play, sacks, off-target passes, dropped passes, and dropped interceptions. Values are modulated using a quality-of-competition multiplier based on each opponent's previous year of performance."

Below is how Daniels, McCarthy, and Maye ranked during the 2023 season.


PAA per play on 3rd/4th down with 5+ yards to go throwing past the first down marker

National Rank (all QBs)

Jayden Daniels



Drake Maye



J.J. McCarthy



As one can see, McCarthy was incredibly clutch on these high-leverage plays. He ranked first in the nation, and first in EPA Boom percentage plays that you can read more about in Brandon's article.

While McCarthy had a lower total volume of counting statistics relative to Maye and Daniels, he was put in challenging situations at a higher percentage of the time against tougher competition than any other prospect.

When you piece together all the data here, McCarthy throws over the middle the most, has the highest points added in classic timing throws, has the highest adjusted completion percentage, is the best at handling pressure, and has the most success in high leverage situations on third and fourth down.

As I stated from the onset, this analysis is incomplete without a tape review, and I've only scratched the surface of the advanced data. I could also be accused of cherry-picking stats. What about Maye's big-time throw percentage or Daniels' high QBR? Both are very valid points and part of the reason why each of those players is a top prospect in the eyes of many.

But when you look at it from the specific lens of what O'Connell has stated he is looking for and what the Vikings have asked their quarterbacks to do over the last two years, the data says McCarthy is the clear choice.

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