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CBS Sports Thinks J.J. McCarthy Makes Sense For Steelers

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2024 NFL Draft Prospect Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy

If the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t make a massive move at the quarterback position via a trade or in free agency, they could addressed it in the draft. If so, Jordan Dajani of CBS Sports thinks Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who’s fresh off a 2023 College Football Playoff national championship, would be a great fit in Pittsburgh.

He ranked the Steelers as the third-best landing spot for McCarthy, behind the Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta Falcons.

“The hiring of Arthur Smith as offensive coordinator makes me think McCarthy could be a good fit in Pittsburgh,” Dajani wrote. “Some view Smith as an offensive coach who couldn’t get the most out of his top weapons in Atlanta, but what we do know about Smith is that he can build a legitimate rushing attack. The Atlanta Falcons’ ground game ranked ninth last year, and third in 2022. During his time as the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, Smith’s rushing attack ranked No. 2 in the league in 2020, and No. 3 in 2019.

“McCarthy benefitted from a good defense and a rushing attack — which Pittsburgh will surely have with Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. Getting to throw the ball to playmakers like George Pickens, Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth would be fun, too.”

In 2023, McCarthy started 15 games and completed 72.3% of his passes, while throwing for 22 touchdowns and four interceptions. He maintained a 167.4 passer rating. But he threw just 332 times, and for 2,991 yards. That finished 35th among FBS quarterbacks last season. It’s almost 2,000 yards less than what Washington quarterback Michael Penix threw.

McCarthy’s lack of gaudy passing numbers in combination of the uber-talented team that surrounded him, has talent evaluators wary that he’ll pan out in the NFL. McCarthy is still projected to be a first-round pick. He’s widely considered as the fourth-best quarterback in this year’s draft, behind LSU’s Jayden Daniels, North Carolina’s Drake Maye and USC’s Caleb Williams.

Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports projected in his mock draft that the Steelers will trade up in the first round from pick No. 20 to get their hands on McCarthy.

“The Steelers realize Kenny Pickett isn’t the answer and don’t waste time trying to correct the situation,” Fornelli wrote. “Arthur Smith is likely to bring a run-heavy offense that relies on play action and tight ends, and that sounds a lot like the offense McCarthy ran at Michigan! McCarthy has a strong arm, diagnoses defenses quickly, and is a good enough athlete to regularly extend drives with his legs. He’d be a good fit here.”

The Steelers would be trading with the Bears to get to No. 9 overall in Fornelli’ scenario, though he does not give a price tag for the trade. According to the Draftek trade value chart, the Steelers would have to trade their second-round pick at No. 51 and their sixth-round pick at No. 197 to make the deal work.

Pittsburgh has not historically traded up in the first round very often, but they have done it twice recently. The Steelers moved up to No. 10 to get linebacker Devin Bush in 2019 and got ahead of the New York Jets last year to make sure they landed tackle Broderick Jones.

Steelers general manager Omar Khan said he has “full faith” in starting quarterback Kenny Pickett, and though they anticipate adding competition to the position this offseason, the team is excited about the future with Pickett as their starting quarterback.

“I have full faith in Kenny,” Khan said while speaking to the Pittsburgh media at the NFL Combine on Thursday. “He’s shown us some good things. Obviously, there were some issues with the offense and I’m excited about the impact that Arthur Smith is going to have on him. Arthur is very optimistic about Kenny. I know they’ve communicated. We’ll have some strong competition there and we’ll see how it goes.”

McCarthy said on the NFL Network that he formally met with 11 teams at the Combine. For what it’s worth, the Steelers were not one of the teams.