The Michigan Wolverines’ football team will be ushering in a new era at quarterback in 2020, with former starter Shea Patterson off to the NFL and redshirt junior Dylan McCaffrey and redshirt sophomore Joe Milton standing as the top candidates to replace him.
Though the 6-2, 202-pounder experienced plenty of ups and downs during his senior season in a Michigan uniform, is next year’s starter bound to serve as an upgrade over Patterson?
TheWolverine’s Clayton Sayfie and Austin Fox discuss below, in this offseason’s first installment of “Buy or Sell.”
Buy: By Clayton Sayfie
“The case for Michigan upgrading at quarterback with either Joe Milton or Dylan McCaffrey manning the position is three-pronged:
1) “Patterson was a very good quarterback and put up good numbers, especially toward the end of last season, but his ceiling at U-M seemed to have been reached. He wasn’t making game changing plays like some of the elite quarterbacks for top teams around the country make.
“No, Milton and McCaffrey haven’t done that in their time at U-M either, but they have the physical tools to do so going forward. First, both are more mobile and willing to run than Patterson was, as some of his decision making in the read option and RPO game was questionable.
“Both stand tall at 6-foot-5 and should have much more of a presence in the pocket. Both also have better and more stronger arms than Patterson, especially Milton, who claims he can throw the ball 80 or 90 yards.
2) “We’ve heard great things about the leadership out of Milton and McCaffrey, and the ‘all in’ attitude that they bring to the table, something that needs to be there if U-M wants to accomplish its goals this fall and going forward.
“The level of focus and determination out of the position has to be at the highest level. Look at each team in the College Football Playoff last season and you’ll see what it takes out of a team’s quarterback to get there.
“Both have the ability to rally the team behind them.
3) “A knock on both Milton and McCaffrey is that neither have proven much so far in their careers, but they haven’t gotten much of an opportunity to do so. Based on what they’ve shown in limited snaps and what has been said about them by coaches, players and others, there’s a high level of potential for both.
“Beyond the physical abilities and leadership qualities that the two quarterbacks have is the numbers game — there are two guys that have high ceilings, and one of them is bound to take the next step and become the leader and player at the position that U-M needs this season.
“McCaffrey is entering his fourth season, Milton his third. Both are ready, and may the best man win. Couple that with the fact that it’s year two under offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.
“Both guys (and redshirt freshman Cade McNamara) have learned the system, the ins and outs, for over a year. As Jim Harbaugh says, doing something for the second time is much easier.
“It hurts that there’s no spring ball to get the chemistry down and added reps in, but there’s a real case to be made for this receiving corps being more talented and connected than last year’s, even though they’re younger and less experienced.
“That should help whoever wins the job come September.”
Sell: By Austin Fox
“Both McCaffrey and Milton have plenty of potential, but there are no guarantees Michigan’s new starting quarterback will be an upgrade over Patterson, regardless of who winds up winning the job.
“For argument’s sake, let’s assume McCaffrey beats out Milton and takes over as the starter; it’s fair to expect the redshirt junior to be better than Patterson in time, but it may be a bit premature to expect him to be an upgrade right off the bat.
“There will likely be some growing pains for McCaffrey throughout (at least) the first half of the 2020 season, seeing as how he’s played so few ‘meaningful’ snaps during his collegiate career.
“The buzz that surrounded McCaffrey heading into last season (when Harbaugh made it clear he planned on playing two quarterbacks throughout the year, before injures derailed that plan) also seems to have died down, especially when considering he only played a combined 21 snaps over Michigan’s final six games.
“We’re not saying McCaffrey isn’t capable of still being an outstanding quarterback at the collegiate level, but instead that the hype surrounding him heading into 2019 was perhaps a bit premature.
“Granted, Harbaugh’s leash for Patterson was probably too long at times last season, but the fact that he never made a change may have also coincided with a realization that McCaffrey wasn’t ready to lead U-M’s offense at a high level (opinion).
“It’s also important to remember that while Patterson missed plenty of throws and struggled mightily as a whole at times, he was also quite good at others. He rewrote several of Michigan’s passing records last November (first U-M signal caller to ever throw four or more touchdowns in back-to-back games, first Wolverine quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards in three straight games, etc.) when he averaged 351.6 yards per game from Nov. 16-30 against Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State, while compiling a 10-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio during that span.
“It’s also worth noting that Patterson’s 305 yards in the regular-season finale came against an Ohio State secondary that finished No. 1 nationally in pass defense. He finally played in November like the quarterback fans had been waiting to see, but followed that up by struggling again in the bowl loss to Alabama (17-of-37 with two interceptions), with inconsistency being the main reason he was such a polarizing player as a senior.
“Expecting McCaffrey to be free of inconsistencies as a first-year starter in 2020 probably isn’t realistic, especially throughout the first portion of the season. He has shown play-making abilities with his feet (has averaged 7.2 yards per carry on 23 career attempts), but still seemingly has a ways to go as a passer (just a 51.4 career completion percentage) and decision maker on the field.
“We still expect the redshirt junior to be an exceptional quarterback before his time wraps up at Michigan, but don’t necessarily anticipate it to be right off the bat in 2020.”
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