College Football
Who will be Michigan's next QB?: Breaking down 5 candidates
College Football

Who will be Michigan's next QB?: Breaking down 5 candidates

Updated May. 13, 2024 4:17 p.m. ET

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — From the moment quarterback J.J. McCarthy announced his intention to enter the NFL Draft, speculation about who would replace him accelerated into a leading storyline of Michigan's offseason. Was the heir to McCarthy's throne already on the Wolverines' roster? Or would first-year head coach Sherrone Moore, who replaced the departed Jim Harbaugh, need to sift through the transfer portal and identify a potential starter?

Several months later, following the conclusion of Michigan's spring game, the same line of questioning was directed at offensive coordinator Kirk Campbell, whom Moore had promoted from quarterbacks coach. Campbell told reporters that adding another signal-caller "is not part of our thought process right now." He responded snarlingly to a follow-up question. 

"You can spin the words however you want, right, for your article," Campbell told one of the local beat writers. "I said what I said."

It appears that Campbell and Moore are standing firm on that edict after declining to sign a quarterback during the sport's flurry of portal activity in late April and early May. All 25 of the highest-rated quarterbacks in the 247Sports Transfer Portal Rankings are either committed or enrolled at other schools. None of the players still available in the portal are likely to be viewed as upgrades over what Michigan has on its depth chart.


All of which means that barring some kind of late surprise — and in the modern landscape of college football, surprises can never be ruled out — the Wolverines will enter the 2024 campaign with one of the following quarterbacks under center: Jack Tuttle, Alex Orji, Davis Warren, Jayden Denegal or Jadyn Davis. The competition is expected to continue deep into fall camp, if not the regular season.

"Ideally, I'd like to know now, but that's not going to happen," Moore said during a recent appearance on "In the Trenches," a podcast produced by Michigan's athletic department. "Probably sometime during fall camp. We'll have a couple of scrimmages and put them in those situations and see who manages the team best and go from there."

Here's a closer look at the contenders: 

Jack Tuttle
Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 210 
Class: Graduate student
Recruiting profile: Four-star prospect in the 2018 cycle (No. 167 overall, No. 8 pro-style QB)
Experience: 22 games played (16 at Indiana, 6 at Michigan); five career starts (all at Indiana); 119-of-199 passing (59.8%) for 1,031 yards with six TDs and six INTs overall

Tuttle, who turned 25 last month, was granted a seventh year of eligibility by the NCAA to extend his meandering collegiate career. A four-star prospect from San Marcos, California, Tuttle originally signed with Utah over additional scholarship offers from Alabama, USC, LSU, Nebraska and Wisconsin, among others. He spent one season with the Utes but never appeared in a game, ultimately transferring to Indiana ahead of the 2019 campaign. 

From there, Tuttle spent most of the next four years as the backup to Michael Penix Jr., the No. 8 overall pick in last month's NFL Draft. He made five starts for the Hoosiers — one in 2022; two in 2021; two in 2020 — but left Indiana having thrown more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (five). His best performance came in a 14-6 win over No. 16 Wisconsin in 2020 when Tuttle completed 13 of 22 passes for 130 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He enrolled at Michigan ahead of the 2023 season and served as the primary backup for McCarthy.

An undisclosed upper-body injury sidelined Tuttle for most of spring practice. 

"He's got talent," Moore said. "And we'll see what happens when we get to fall camp."

Ohio State, Michigan, Utah in Joel Klatt’s post-spring top 25

Alex Orji
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 236
Class: Junior
Recruiting profile: Three-star prospect in the 2022 cycle (No. 493 overall, No. 30 QB)
Experience: Nine games played; zero career starts; 1-of-1 passing for 5 yards with zero TDs and zero INTs; 21 carries for 123 yards and three TDs

With Tuttle unavailable for much of the spring, Orji was rumored to be atop the depth chart in practice. The one-time Virginia Tech commit is considered the most athletic player on Michigan's roster after dethroning ex-Wolverine defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, a second-round pick in this year's NFL Draft, for the No. 1 spot on a chart of Key Performance Indicators devised by former strength coach Ben Herbert. As of last summer, Orji had a 41-inch vertical leap, a 10-foot-6-inch broad jump and times of 3.97 seconds in the shuttle and 6.65 seconds in the 3-cone drill. His athletic ability is so profound that the Wolverines toyed with having Orji, who ran for more than 2,000 yards during his junior and senior seasons of high school combined, return kickoffs in practice.

When it comes to playing quarterback, Orji's primary involvement has come as a change-of-pace runner in limited snap counts. He carried six times for 37 yards and two touchdowns in 2022 but never saw the field after Oct. 8. His role expanded a bit last season when Harbaugh and Moore, who was working as the team's offensive coordinator and play caller, trusted him in key moments against Ohio State, Alabama and Washington. But Orji has attempted just a single pass in two seasons with the Wolverines, and there are legitimate questions about his consistency and accuracy.

"He's gotten better every single day," Moore said on the podcast. "He studies the game at a high level, he's a great leader, has the 'it' factor. People follow him. Obviously, he's a superb athlete. He's done a really good job, and [I'm] excited to see where he goes."

Alex Orji & Davis Warren: Who has the edge to be the starting QB?

Davis Warren
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 195
Class: Senior
Recruiting profile: Zero-star prospect in the 2020 cycle; diagnosed with Leukemia in April 2019; joined Michigan as a preferred walk-on
Experience: Eight games played; zero career starts; 5-of-14 (35.7%) for 89 yards with zero TDs and zero INTs

The combination of a cancer diagnosis in 2019 and the loss of his senior season due to the COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered the trajectory of Warren's recruitment. He joined the Wolverines as a preferred walk-on ahead of the 2021 campaign and has been at Michigan longer than any quarterback on the roster. As a freshman, Warren was named the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year with veteran Cade McNamara atop the depth chart. He played sparingly over the next two seasons while McCarthy held the top spot, often hovering between third and fourth in the pecking order while battling the likes of Alan Bowman, Tuttle and Orji. Michigan rewarded Warren with a scholarship in January 2023.

Warren was the most productive passer in this year's spring game and guided the Maize team to a 17-7 win over a Blue squad led by Orji. He completed 6 of 9 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came in the fourth quarter. The first was a 42-yard deep ball to wide receiver Kendrick Bell, who is the younger brother of former Michigan wideout Ronnie Bell, and the second was a 48-yard catch and run by Fredrick Moore after Warren rolled out of the pocket to escape pressure. 

"Just the way he performs is kind of who he is and his story and what he's been through," Moore said on the podcast. "He's just a dude that is never gonna give up. Keeps fighting, keep clawing and he's had a great spring and topped it off with a good game."

Davis Warren finds Fredrick Moore for a 48-yard touchdown

Jayden Denegal
Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 235
Class: Junior
Recruiting profile: Three-star prospect in the 2022 cycle (No. 452 overall, No. 28 QB)
Experience: Seven games played; zero career starts; 4-of-5 (80%) for 50 yards with one TD and zero INTs

Denegal was the first quarterback to join Michigan's 2022 recruiting class and remained loyal to the Wolverines after Orji entered the picture six months later. A three-star prospect, Denegal held additional scholarship offers from Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, Michigan State and Utah, among others. He was a three-year starter at Apple Valley High School in Apple Valley, California, and finished with more than 4,600 passing yards and 69 passing touchdowns. The Sun Devils reached the state title game in Denegal's senior season. 

His involvement at Michigan has been limited to a handful of appearances in lopsided games. Denegal threw the only touchdown of his career on an 8-yard completion to wideout Peyton O'Leary against Nebraska in 2023. At 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, Denegal has tremendous size for the position and looks the part of a collegiate quarterback. But his poise and accuracy left plenty to be desired during a spring game in which he finished 2-of-6 for 36 yards and one interception. 

"He had a really bad start to spring," Campbell said. "And [then] he was exceptional in the last 11 practices. I know today meant a lot to him."

Michigan Wolverines spring football game highlights

Jadyn Davis
Height: 6-foot-1 
Weight: 203
Class: Freshman
Recruiting profile: Four-star prospect in the 2024 cycle (No. 111 overall, No. 9 QB)
Experience: N/A

Aside from McCarthy, who arrived at Michigan as a five-star quarterback and the No. 25 overall player in the 2021 recruiting class, Davis is arguably the most decorated signal-caller that Harbaugh ever brought to Ann Arbor. Though Davis finished as the No. 111 overall prospect and the No. 9 quarterback in the 2024 cycle, he was viewed as a top-50 prospect through June 2023 and was once the No. 2 overall prospect in the class. He chose Michigan over additional scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oregon, among others. Davis won two state titles at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina, and threw for more than 3,300 yards with 43 touchdowns as a senior. 

Despite Davis' long-term promise, it appears the Wolverines are content to bring him along slowly. Campbell said Davis took very few reps with the first-team offense during spring practice after joining the team in December as an early enrollee. The rest of Michigan's quarterbacks split the starting reps evenly. Nonetheless, Davis drew rave reviews from teammates and coaches for his work ethic, maturity and natural arm talent.

"Super impressed with the poise that he holds," Moore said on the podcast. "He kind of has that ['it'] factor to him, he has a little bit of that J.J. [factor]. He's a young guy, and guys gravitate toward him. He's a leader. 

"Cool thing about him, we played the Rose Bowl, came back from the Rose Bowl, and he was in here studying film. Won a national championship, came back, and he was studying film. He really gets it and what it means to be a quarterback here."

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.


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