For quite a long time, Caleb Williams was considered a stone-cold lock to be the top quarterback in the 2024 draft, but that changed during this college football season. On the back of two consecutive great seasons, UNC's Drake Maye closed the gap on his cross-country counterpart, leading some notable draft analysts, most notably Dane Brugler in his most recent big board, to say he is this draft class' top player, let alone quarterback.
Coming into any of the major sports leagues from an athletic family is always a plus, and the Maye family has more than just Drake, who's a second-generation Tar Heel. Father Mark played for UNC throughout the mid-1980s, brother Cole was on the 2017 Florida National Championship Baseball squad as a true freshman reliever, and brothers Luke and Beau played for UNC basketball, Luke most notably hitting an Elite Eight game-winner against Kentucky during North Carolina's 2017 March Madness run. So, it's not a shock that Drake followed in most of his family's footsteps by committing to UNC.
With that in mind, it's not too much of a shock that Maye finds himself in a position to become a professional athlete, and a potentially great one at that. His prototypical build, arm, and mobility have many excited about what he may be capable of at the next level, on the heels of back-to-back All-ACC team appearances and 2022 ACC Player of the Year honors. Could it make him QB1 in the 2024 Draft? That's the million-dollar question.
Name: Drake Maye
Jersey: No. 10
Weight: 230 lbs
Games Watched: vs. Notre Dame, Virginia, and Oregon (2022), vs. South Carolina, Minnesota, and Clemson (2023)
Arm Talent (14.5/15)
Many of the Herbert comps that get thrown Maye's way make some sense based on the size profile, as does the arm talent he possesses. Not only is the deep ball spectacular, but Maye can chuck it either fading away or simply off the back foot, making a pair of such throws right out of the gate against Clemson in '23. Overall, this is Maye's best trait coming into the NFL. Some of the throws he showed off were laugh-out-loud funny.
Maye's overall accuracy in the six viewed games was a bit of a roller coaster ride. Surprisingly, most of this can get tied into his footwork, which got very erratic in spurts. You'd see Maye get some happy feet just before passes on occasion, leading to bad passes or occasionally stepping into some throws a bit too much. A fixable issue that got better for the most part in the 2023 games, but that jumped out a bit.
Decision Making (12.75/15)
As far as decision-making, something that popped up with Maye was not knowing when to pull the trigger on some timing routes, or just being a tick or two too late in general. Here's an example from when North Carolina played Minnesota earlier this year.
So here, Maye's option up the middle (Tight End Kamari Morales) busts through a cover three look and is off to the races as he hits the opposing 45. Maye's big mistake is not letting this rip once he looks his way. The rollback and underthrow here cost them a touchdown (they scored on this drive anyway, but semantics), but this is more of a process over results thing. I wouldn't call this a dirty pocket, nor would I say this speaks to pocket presence issues (more on that in a minute). Just a single play where he could have done a better job. Another notable negative decision he made came in this same game, which was the worst of his interceptions seen on the All-22.
There are times when you have to take a sack, and then there are REALLY obvious times you have to eat the sack. This would go in the latter category. Why Maye thought this ball would get to Gavin Blackwell (nearside receiver), I have no idea, but this is the kind of stuff that can't happen at any level of ball. Nothing abundantly glaring outside of these and a few other plays, but the two plays shown are some examples of things he needs to improve on. That is the internal process of getting things going and knowing when a play is dead.
When Maye was tasked with going beyond the first read, he did a good enough job of moving through things, while also displaying the capability to keep up with a second or third read with his eyes downfield working outside the pocket.
Pocket Awareness (9.25/10)
One of my favorite things about Maye was the good internal clock he displayed in the pocket. More often than not, he gave things about three seconds to develop before deciding to take things into his own hands. Showed you that one play where he bailed out the back way of a clean pocket earlier, and while he occasionally will bail a bit early to run, it was typically when he had a lot of real estate in front of him. His ability as a rusher makes that a bit more forgivable than usual. Wouldn't bet on him getting frequent rushing lanes up the middle anymore with that being said. Maye can also occasionally be guilty of being a hair late deciding to bail, which led to a few sacks, but nothing that isn't fixable or he didn't improve on.
My biggest trouble spot/takeaway with Maye is that there were more occasions where he either didn't see defenders either in, or about to hop into a passing lane, leading to negative plays, almost all of which ended in interceptions. One such play was a double whammy of anticipation and touch issues, and that was once again against Minnesota.
Ignore the fact this is an off-platform throw just for the moment. Maye not seeing No. 22 right in the lane is a bit worrisome. As is the fact there isn't enough air under this ball to get it over him. The play is there to be made. Nate McCollum (No. 6 here) is as wide open as it gets, and Maye doesn't execute. I'd chalk this up to a tunnel vision issue more than he can't get air under the ball or read defenses issue, but this is by far the biggest thing Maye has to improve on before it's time for his first camp. There were at least another half dozen plays either this bad or close to it in either area, including a pick on a late hitch route throw against Clemson to close that game out.
Out of Structure (9/10)
I went into this report process not thinking Maye would be that great when things break down. And while he's certainly not on the level of Caleb Williams, he's still solid enough to translate to the NFL as a passer and runner. The very first play I saw of Maye was a great completion rolling out to his left against Notre Dame. Here's that, plus an excellent fire drill scramble for a touchdown against Virginia.
With that said, the narrative that Maye is not super accurate outside the pocket has been around for a while, but from what I saw in these six games, it wasn't alarmingly bad, and his mobility makes him a pretty good improviser on the whole. Speaking of which...
For a guy who is 6'4 and 230, Maye can practically glide 20 yards in no time at all. He's an excellent north-south runner who actively had plenty of built-in chances to tuck it and run. Of course, his ability to move helps him out as a passer as well, but his running ability stands out, given his size. That said, Maye needs to know when to give up on a run to avoid unnecessary hits. I believe it was the third play in the Minnesota game where he got blasted near the sideline on a third-down scramble.
Kind of touched on this earlier, but Maye's footwork, more so in 2022, got very erratic at times and got him into some trouble. While Maye is also guilty of throwing off the back foot a tad more than you'd like, he also has the otherworldly arm talent to (mostly) compensate for that, so that wasn't too much of an issue. Maye might need to quicken up the throwing motion just a tad as well, but there isn't anything too worrying outside of the footwork.
While I enter and exit this report thinking Maye is not the top quarterback option in this draft, I could understand if he were to be the first one taken off the board. There's a whole heap of teams who bank on the high-end traits, many of which the UNC gunslinger possesses. Guys his size with that kind of arm talent and can move like that aren't exactly common, and even with the mechanical wrinkles and hero ball stuff that needs to be ironed out, you can see the vision with Maye, for lack of a better phrase. I'd like to see him end up somewhere with a good QB coach to immediately start polishing stuff up, but that's not in his control.
Rookie Projection: High Upside Starter
Third-Year Projection: Fringe Pro Bowl Caliber Quarterback
Final Grade (89/100): Top 10 Talent
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