Drake Maye: The Underrated QB Prospect Worth Starting Day 1

Drake Maye: The Underrated QB Prospect Worth Starting Day 1

Every year with the NFL Draft cycle, media tends to overthink certain players, especially quarterbacks. The long break between the NFL Combine and NFL Draft give us too much time to sit and fall for the play action that is NFL Draft smokescreens and overthought.

This year the NFL has decided to overthink North Carolina QB Drake Maye, who has been QB2 (or QB1A in my eyes) throughout most of the NFL Draft cycle, but then started to slip. With Michigan QB JJ McCarthy beginning to rise in the eyes of NFL front offices, Maye could fall to QB4 in this class.

Make no mistake about it, though: Maye is a special QB prospect who is arguably the best suited to start right away after USC’s Caleb Williams.

One of the first things that stand out about Maye is his downfield aggression throwing the ball. He’s got top-shelf arm talent, and the aggression to make all the throws downfield. In 2023, Maye’s 76 passing attempts of over 20 air yards is second among the consensus top six QBs (Maye, Williams, McCarthy, LSU’s Jayden Daniels, Oregon’s Bo Nix and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr.). Of those 76 passes, his 34 On-Target throws of over 20 air yards is also second in among the consensus top QB prospects. Maye is more than willing to show off the long ball, and can drop passes in the bucket testing defenses vertically.

Maye is a good processor, and when he sees one-on-one coverage downfield, he takes his home run swing. This helps him a lot against Quarters coverage, where the corners can be isolated with the safeties playing any route by the second receiver in the slot. On this touchdown to WR Tez Walker, Miami is in Quarters. With how low the safety was playing, Maye knew he could get this big post in over the safety’s head with the CB playing outside leverage. Maye takes a peek over to his left, gets his feet set in no rush, and places a dime right into Walker’s hands for the touchdown. Look at how easy and smooth this process is, and the ball jumps out of Maye’s hand:

Here, Maye is working off play action, on a Super sail concept (outside receiver runs a go, slot runs a big corner route). Maye gets his feet a bit too much under him on this concept which slows up the ball coming out, but he irons it out and delivers a big play downfield. That’s translatable to the NFL level, especially off the run action.

Now, let’s talk about the footwork a little bit. The reason that Maye has slipped in people’s eyes is due to the inconsistent footwork, the little inefficiencies that separate a pass hitting a receiver in stride vs overstriding and sailing the pass. Maye’s footwork isn’t bad, per se. It’s just more “vibey”, which fits the Air Raid offense he operated under first Phil Longo, then Chip Lindsay while at North Carolina. Longo has spoken extensively about the drops he teaches to his QBs, ones that see them use more of a backpedal than a dropback that you typically see from quarterbacks.

While this helps in the RPO and quick game, in standard dropbacks the feet can get a little … wonky to say the least. That’s because there seems to be a lot of crossover in Maye’s footwork, creating a lot of wasted movement in the passing game. In the quick game it’s fine, because it’s just a point and shoot. However, in the dropback passing game, the feet can get a little tangled. Take this rep from the 2022 bowl game against Oregon. Maye has the sail route open, but watch his feet the entire time. He clicks his heels and has to get his feet under him, which cause him to sail this pass. Not a major red flag, but a fixable crack in the armor.

Fast forward to 2023, and some of the footwork stuff has cleaned up a little bit, but the heel clickiness still sort of remains. This rep against NC State shows some of the heel clicking when he moves to his right to hit this throw. He clicks and crosses his feet over, and the pass ends up sailing again.

Against Georgia Techthis pass on the dig gets skipped partially because his left guard gets pushed to Decatur (more on that later), but Maye gets choppy with his feet and can’t get a good throwing base, and ends up missing. The process is good, the execution is just a little bit off. Again, very fixable because he more than likely will have better coordinators and a better line, but worth mentioning.

Now, you’re probably wondering, “if the footwork is so wonky, why is he your QB 1A”?

And to that, I’d say that’s an excellent question.

My answer for that is Maye has the ability to create in ways that we see the best young stars at the QB position in the NFL create from the pocket and in scramble drills. Maye is adept at managing the pocket and creating windows to get throws off, and has a lot of golf clubs in his bag against pressure. In that same NC State game from 2023, Maye has some awesome passes against pressure. This one is one of my favorites. On 3rd and 3, NC State brings the house, a Cover 0 blitz. Maye has a slant to his right side, but the free runners are coming from that way.

Maye calmly slides to his left to create the throwing window necessary to get this pass off, and fires a strike for the first down. This is important because not every play is going to be able to be made by free wheeling and winning outside the pocket. We see guys like CJ Stroud and Jordan Love begin their phenomenal careers by figuring out how to win from the pocket under pressure, and their ability to create windows with their arm and pocket movement are going to be used as the prototype for a young QB. Maye has that, partially because he needed to in order for the offense to do anything resembling success. The Tar Heel offensive line was more offensive to the eyes than anything successful, and the skill position talent ran hot and cold. It was often on Maye to make it work, and when he did, it looked stellar.

He also can do this, which is pretty cool. Maye’s game has been compared to guys like Justin Herbert, and yes they’re very similar, but I think Maye has a bit more recklessness to his game than the Chargers’ signal caller.

Another thing that makes me believe that Maye can be a QB a franchise can start right away is his ball placement. Even when the results don’t equal up, he’s putting his receivers in the best position to catch the ball. His ability to layer throws downfield, while keeping his guys safe is well beyond a QB his age. This throw against NC State wasn’t caught, but you can see the flashes of ball placement and the decision here. Maye has to keep his guy out of striking distance of the single safety in Cover 3, but look at how he leads his guy to the ground, protecting him from a defender wanting to go viral. Great process, with a better result at the next level (hopefully).

Watch from the endzone angle, Maye knows exactly what he’s doing here, and the pass is exactly where he wants it to be. I can live with this.

The ball placement shows up in the red zone, where he has more than enough arm strength to fit passes into tight windows, but the placement and accuracy to keep defenders away. This is a great TD throw against Oregon, one that shows he can do this at an NFL level.

While Maye has his blemishes, there’s nothing there that an NFL coach can’t amend. However, I would go one step further and say that Maye can start from Day 1 in the right system. I’m not saying that footwork is not a problem, but it is something that I’m more than willing to let a QB learn and adjust as he gets live game reps. Much like the Anthony Richardson conversation last year, Maye has the tools to start right away, in a system suited to his strengths.

2024-04-09 19:07:19
#NFL #teams #overthinking #Drake #Maye #NFL #Draft

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