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The Case Against Drake Maye

Ever since Drake Maye’s stellar redshirt freshman season, he’s been talked about as an elite QB prospect. Many draft experts in the media even said he would have been the #1 overall pick in the 2022 draft class that featured 3 tantalizing prospects in Bryce Young, CJ Stroud and Anthony Richardson. It almost seemed like a foregone conclusion that he and Caleb Williams would be the first two players off the board in 2023. Maye was said to be the more “traditional pocket passer”, while Williams is the improviser who prefers to play outside of structure. Williams has the superior physical tools but supposedly requires more additional refinement than Maye, who plays on time and in rhythm more often. 

However, as the draft process has moved along, we have finally started to see some pushback on Drake Maye as the clear 2nd overall pick in the draft. Many people have written this off as a case of prospect fatigue. They say that Maye has been a top prospect for so long, evaluators have started nitpicking his game to talk themselves out of him. In reality, Maye’s drop is likely a result of NFL evaluators and decision makers waiting until around the combine to do a deep dive into these prospects. Maye has legitimate flaws that could hold him back in the NFL, and I want to dive deeper into what those flaws are. Keep in mind, I am intentionally focusing on only the negatives in Maye’s game for the purpose of understanding why some NFL teams might not be as high on him.

Not Trusting His Eyes

The first thing I want to focus on is just how often Maye turns down open receivers. It’s clear that he’s seeing them, he just isn’t pulling the trigger. We’ll start with a play from the NC State game this year. NC State runs a unique defensive system that revolves around rushing only 3 and dropping 8 into coverage. Nearly every play of this game, they ran a cover 3 with 5 defenders underneath. On this play, that’s exactly what they do, and UNC has a great play called to beat it. 


Maye is clearly looking at the tight end lined up in the left slot as his first read. He starts to make the throw but for some reason pulls it back. Then he scrambles to his right and picks up the first down. A positive result, but a concerning process. This might look like a tight window throw, and it is. But in the NFL, this is as good of a look you can reasonably expect to get on a play like this. The 2 outside deep defenders are practically on the sidelines and the safety has no chance to make a play. I can’t think of any reason he wouldn’t pull the trigger on this play other than a lack of confidence in what he’s seeing.

Here’s another play that is essentially a carbon copy of the previous one. Same game, same route, same coverage. 


Now, if you had any doubts about how open those throws really were, you certainly won’t with these next 2. Week 1 against South Carolina. The slot receiver is running a sluggo (Slant and go). Pre-snap, this already looks like the perfect play to have dialed up. There’s no defender more than 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Maye pump fakes to the slant, the defender in the middle of the field bites hard, and the receiver streaks wide open downfield. He doesn’t pull the trigger, opting to bail from a clean pocket. 


Again from the same game. Same formation from UNC, same defense from South Carolina. Maye’s first read is the go route on the bottom of the screen, and it comes wide open almost immediately. He quickly checks down, and instead of a likely touchdown, it’s a gain of 3. These are not difficult reads. Both times they’re his first read and the design of the play works to perfection.


In the past, when I’ve brought up concerns with Maye’s game, the response is that he’s just inexperienced and needs to continue developing. While that’s true, I don’t think added playing experience automatically leads to improvement in this area. If you’re still turning down plays like this after 26 career college starts, I have to begin questioning if experience is the only factor. I would much rather see a prospect confidently make decisions that turn out to be wrong because of something he didn’t anticipate the defense doing. When a player like that gains more experience, the number of things a defense can do to confuse him decreases, and the confident decisions they are making will be correct more often. I still believe Maye’s confidence and speed of decision making can improve over time, but it’s far less of a sure thing than many would have you believe. 

Here are a few more examples.

He sees the slot settle between zone defenders, but pump fakes and is forced to escape the pocket. You can also see some of his mechanical issues on this play. There’s so much wasted motion and inefficient movement here.


Slot settles in an open zone. Maye turned away too early despite the defender clearly turning away from the open receiver.



Inconsistent Accuracy

Next, I want to talk about Maye’s problems with accuracy. This is something I’m surprised to not see brought up more in mainstream draft coverage. The missed throws absolutely jump off the screen as soon as you turn on the tape. Everyone misses throws occasionally, but it’s the range of misses that’s really concerning. Many of these throws can be attributed to problems with his footwork, but some are inexplicable. Everything he’s doing looks right, and he simply misses the receiver by multiple yards. Let’s get into some examples. 

Here’s another play vs NC State. Maye is looking for the outside receiver on a dig and pulls the trigger once he notices the wide defender stay on the outside. The throw doesn’t even come in the vicinity of its target. It misses by a wide margin in multiple directions. 


This is a quick out to the tight end lined up in the slot up top. This is about a 12 yard throw in perfect rhythm with no mechanical issues that I notice, and the receiver doesn’t even reach for it because it’s so far off. 


This next one, the drop footwork is definitely rushed and choppy, but the margin of miss here is ridiculous. Not only that, but who on earth is he throwing to? 


It’s a small sample of throws that I’m showing you, but these are just the most egregious of misses. If you don’t believe me that this is a consistent issue, go check out Maye’s profile on Reception Perception (Drake Maye 2024 NFL Draft Profile | Reception Perception). To summarize – The only routes that Maye threw with above average accuracy in 2023 were go routes, screen passes and checkdowns. He was well below average on flats, slants, curls, digs, outs and corners. 

Poor Pocket Management

A common phrase you hear in scouting is to focus on what a player CAN do rather than what they CAN’T do. The way I see it, we should focus more on what a player DOES do. Of course it’s promising to see glimpses of a particular skill, but that doesn’t mean the player will ever become consistent in that area. That pretty much sums up how I feel about Drake Maye’s pocket management. There are plays where you see him recognize pressure, maneuver the pocket efficiently, and make a good throw. Unfortunately, there are even more plays where he overreacts to perceived pressure, runs into sacks, or bails from clean pockets. You can see aspects of this in the clips I’ve already talked about, but let’s look at a few more examples.

We’ll start with a play where his process in the pocket is poor, but he gets away with it and makes a nice play. 


While Maye makes a great throw, this play illustrates two areas he needs to improve. The first is his diagnosis of pressure. There really isn’t any pressure on this play, but he sees a flash of color in the corner of his eye and his instinct is to get moving. This could be the result of a poor offensive line not giving him the confidence to stand in the pocket. It also could be a deeply ingrained habit that will take significant work to overcome. Either way, it’s unlikely that he goes to a situation with a good offensive line. 

The other flaw we see on this play is the way he actually moves in the pocket. Even if he expects pressure and it doesn’t come, you would like to see a top prospect calmly step up in the pocket before delivering the throw. Instead, Maye takes himself out of a throwing position by starting to run forward. When he realizes he has an open man, he has to reset his feet back into a throwing position before he makes the throw. It doesn’t hurt him here, but that’s a lot of wasted time and movement for the narrower margins of the NFL. 

On this next one, he doesn’t get away with it. This is a nearly identical play where he thinks there’s pressure off the edge, causing him to scramble before realizing he has an open receiver. This time, his inefficient movement leads to the receiver running out of space in the corner of the end zone and a missed opportunity. 


Next we have a play where Maye bails from a clean pocket and runs right into a sack. First he reads to his left, then works to the other side of the field where he could take the deep shot or stay patient and wait for the dig to come open. Instead he runs towards what he thinks is open space. The defensive line is running a stunt, so that open space is quickly filled by the defensive tackle looping around. 


This specific mistake comes up a lot on his tape. Many of the sacks he’s taken are a result of him overreacting to temporary space that’s left by a stunting edge rusher. 


To wrap things up, I want to reiterate that there are plenty of excellent plays I could have used to break down everything there is to love about Drake Maye. But in my opinion, there is plenty of that content already, which is why I wanted to focus on these aspects of his game. I still believe he is worthy of being a first round pick and has a chance to be a franchise quarterback for the team that drafts him. Using a top 5 pick on him might be a little rich for my taste, but I understand the allure for franchises who are desperate to find a long term answer under center. I think it would do him a world of good to sit for anywhere between 6 and 17 games before becoming the starter. When a rookie QB is forced to start right away, they have so much on their plate in terms of learning how to operate an NFL offense that it can be very difficult to improve on their technical and conceptual skills. Allowing Maye to work on these skills in a controlled environment while slowly learning the intricacies of the offense would give him the best opportunity to realize his potential. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that he is afforded that luxury. Because of that, It will likely take a combination of Maye proving to be a serious student of the game and an organization trusting in his long term development for him to realize his potential.

Completed by:  AJ Cola (@AJ_T2T), 03/27/24

Reviewed & Edited:  Joe Knows, 03/27/24



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