NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2023. This is the fifth and final entry in a series of scouting reports that ran in July.
Coming off a dazzling first season as a starter, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye is one of the buzziest prospects in college football entering the 2023 season.
After redshirting in 2021 (appeared in four games), Maye rose to the top of the depth chart in 2022, throwing for 4,321 yards (fourth in the FBS) and 38 touchdowns (tied for fifth). He showed the ability make plays with his legs, too, ranking sixth among FBS quarterbacks with 698 yards rushing.
As you might expect with production like that, plenty of accolades followed. He became the second player in history to win ACC Player of the Year, ACC Offensive Player of the Year, ACC Rookie of the Year and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year in the same season, joining Florida State product Jameis Winston.
Maye enters this season with some changes to his supporting cast. His top two receivers from 2022, Josh Downs and Antoine Green, have moved on to the NFL. Also, he'll have a new offensive coordinator, as Chip Lindsey replaces Phil Longo, who left to become the OC at Wisconsin. Interestingly, UNC has brought in longtime NFL assistant coach Clyde Christensen as a volunteer offensive analyst. He has experience coaching Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and, most recently, Tom Brady.
I'm excited to see how the new offense jells, with Maye looking to lead a more complete season from the Tar Heels after they lost their last four contests in 2022.
Now that I've had a chance to check out Maye's game tape from last season, here is my initial scouting report.
Height, weight: 6-foot-4, 230 pounds (school measurements).
2022 statistics (14 games played): 342-of-517 (66.2%) for 4,321 yards, 38 TDs and 7 INTs; 184 carries for 698 yards (3.8 average), 7 TDs.
Game tape watched: at Appalachian State (Sept. 3, 2022), vs. Notre Dame (Sept. 24, 2022), at Miami (Oct. 8, 2022).
What I liked: Maye is the definition of a prototype. He has everything you would want in a franchise quarterback. He's big, athletic and instinctive. He can deliver the ball accurately to all three levels of the field and he has the feel/touch to change trajectory and velocity depending on what each throw requires. He has an innate feel to sense pressure, drift away from it and get the ball where it needs to go. When needed, he can really drive and power the ball into small windows.
Maye is also used quite often in the quarterback run game. He's a good decision-maker on zone reads. He is both fast and elusive in space. The soon-to-be 21-year-old will take some unnecessary hits at times, but overall, he protects himself well. His skill set maximizes the playbook. He can function in any style of offense.
Where he needs to improve: Ball security isn't a major concern, but he did force a couple throws in the Miami game, which led to turnovers. Also, he's put the ball on the ground a few times as a ball-carrier. I'm not concerned about the interceptions (he threw just seven last season), but he does need to secure the ball better as a rusher. That is an easy fix. He's very accurate throwing off platform when under pressure, but there are examples where he will unnecessarily fall off throws while operating in a clean pocket. There really wasn't anything alarming to be concerned about after studying his tape.
Biggest takeaway: In a normal year, Maye would clearly be viewed as the top quarterback in the country. USC's Caleb Williams has laid claim to that title, coming off a Heisman Trophy-winning 2022 campaign. However, I fully expect Maye to push Williams for that distinction through the upcoming season. Maye does everything at a very high level, and he possesses more prototypical size than the talented Trojans QB. For teams in need of a new signal-caller, the next QB class has the potential to rival the 2020 group, which produced the likes of Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts.
He reminds me of: There isn't a perfect comparison that comes to mind after studying Maye. The closest comp would probably be former Bengals, Raiders and Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Both guys have all the desired traits: size, arm strength, mobility and accuracy. Palmer arrived in the NFL in 2003 with cleaner/crisper footwork, while Maye is a better overall athlete. I had the chance to see a lot of Palmer while working for the Ravens for much of his time with the Bengals. He was exceptionally talented and put together a very impressive 14-year career, earning three trips to the Pro Bowl. Palmer took a big leap in his final year at USC, winning the Heisman Trophy and leading the Trojans to an Orange Bowl victory. I'm excited to see if Maye can make a similar leap this fall.
I can't wait to watch him play: at Clemson on Nov. 18. Maye and the Tar Heels were throttled by the Tigers in the 2022 ACC Championship Game, 39-10. The rematch will take place late in the season in Death Valley. That game could have a big impact on both the ACC race and the outlook for the College Football Playoff. Scouts love watching quarterbacks compete against rosters more talented than their own. That will be the case in this matchup. Clemson has more NFL-ready players and a very imposing defensive front to pressure Maye. This will be an excellent evaluation tool for NFL decision-makers.