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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed May 29 - 04:00 PM | Thu May 30 - 09:55 AM

Film Review: Analyzing QB Drake Maye's Fit With the Patriots 

What made new QB Drake Maye a no-brainer first-round pick for the Patriots. 

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye.
North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye.

Before embarking on a new era of Patriots football, we must take a look back at how we got here.

Let's make one thing clear: this isn't a Mac Jones takedown piece. However, it's important to discuss why Jones failed as a 2021 first-round pick to learn from the entire process. Obviously, a lot of it was out of Mac's control, with coaching and a lacking supporting cast playing a major role. Still, as a collegiate prospect, there were red flags.

Along with watching every Jones drop-back in his Patriots career, we also saw Patrick Mahomes take over the league, and Josh Allen dominate the AFC East. Physically, Mac couldn't compete with those guys, which was always the concern with him coming out of Alabama: did he have the physical traits to be a franchise quarterback at the next level?

Generally, the days where full-field progressions and traditional quarterback mechanics were the way to win are gone. Speaking to Peyton Manning on the ManningCast last season, Mahomes admitted to a shift in how the position is played. Nowadays, it's one or two in-structure reads, and if it's not there, then go make a play off-script. Your quarterback needs to make some plays in chaos, which is where Jones struggled. Mac could operate within the offense's framework. However, the working conditions needed to be nearly perfect, which isn't realistic in the NFL.

With that top of mind, my evaluation of the 2024 quarterback class came down to three non-negotiables for the third overall pick:

  • Elite physical traits (arm talent) to be a high-end playmaker in and out of structure. Must be an athlete at the position.
  • Generates easy velocity on throws from congested pockets or off-platform. Passers who must put all their weight into throws to hit NFL-sized windows need not apply.
  • A baseline level of mental processing and instincts. You want him to know how to play quarterback. Not just a big-armed athlete (no Zach Wilson's, please).

If a quarterback has zero physical limitations and his eyes are mostly in the right places, I'm willing to bet the rest will figure itself out. You can harp on the fine details all you want. But it's nit-picky to paint them as fatal flaws, with evidence from many top quarterbacks that you can fix things like footwork, throwing mechanics, and other QB minutia.

Due to those fundamental beliefs, the Patriots selecting former North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye with the third overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft was a no-brainer. Maye led the FBS in big-time throws over the last two seasons (79) and has a manageable turnover and sack rate throughout his career. He makes franchise quarterback throws while limiting negative plays — sign me up.

There are fair critiques of areas where Maye needs to improve, particularly his footwork, that we'll address. But he, in many ways, is the anti-Mac Jones. Maye checks every box from a physical tools standpoint with prototypical size (6-4, 223 pounds) while playing the one, two, make a play brand that's taking over the NFL.

Furthermore, Maye is an ideal fit for offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt's offense. Maye is a savvy middle-of-the-field thrower with "A+" arm talent to operate AVP's vertical concepts. He is also comfortable with pro-style elements like play-action and making checks at the line of scrimmage.

Traditionalists will label Maye as a project with a high ceiling and a low floor. However, there's a very large sample size suggesting Maye fits the mold as the new prototype for a modern NFL quarterback: elite arm talent, mobile, and an aggressive playmaker.

Let's dig into the film to illustrate why Maye was a home-run draft selection for the Patriots on Thursday night:

Strength - Arm Talent While Throwing From Congested Pockets

When evaluating quarterbacks, the litmus test for arm talent isn't who throws the ball the furthest. Driving the ball without the benefit of solid footing is far more important.

It's a significant adjustment for many quarterback prospects to go from throwing without much pressure in clean pockets at the collegiate level to muddy pockets in the pros. Most of these guys come from big football powerhouses, where they have an advantage in the trenches every week. As a result, there's often a clean pocket to step into and deliver throws. Life is much different in an NFL pocket, and it's a tough way for the offense to live if your quarterback needs a college-sized pocket to drive the ball into NFL-sized windows.

For starters, Maye didn't have the luxury of sitting in an LSU or Michigan-sized pocket, with easily the worst offensive line amongst the "big three" quarterbacks the Patriots are focusing on in this draft. Even still, Maye was unphased by the pressure, with plenty of arm strength to drive the ball with bodies around him and a knack for keeping his eyes downfield.

In this play, Clemson sends a blitz from the field. Maye has his tight end staying in to chip the blitzer, but his time is short in the pocket, while North Carolina runs a shot play on a flood concept. To buy himself time, Maye rolls away from the blitz while keeping his eyes on the deep over route. The defense rotates into cover three, with the clear-out route flooding the boundary corner's zone. Knowing he has to drop this over the trailing hook defender, Maye uncorks a 40-yard bomb off his back foot to hit his receiver in stride for six.

These off-platform throws are all over Maye's film at North Carolina, as is his poise to keep his eyes downfield as the play develops, whether inside the pocket or on the move.

Here, the Tar Heels are running a similar route combination with the crosser filling in underneath the vertical route to flood zone coverage. This time, Maye is reading the boundary corner carrying the clear-out, opening an opportunity with enough anticipation to hit the crosser. Despite having pressure in his face while throwing out of his end zone, Maye delivers on time with good zip on the ball to beat the falling-off corner with a strong throw to the crosser.

In this example, North Carolina clears out the sideline for an out-and-up by the tight end. The left side of the offensive line loses on a T/E stunt, leading to pressure. Despite being hit while he's throwing, Maye still sees the rotating safety sitting inside his intended target, so he puts the ball on his tight end's back shoulder, away from danger for another completion.

Maye has enough control on the ball and is fearless under pressure to deliver downfield regardless of the environment in the pocket. Although we didn't show it as much here, he's also very athlete, with the ability to add yards on scrambles and create off-script. Over the last two seasons, Maye ran for 1,147 yards and 16 touchdowns as a pure power runner.

In terms of elite physical traits and being an athlete at the position, Maye checks every box.

Strength - Pro-Style Middle-of-the-Field Throws and Pistol Play-Action

The other area that makes Maye an intriguing fit for the Patriots is that he excels at throwing the ball between the numbers, both driving it and layering throws around defenders.

North Carolina took advantage by having Maye throw a high number of in-breaking routes, such as crossers and dig patterns, where he was often on time and sharp reading out coverage. For a Pats offense that wants to incorporate play-action and attack between the numbers, these aspects of the Tar Heels offense under OC Chip Lindsey were pro-style in nature.

When the Heels anticipated man coverage, Maye thrived making NFL-style middle of the field throws by reading leverage/help defenders to find single coverage to keep the offense moving.

In this play, North Carolina runs a double dig pattern in every NFL offense. With the defense in a man-free blitz, the safety in the middle of the field is the only free coverage player. When the safety shuts off the inside dig route, Maye progresses to the outside in-cut to complete the pass for a first down.

Here, Pittsburgh is in a similar man coverage structure, with the gun-action fake freezing the second level for a split second. That gives Maye's slot receiver to his left a clear runway on a crossing route, and Maye's feet are in sync to hit the moving target with precise ball location.

Maye also has the velocity to fit the ball between zone defenders. Above, the defense is in a traditional spot-drop cover three-zone, with the No. 2 spot running a skinny post behind the second level. Maye holds the weak hook long enough with his eyes to thread the needle as the receiver comes into the void between the two zones.

Pistol-Action - The Key to Unlocking Alex Van Pelt's Offense With Maye

Along with shotgun drop-backs, North Carolina also incorporated pistol-action to sell play-action. This is a big part of why Maye is the ideal fit for Alex Van Pelt's play-action heavy scheme.

Although it's not true under-center, running play-action out of the pistol has similar mechanics for the quarterback, with similar footwork while the quarterback turns his back to the defense. In gun-action, the quarterback's eyes remain downfield. It's easier for the QB to read the coverage, but it's also harder for the play-action fake to alter the defense. Long story short, college offenses adopted RPOs to pull defenders out of passing lanes with run action from the shotgun.

Lindsey often put Maye in the pistol to run play-action with more eye candy to sell the run. These pistol drop-backs should make for a smoother transition to under center for Maye, or the Patriots can adapt their play-action schemes to run them out of the pistol. Although they run some under-center, the Dolphins are a big pistol-action team because it suits Tua.

Like the Patriots with AVP, North Carolina used play-action from the pistol to set up shot plays downfield against single-high coverage structures. Above, the defense respects the run threat from the pistol formation with a single-high safety structure. The Tar Heels run a sail concept with the corner route intersecting with the deep post. When the deep safety stays on the post, Maye has one-on-one to the sail route and drops it in the bucket for a chunk play.

New England's offensive coordinator runs very similar play-action concepts as the one's Maye ran in Chapel Hill. It's a perfect match of arm talent to execute vertical concepts and comfort level with operating nearly identical schemes that excite you about Maye in AVP's system.

Strength - Pre and Post-Snap Processing vs. the Blitz

The final puzzle piece that drew the eye toward Maye was his processing ability against the blitz, where he posted an excellent 85.1 PFF grade at 7.3 yards per pass attempt.

Another area where Lindsay leaned on Maye more was giving the controls to the young quarterback at the line of scrimmage. Maye had complete freedom to alert or check into things where he saw fit, and he did a great job as a true junior. Maye would often change entire plays or protections to problem-solve blitzes at the line of scrimmage.

For example, Maye identifies the all-out pressure from the Wolfpack defense here. Rather than running a dead play that was called in the huddle, Maye can be seen changing the play call to a sprint-out concept. The moving pocket away from the backside pressure is the perfect answer, and Maye puts it on his receiver for an off-platform touchdown.

Along with diagnosing blitzes pre-snap to come up with answers, Maye was also very good at picking up disguised blisters after the snap.

This throw combines everything we've discussed in the "pro" column into Maye in one play. This time, Maye must wait for the seam to clear the seam/hook defender while the ball must beat the post-safety to the spot. With a free runner in his face, Maye shows off all his positive attributes: arm strength from congested pockets, post-snap processing, and a strong middle-of-the-field throw.

For a quarterback with detractors questioning his pro-readiness, Maye is excellent at beating the blitz for a 21-year-old quarterback. Mentally, that's very impressive for a younger prospect.

Areas of Concern - Footwork and Throwing Mechanics

Although we're bullish about Maye's future in the NFL, it's only fair to discuss the critiques of his game in the interest of being impartial about this year's quarterback class.

The biggest area of concern about Maye in the present day is his inconsistent footwork, which leads to sprays or erratic misses on routine throws. He also has a slower throwing motion with a long release. Maye's arm talent mostly makes up for the longer throwing motion, but there are times when pass-rushers hit his arm as he's throwing. Lastly, although it didn't burn him in college, Maye is a gunslinger with arm arrogance and a sometimes wild playmaking gene.

As we mentioned earlier, Maye is a very creative off-script artist. However, where some people see a playmaker, others might see a turnover waiting to happen at the next level. Maye has no issues throwing as he's being dragged down by defenders, throwing across the field, or even throwing lefty (on a touchdown, by the way). There's a fine line between those things working in the NFL and turning into disaster plays.

Most importantly, Maye absolutely needs to fix his footwork to reach his pro ceiling. Due to unsettled feet in the pocket, Maye's tape lacks rhythm and consistency, impacting his accuracy on throws that should be layups. According to Lindsey, the North Carolina coaching staff that took over the offense for the 2023 season changed Maye's footwork. Before his arrival, Maye used a backpedal technique in his drops. Under Lindsey, they switched that to the more pro-style footwork.

"For him, it was how can we fix our footwork? His drop-back game, they were a backpedal drop-back team the year before I got here. We are more traditional," Lindsey said. "It was one of those things that was different for him, and I thought he did a nice job of that."

The shift to traditional footwork in his drop-backs could explain why it's such a work in progress for Maye as he enters the league. In many instances, Maye's drop-back timing seemed out of sync with the route concept, throwing off the play's rhythm, leading to sprays.

Here, Maye takes a one-step drop and hitch from the shotgun. On his first hitch, the slot receiver to his left is not even close to ready for a throw on the in-breaker, causing Maye to wait. Based on Maye's drop, you'd expect the receiver's break to hit quicker. Once the play was on time, the picture for the quarterback was muddied by the defender dropping out of the rush. Maye tries to layer it around the defender, but the timing is off, and he airmails the pass on third down.

The other issue you see too often is that Maye's feet don't consistently follow his eyes once he comes off his first read. As a result, he too often drifts into pressure. Above, Maye correctly comes off the left side of the field as he reads it in his drop. As he works across the field, he drifts into a sack. If he stays in the middle of the pocket, he has a completion to No. 1 on the dig route.

Admittedly, these reps are ugly for Maye: his feet are all over the place. However, footwork is easier to fix than other potentially fatal flaws for quarterbacks. Plus, when you put it in context that Maye was learning new footwork, per Lindsey, on the fly, it's more excusable.

Bottom Line

The Patriots selected the quarterback whose traits translate best to the pro game in Thursday night's first round.

Maye isn't the most polished prospect in this class, but there are a few important things to remember. First, as a 21-year-old rookie, Maye is over 20 months younger than Jayden Daniels, meaning he's far from a finished product. Plus, Maye wasn't surrounded by an NFL-caliber supporting cast like many of the top quarterbacks in this class.

If you read a scouting report for Josh Allen or Justin Herbert in their draft years, there would be a lot of overlap with the issues naysayers have with Maye. Not every prospect in that mold pans out. Still, the skill set has huge upside, and it's worked out plenty recently (Allen, Herbert, Jordan Love, etc.).

Ultimately, Maye won't fail due to a lack of talent. Instead, Maye's competitive drive and the Patriots ability to support him properly will determine if he can become more consistent in the NFL. To his credit, Allen, my pro comparison for Maye, worked at his craft to improve his accuracy. Whether or not Maye has the drive to be great will be the difference in his success or failure at the next level.

For the Patriots, it's a chance worth taking that their coaches can help round out Maye's game to maximize his skill set. If he's a hit, Maye will be an MVP candidate at some point in his career.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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