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Two Pro Bowl comps for Drake Maye, and one potential red flag

There’s a very real chance that Drake Maye becomes the New England Patriots’ quarterback of the future.

If the Patriots opt to keep the No. 3 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft and use it on a QB, current indications suggest that Maye will be on the board. The Chicago Bears are widely expected to take USC’s Caleb Williams at No. 2 overall, and while there have been reports about the Washington Commanders’ interest in Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, Washington has been most heavily linked to LSU’s Jayden Daniels.

So, unless de facto general manager Eliot Wolf really is enamored with McCarthy, Maye seems like the logical choice at No. 3.

In that case, what kind of QB would New England be getting in the 21-year-old North Carolina product? We’ve already seen Maye compared to NFL signal-callers of varying skill levels, from Josh Allen to Mitchell Trubisky. This week, ESPN’s Bill Connelly added two more interesting comparisons to the mix: Russell Wilson and Jalen Hurts.

Connelly’s criteria for comparing Maye to a pair of Pro Bowlers involved five statistics: a scramble rate of 7 percent or higher, a pressure rate of 25 percent or higher, a completion rate of 60 percent or higher, 11.5 yards per completion or higher and a better QBR against zone coverage than man coverage. Maye, along with Wilson and Hurts, checked all of those boxes.

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Put another way, Maye has a unique ability to use his legs to avoid pressure, as well as a knack for stretching the field while also staying relatively accurate. Maye averaged 13.4 yards per completion in 2023 while completing 63.3 percent of his passes and also rushed for 449 yards and nine touchdowns after racking up 698 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 2022. At 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, Maye is also bigger than both Hurts and Wilson, which bodes well for his ability to be durable at the NFL level.

That’s the good news. But Connelly highlighted one Maye stat that may give NFL scouts pause: Maye was significantly better against zone coverage than man coverage at UNC.

“Among 126 QBR-eligible quarterbacks in 2023, Maye ranked 10th against zone and 105th against man,” Connelly wrote. “That is a unique and, considering he’ll face more man coverage in the pros, not entirely encouraging combination.”

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To Connelly’s point, NFL secondaries featured man coverage on 66.4 percent of dropbacks from 2020 to 2023, per The 33rd Team. Teams that have elite cornerbacks — such as the AFC East’s New York Jets with Sauce Gardner and the Miami Dolphins with Jalen Ramsey — can afford to play more man coverage, and opposing defenses likely will feature plenty of man coverage against a Patriots receiving corps that ranked among the worst in the NFL last season in creating separation.

If the scouting report on Maye is that he struggles against man coverage, that’s undoubtedly what he’d see more of at the NFL level, too.

Maye has plenty of room to grow, obviously. He has the arm talent and the running ability to thrive against man coverage with the proper development. But that stat is a reminder that the 21-year-old does have areas where he can improve, and if the Patriots draft him, there may be some growing pains as he adjusts to playing against elite NFL defenses.