NC State North Carolina Football

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye brings an interesting combination of skills that could make him the ideal pick for New England, which chooses No. 3 overall in the NFL Draft. Chris Seward/Associated Press

On Thursday night, when the Patriots are on the clock, there should be no hesitation. The team knows its biggest need on this roster. The people running the show also understand to get out of the gutter, they need a franchise quarterback.

When diving through what the team brass has said about their ideal prospect, it’s clear that the best fit in this draft is North Carolina’s Drake Maye.

Over the last three months, we’ve heard from de facto general manager Eliot Wolf, Coach Jerod Mayo, and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. All three identified three traits that they desire when it comes to the quarterback position.

The first is leadership. “First of all, being someone that can elevate his teammates. Someone that your teammates want to play for,” Wolf said. “I think that’s an extremely underrated thing that people don’t talk about that much. Leadership is important and obviously physical talent. We wouldn’t be talking about these guys if they weren’t physically talented.”

The second is toughness. “One of the things that often gets lost is just competitiveness and toughness,” Mayo said. “You see some of the top quarterbacks in the league, those guys get smacked and get right back up – the offensive linemen help them up. I think that is very important when you’re scouting this position. The competitor, like Tom (Brady), the toughness. You see guys like Joe Burrow get smacked and gets right back up, it’s pretty impressive.

“It also sends that subliminal message to the rest of the team – I’m here with you. I’m going to get hit. I’m going to get back up and we just have to continue to go as we go forward.”


The third trait is smarts. “Smart, tough, and a leader,” Van Pelt said. “Put him in those categories – obviously there’s accuracy in the pass game, mobility, and decision-making. There’s a lot that goes into it. At the end of the day, that role is such an important role, not just the offense but the team as well. So, a guy that is a true leader, that will come in and really understands his teammates and gets the best out of those guys.

“… A big piece for me is the leadership, the toughness, the accuracy, and the decision-making. You can switch them either way but all four are super important.”

After listening to Wolf, Mayo, and Van Pelt, it’s clear that Maye fits all three of those categories. If Washington drafts Jayden Daniels, the Patriots should immediately pounce and draft Maye on Thursday night.

Here’s how this quarterback fits into all three categories.

Trait No. 1: Leadership

Maye earned captain status over the past two seasons at North Carolina. He developed into a leader through his competitiveness.


Last summer, ESPN ‘All Access’ captured Maye trash-talking with teammate and linebacker Cedric Gray. The quarterback was discussing how he was going to run out of the pocket and run over his defense in practice. When Gray reminded him that the defensive players couldn’t hit him, Maye retorted that he wished that defensive players could when he scrambled.

“Once I scramble, I think you should be able to,” Maye said. “No one’s going to be able to rock me anyway.”

Maye has the ability to connect with his teammates. His competitiveness makes others want to follow him. At 6-foot-4, 223 pounds, Maye has drawn comparisons to Bills quarterback Josh Allen when it comes to how hard it is to bring him down. This 21-year-old has a rocket arm, but his teammates at North Carolina routinely praised him for his leadership ability.

“Drake’s a competitor,” Gray said. “That’s the biggest thing I like about Drake. I don’t think he’s scared of anything. He’s a very confident guy, great leader and he just balls.”

“He’s a commander. Guys respect him,” added North Carolina center Corey Gaynor. “Not only because of his work ethic but because he’s a great dude and people follow great dudes.”

At the NFL Combine, Gray explained how he and Maye grew up together and played on the same 7-on-7 teams and against each other in high school. At North Carolina, Gray said he noticed that Maye would pick on him on certain plays in practice. The quarterback then went out of his way to explain what he was seeing and how Gray could improve in coverage.


“He was kind of throwing some back-shoulder passes to some tight ends versus me during practice,” Gray said. “And I was like, ‘What’s making you always throw that back-shoulder (pass) against me?’ For him to kind of give me insight of why he’s doing that, and to make me a better football player, as a linebacker in coverage, I think that was amazing. It just shows his true leadership.”

Quarterback guru George Whitfield worked with Maye when he was a high school student. He said last month that Maye was a ‘Jedi’ when it came to leadership.

“That’s where guys are on the bus, pulling into the road team stadium, and you look around and think: ‘Hey, No. 10 is on the bus. We’re good.’ As long as he’s on the bus with us, we have a chance to win,’” Whitfield said “… Drake has that kind of pull.”

Trait No. 2: Toughness

Last September, UNC was rolling against Pittsburgh, but Maye took several big hits from the defense. One of those shots was so big that it drew a roughing the passer penalty and North Carolina Coach Mack Brown opted to take his quarterback out of the game.

One of those biggest hits came in the second quarter when Maye hit John Copenhaver for a 40-yard gain. The quarterback wanted to stay in the game but was forced to come out because the team trainer ran on the field. After one snap, Maye returned and four plays later, ran into the end zone on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line.


“Some quarterbacks, they could have stayed out the rest of the game,” UNC wide receiver J.J. Jones said via 247Sports. “But how hard he competes and how tough he is as a player, he wanted to come back out there and play the rest of the game. So I’m always proud to be a teammate of Drake.”

After that game, Maye admitted that he “got hammered” on the hit. That was a common trend at North Carolina as the Tar Heels struggled with pass protection. It was also typical to see Maye bounce back up and refuse to take plays off.

“The way he runs the ball, he doesn’t slide,” defensive back Alijah Huzzie said. “You see most quarterbacks slide, but he’s diving, getting extra yards, fighting for extra yards and just showing straight, resilient toughness out there.”

Last season, UNC’s coach, Brown, discussed Maye’s toughness and revealed that his quarterback not only refused to miss in-game snaps, but practice reps. Brown had no issue letting his quarterback rest during the week to recuperate – especially after he wasn’t 100% in November last fall.

The problem was that Maye refused.

“We never thought he wouldn’t play, but he had trouble pushing off it and throwing. There’s no way he’s not going to play. He’s just that tough. With all this we’re talking about with him, he is as tough as nails,” Brown said. He gives you the ‘awe shucks,’ but he will fight you and he will compete. And there is no ‘awe shucks’ in the huddle.


“He is really tough. He is kind of tall and lanky, but he’s not going to let something that is hurting keep him from practicing or playing. He never missed a snap and probably should’ve some. He wouldn’t get out. Even when I said, ‘Why don’t you take a day off? ‘I’m not doing that. I’ve got things I need to fix.’ That’s how tough he is.”

Trait 3: Smarts

The Patriots want a quarterback with a high IQ, who’s also a good decision-maker.

At North Carolina, Maye showed the ability to deliver jaw-dropping throws but struggled with decision-making at times. His completion percentage dropped from 66.2 in 2022 to 63.3 last season.

Part of Maye’s drop in numbers was due to several factors. North Carolina’s offensive line wasn’t good, and the pass catchers were worse. There was also a change in the offense as UNC lost offensive coordinator Phil Longo and hired Chip Lindsey last year.

When it comes to smarts, however, Maye routinely stuck out. Maye twice earned All-ACC Academic Team honors for having a grade point average of over 3.0.


Last spring, after meeting Maye for the first time, Lindsey said the biggest surprise was how smart the quarterback was and how much work he put into the offense.

“I think the thing that probably I didn’t know before is he’s really intelligent. He’s really smart. Football smart. His football IQ is really high,” Lindsey said. “I mean, he does well in school. He’s got a great GPA and all that, but he understands every aspect of the offense. From offensive line play, to who should be working to who in zone schemes, to who we’re working to in pass sets. In pass protections, he’s able to change the protection. That’s something that he’s taken to really quickly, and they did some of that before too. But I think that would be the thing, I mean not knowing him from the outside, you see the talent.

“You see the physical skills. That hadn’t surprised me a bit. But getting here and realizing he’s a football junkie. He understands football. He loves it, and very, very intelligent player.”

Conclusion: Maye is the best fit

This is out of the Patriots control.

If Washington drafts Maye, the Patriots will turn to either LSU’s Jayden Daniels or Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy. This isn’t to say that Daniels or McCarthy don’t possess leadership, toughness, or smarts. Daniels certainly does and showed time and time again he was one of the toughest players in the nation in 2023.


For the Patriots, and the type of prospect they desire, it seems like Maye is the better fit. Maye also fits into what Ben McAdoo, Patriots senior offensive assistant, historically covets as well. In the summer of 2018, he said he preferred Josh Allen over every quarterback (Baker Mayfield went No. 1) in that draft. His reason? “High ceiling.”

Four years later, while working in Carolina, McAdoo explained he preferred higher upside prospects over those with more experience.

“I’m a big swing-for-the-fences kind of guy, so just because you’re ready doesn’t mean you’re going to be the best,” McAdoo said. “… At the end of the day, you have to pick a player that you’re going to be happy with at that position hopefully for the next decade. Readiness plays a part but is not everything.”

Daniels, 23, is more experienced and polished. If the Patriots draft him, he might start immediately. He’d also weaponize the offense instantly. Maye, 21, might have to sit for a season for the coaching staff to work on his mechanical issues.

However, reading what McAdoo prefers, it seems obvious that Maye fits the mold of a higher-upside quarterback prospect. After hearing what Wolf, Mayo, and Van Pelt covet, this quarterback from North Carolina seems like an obvious fit for the Patriots.

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