During the summer of 2019, entering his junior year in high school, Drake Maye committed to play quarterback at Alabama, the most storied program in college football. But a few months later, in March 2020, Maye changed his mind and committed to North Carolina, a decision that on the surface seemed odd.
After all, the Tar Heels had nowhere near the cache of the Crimson Tide. They were coming off a season in which they went 7-6 under first-year head coach Mack Brown, and they had won more than eight games in a season just once since 1997.
Still, Maye had strong ties to the school: his father, Mark, was a quarterback at UNC in the 1980s and his brother, Luke, was a basketball standout with the Tar Heels and was a member of their 2017 national title team.
Now, Drake Maye has emerged as the best athlete in his family and arguably the best quarterback prospect in college football even though he’s not even eligible to be drafted until 2024.
How good is Maye? Dane Brugler, a respected NFL draft analyst with The Athletic, posted this message on Twitter last week: “Hot take: I think Drake Maye would be QB1 in this class if eligible.” That means Maye would be slotted above Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, both of whom are projected as top five overall picks in the 2023 draft.
Brugler also wrote that Maye “looks like the next Justin Herbert,” referencing the Los Angeles Chargers’ star quarterback. Both are multi-dimensional players who can throw and run and have prototypical size: Maye is 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, while Herbert is 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds.
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Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst, replied to Brugler’s Tweet.
“Agree,” Orlovsky wrote.
Before this season, few, if any, people held Maye in such high regard. At Myers Park High School in Charlotte, N.C., Maye threw for more than 6,700 yards and 86 touchdowns in two years as a starter, and he was the 9th highest ranked quarterback in the Class of 2021, according to the 247Sports Composite.
Still, as a freshman at UNC last fall, Maye appeared in only four games, completing 7 of 10 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown and carrying the ball six times for 62 yards. With Sam Howell, a three-year starter, off to the NFL, Maye took over this year, and he’s shined.
Maye is tied with Stroud for first in the nation with 34 touchdown passes and tied with Oregon quarterback Bo Nix for first in points responsible for (236). He is also third in passing efficiency (178.9) and passing yards (3,412); fifth with a 70.1% completion percentage; and sixth with 9.45 yards per pass attempt. No other quarterback in the country is in the top 10 in all of those categories.
Maye’s performance has not gone unnoticed, as BetMGM, DraftKings and PointsBet list him as having the third-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy, according to data compiled by RotoWire. Stroud is the favorite, followed by Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker.
If Maye wins the Heisman, he would become the first UNC player to win the award and just the third redshirt freshman winner, joining quarterbacks Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M in 2012 and Jameis Winston of Florida State in 2013.
Maye’s candidacy will depend upon how he performs in the final two regular season games at home against Georgia Tech and North Carolina State and the ACC Championship game on Dec. 3 against Clemson in Charlotte.
Since losing, 45-32, to Notre Dame on Sept. 24, North Carolina has won six consecutive games, including four by three points or fewer. The Tar Heels are now 9-1 and off to their best start since 2015 when they started 11-1 before losing to Clemson in the ACC title game and Baylor in a bowl game.
UNC was ranked 15th in the College Football Playoff rankings last week and should move up in this week’s rankings, which will be released on Tuesday night. If the Tar Heels can win their final three games, and a few teams above them lose, they could have a shot at advancing to the CFP. And to be in that position, much of the credit goes to Maye.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” UNC coach Mack Brown told reporters after the Tar Heels defeated Wake Forest, 36-34, on the road on Saturday. “I can’t imagine him not being in New York (as one of the Heisman finalists).”