In the summer of 2019, as Drake Maye began his junior year of high school, he committed to playing quarterback in Alabama, college football’s most celebrity program. But a few months later, in March 2020, Maye changed his mind and chose North Carolina, a decision that seemed odd on the surface.
After all, the Tar Heels had nowhere near the Crimson Tide’s hideout. They came off a season in which they went 7-6 under first-year head coach Mack Brown, and they had only won more than eight games in a season 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 standout basketball player 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, despite not being able to draft until 2024.
How good is Maje? Dane Brugler, a respected NFL draft analyst at The Athletic, Posted this message on Twitter last week: “Hot Take: I think Drake Maye would be QB1 in this class if he was eligible.” That means Maye would be ahead of Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, both of whom be predicted as the top 5 overall winners in the 2023 draft.
Brugler also wrote that Maye “looks like the next Justin Herbert,” referring to the Los Angeles Chargers’ star quarterback. Both are multidimensional players who can throw and run and are prototypical in height: Maye is 6ft 5 and 220lbs, while Herbert is 6ft 6 and 236lbs.
Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst, responded to Brugler’s tweet.
“Agreed,” Orlovsky wrote.
Prior to this season, few, if any, people held Maye in such high esteem. At Myers Park High School in Charlotte, NC, Maye threw for more than 6,700 yards and 86 touchdowns in two years as a starter, and he was the ninth-leading quarterback in the class of 2021, according to the 247Sports Composite.
However, as a freshman at UNC last fall, Maye appeared in just four games, completing 7 of 10 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown and carrying the ball for 62 yards six times. With Sam Howell, a three-year starter who switched to the NFL, Maye took over this year, and he’s shone.
Maye is responsible for first in the nation with 34 touchdown passes with Stroud and first in points with Oregon quarterback Bo Nix (236). He is also third in passing efficiency (178.9) and passing yards (3,412); fifth with a completion percentage of 70.1%; and sixth with 9.45 yards per pass attempt. No other quarterback in the country is in the top 10 in all of these categories.
Maye’s performance didn’t go unnoticed as BetMGM, DraftKings and PointsBet list him as having the third best odds of winning 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 be the first UNC player to win the award and only the third redshirt freshman winner, joining Texas A&M quarterbacks Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Florida State’s Jameis Winston in year 2013 follows.
Maye’s candidacy will depend on how he fares in his final two regular-season games at home against Georgia Tech and North Carolina State and in the Dec. 3 ACC championship game against Clemson in Charlotte.
Since losing 45-32 to Notre Dame on Sept. 24, North Carolina has won six straight games, including four by three points or fewer. The Tar Heels are now 9-1 and having their best start since 2015 when they started 11-1 before losing to Clemson in the ACC title game and to Baylor in a bowl game.
UNC finished 15th in the College Football Playoff rankings last week and should move up in this week’s rankings, which will be released Tuesday night. If the Tar Heels can win their last three games and lose a few teams above them, they could have a shot at getting promoted to the CFP. And for being in that position, Maye deserves a lot of credit.
“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 Saturday. “I can’t imagine him not being in New York (as one of the Heisman finalists).”