Special to Sports News Highlights

(SNH) — Overcoming a slow start during a Top 25 matchup last season, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye dropped back into a clean pocket, shuffled his feet twice and released a downfield pass.

Breaking open, wide receiver Devontez Walker beat Miami Hurricanes cornerback Jaden Davis deep, hauling in a 56-yarder, prancing untouched into the end zone.

Maye’s four TD performance sparked a second-half rally as the No. 12 Tar Heels upended the No. 25 Hurricanes, 41-31, at Kenan Stadium. 

Maye has enticed some NFL scouts to believe the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder is a future franchise signal-caller and a possible top-three pick in Thursday’s NFL Draft in Detroit.

Others are not convinced.

They point to several unforced errors he committed, like the one he made facing a third-and-goal situation from the 5-yard line during the 2022 ACC Championship game against the Clemson Tigers.

Maye took a snap, faked a handoff and scrambled to his left and then right. He overthrew his receiver and Nate Wiggins picked it off on the run, returning it 98 yards a pick-six. Maye struggled in the showcase, tossing two interceptions in the 39-10 defeat. 

Draft insiders expect the Chicago Bears to open the offseason spectacle by selecting USC QB Caleb Williams and the Washington Commanders to select LSU QB Jayden Daniels with the second pick. Next? Opinions remain divided on if Maye will go third overall to the New England Patriots, if they don’t trade down.

Carolina Panthers’ first-year offensive coordinator Brad Idzik has been sold on Maye since experiencing first-hand what the Huntersville, N.C., native can deliver.

“Being a Wake Forest guy, I’ve watched him torch the (Demon) Deacons a couple of times and it hurt on a personal level,” Idzik joked during a Zoom call with members of the media Tuesday.

Is Drake Maye top-3 pick? 

A prototypical QB prospect, Maye comes equipped with size, adequate speed, elite arm strength and accuracy. He has shown the ability to throw a fastball through tight windows over the middle. He can also drop over-the-shoulder dimes outside the hash marks.

The Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants have been linked to trading up to draft Maye. Some scouts are sold on his bloodline. Others believe the lapses are too much to overlook.

Maye’s father, Mark, started at QB for the Tar Heels in the mid-1980s and his brother, Luke, played basketball in Chapel Hill, N.C., and was a key member of the 2017 national championship squad.

To help prepare him for his first NFL training camp, Maye said on “The Adam Schefter Podcast” that he reached out to two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning for advice. He also started workouts with former Chargers and Indianapolis Colts QB Phillip Rivers to “pick his brain.”   

When asked if Maye was a top-3 pick, Idzik, the youngest OC in the NFL, deflected the question. 

“I can’t give away the keys to the castle,” he said. “Drake is a phenomenal player. Top to bottom, there’s some really good quarterbacks in this draft.”

The Panthers drafted Bryce Young No. 1 overall last year and do not own a first-round pick Thursday. Still, “not leaving any stone unturned,” Idzik said he studied Maye during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February. 

“I got to rub shoulders with him in Indy,” Idzik said. “I’m real excited to see where his career goes.”

NFL Draft insiders vary on QB assessments

Idzik isn’t the only curious individual around the Queen City. Myers Park (N.C.) High coach Chris James remains eager to see which NFL team ends up drafting his former starting QB. Maye keeps ties with the Mustangs’ program.

Sitting on a stage at Bank of America Stadium on Feb. 14, James spoke of his pride as a coach. In Maye’s two seasons as a varsity starter, Maye guided Myers Park to a 25-3 combined mark and two state playoff appearances. At UNC, where he elevated a family athletic tradition, Maye finished his college career fourth in program passing TDs (63) and total offensive yards (9,227) and fifth in passing yards (8,018). 

“You’ll never see another Drake Maye walk through our hallways,” James said during a February press conference for the Keep Pounding High School Classic at Bank of America Stadium on Aug. 22. “I don’t think you say enough about Drake. 

“With him having the opportunity to continue his career in the NFL and what he did at North Carolina, it speaks enough for our kids. Some of them know Drake personally and watched him as they grew up.

“Something I tell the kids all the time (is) to use the network. It’s cool to be able to reach out to a guy like that to give back to our current guys.”

Entering the draft, ESPN compared Maye to Los Angeles Charger QB Justin Herbert and rated him as the No. 3 QB in the draft class, behind Williams and Daniels. The Washington Post had Maye No. 2 and Daniels No. 3.

Scouts’ assessments of the 21-year-old Maye remain varied. Some love his arm and potential. Others look cautiously at how Maye’s accuracy decreases with his progressions through second and third reads, but believe his footwork will improve at the next level.

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