North Carolina QB Drake Maye entering NFL draft

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, one of the top NFL prospects in college football, told ESPN on Monday that he’s forgoing the remainder of his eligibility at UNC to declare for the NFL draft.

Maye, a redshirt sophomore, started all 26 games of his career during the past two seasons at UNC. He told ESPN that he will not play in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against West Virginia. He’ll leave school with a 17-9 record as a starter.

“Just sitting down with my family and the people I trust the most in life, including my coaches,” Maye said. “This is the best decision for me and my future. It was my lifelong dream to play quarterback at North Carolina, and I get a chance to check off another dream and play quarterback in the NFL.”

Maye is a contender to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and his decision to declare sets the stage for a potential monthslong debate for that spot. USC quarterback Caleb Williams has not declared his intentions for 2024 but has also made clear he’s not playing in the postseason.

Over his North Carolina career, Maye threw for 8,018 yards, ranking him fifth on UNC’s all-time passing list. He ranks fourth on UNC’s career touchdown list with 63.

Maye led UNC to the ACC championship game in 2022, as the Tar Heels started the season 9-1 and ascended to as high as No. 13 in the rankings. This season, UNC began the year 6-0 and climbed as high as No. 10.

Some of the sport’s biggest powers expressed interest in Maye after the 2022 season, but he said he never wavered on his commitment to UNC and has no regrets.

“This is the place I always wanted to play quarterback,” Maye told ESPN. “Thinking back over my time in college, I couldn’t imagine playing anywhere else. Last spring, when you heard rumors flying after the season about me transferring somewhere else, it wouldn’t have sat right with me and my family and the legacy I’m trying to leave at Carolina. I wanted to play here at North Carolina, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Maye said he took a philosophy final Monday afternoon, and he’s gradually getting ready for the next phase of his career — preparing for the draft. He plans to show teams what type of player, competitor and person they’d be getting.

“First off, moving on from college and getting back into workout mode and really just learning the steps of preparing the NFL draft,” Maye said of the upcoming weeks. “Not only physically but mentally. Playing quarterback in the NFL is a mental game. I want to show the NFL not only my competitive edge, but that I’m a winner and a leader and I’m ready to take on a franchise.”

The drumbeat of debate between Maye and Williams began long before this college season and could end up extending to draft night. As of now, the Chicago Bears have the top pick via a trade with the Carolina Panthers, who have the league’s worst record. The New England Patriots are slotted No. 2 at 3-10 and have an easier strength of schedule than the Arizona Cardinals, who are also 3-10.

Maye said he’s aware of the perceived competition between him and Williams and is embracing it.

“We’ve never battled with our teams on the field,” Maye said. “The media has put a battle between our playing. He’s a great player and a good friend of mine, but I’m trying to prove that I can be the best quarterback in this draft.”

There’s no consensus yet among NFL teams on who will go No. 1, as whether Chicago trades or holds the pick will be one of the dominant storylines of the upcoming weeks. One NFL executive told ESPN that the final determination might come down to scheme fit.

“It’s going to come down to what team has the No. 1 pick and the style of offense that they play,” the executive said. “Honestly, it depends on the offensive coordinator and the scheme they are running. They are going to go for fit and feel.”

Maye is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds and fits the archetype of the classic NFL quarterback.

“In most drafts, he’d go No. 1,” the executive said. “His skill set reminds me of Eli Manning coming out of college. He’s a pure, smooth pocket passer who has a great release. He’ll fit in an offense based on timing and three-step and five-step drops and throwing the ball to spots, a franchise where ball placement and timing is put at a premium.”

For Maye, the decision to leave UNC resonates more than most. He grew up dreaming of playing for Carolina, much like his dad, Mark, a former UNC quarterback, and his older brother, Luke, who starred on UNC’s basketball team. Maye has lived at UNC with his brother Beau, who is on the Tar Heels’ hoops team. His mother, Aimee, also went to UNC.

Maye noted Monday that he flipped his commitment from Alabama to UNC, an indicator of how badly he wanted to play there. He pointed out his appreciation for coach Mack Brown multiple times and said he also wanted to thank both his family and the UNC fan base for their support.

“The fans mean a lot to me and what they’ve done and the support they’ve given me and my family, it goes a long way,” Maye said.

“The people make the place. Just the people are special in Chapel Hill. It’s the best college town I think there is. Just seeing that Carolina blue every day, it’s one of the best color schemes in the land.”

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