Drake Maye Was His Authentic Self at the Combine—and the NFL Liked It

Drake Maye Was His Authentic Self at the Combine—and the NFL Liked It
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Settling in at his gate at Indianapolis International Airport, the 6′ 4″, 223-pound quarterback with the sweet-tea accent and aw-shucks demeanor is going through his mental Rolodex to explain what it was like growing up with his dad and three brothers.

One of his siblings was the starting power forward for the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team. Another played baseball for the Florida Gators, and both won national titles as collegians. A third brother just finished playing hoops for the Tar Heels. And Drake followed in his dad’s footsteps as a UNC quarterback, three-and-a-half decades after Mark Maye wore the Carolina blues.

So, naturally, there was a certain intensity to day-to-day life growing up at home.

And it was not limited to the house, either.

Drake Maye Was His Authentic Self at the Combine—and the NFL Liked It

The Maye family (from left, Luke, Mark and Drake) has various ties to North Carolina.

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

“We had a rough two-minute drill at the end of practice one time, and my dad was the middle school offensive coordinator,” Maye says from his seat in the terminal. “He was yelling at me to get it right the whole time, not really yelling at any other people. I was like, Man … But looking back on that, I’m really thankful for it because it really taught me what it’s like to grow into this level, and what I needed to do at the higher levels.”

That fire? The youngest of Mark Maye’s four sons inherited it and, with the 2024 NFL scouting combine now complete, the league’s quarterback-hungry teams are well aware of it, too.

You know how strong this year’s class is at the position. The USC Trojans’ Caleb Williams might be the most talented prospect to come out in years. The LSU Tigers’ Heisman winner, Jayden Daniels, has seen his stock rise like a rocket ship the past six months. There’s depth, too, where you could find a competent starter into the middle rounds. But no one helped himself more than Maye, who left an impression with scouts that echoed in the bars and restaurants of Indianapolis.

That impression was, well, the antithesis of what they’d expected. The quarterback teams thought they’d get—with that voice and laid-back gait—instead brought the juice, coming across as competitive and fiery. After someone told me Maye is more Philip Rivers than Eli Manning or Daniel Jones, a mutual friend of both Rivers and Jones gave me a direct response.

“He is Philip,” the person says. Later, Jim Denton, agent to both, just smiled at the comp. And in prompting it—and showing exactly who he is—Maye accomplished what he wanted to.

“That was my goal,” he says. “My play style is kind of cool, calm and collected. I wanted to let people hear me. … Even in the interviews, they mentioned, Hey, you seem like you’re in the zone before the game. You don’t really say much. Getting to see that side of me, in the locker room, me in meetings and me at practice, it was really what I wanted to accomplish. So hearing that really makes me feel good.”

It made teams feel pretty good, too.

The 2024 combine is in the books, and that leaves a lot for me to dig through as we start a busy March. So over in the takeaways, you’ll find …

• A dive into where the Bears stand at quarterback.

• More on proposed rules changes to the kickoff and trade deadline.

• A look at a big weekend for the draft’s quarterbacks and receivers.

• The identity of the big domino in the veteran QB market.

But we’re starting with Maye, and how he turned heads without even taking a single rep with the on-field drills in Indianapolis.

Maye looks like a player who came out of a quarterbacking lab. Despite what you might think, he didn’t grow up in one.

Though his dad did play the position at a high level, he never limited his sons to a single sport or a specific position. Instead, the Maye boys—Luke, Cole, Beau and Drake—played pretty much everything. Similar to Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen, Maye was a multi-sport athlete.

He credits baseball for helping him learn how to throw from different arm angles and platforms. Basketball, he says, was huge for his ability to anticipate throws since he was a big guard, and had to see the floor. All sports helped fuel his competitiveness.

Ken Ruinard/USA TODAY Sports

“In basketball,” he says, laughing, “there’s nothing like going out there and hitting a three in someone’s face.”

Others have stories—recent ones, too—on Maye that line right up with all of this.

There was the day at the Senior Bowl when his agents, Patrick Collins and Ed Berry, came by the QB Country facility in Mobile, Ala., where Maye was training with the Oregon Ducks’ Bo Nix and the South Alabama Jaguars’ Carter Bradley. Done with their work for the day, Maye wanted to play basketball. So he asked the agents to go find a ball, and he’d see if he could get a court at a local church. Collins spent maybe $100 on a ball at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

The trio started by playing 21. Maye won the first game, and Berry won the second. “Ed hit a lucky shot,” Maye says. Then, Maye proposed a three-point shootout and “blew them out of the water.”

There was another story about Maye’s time in Mobile, Ala., this time from the golf course.

Admittedly a little uncomfortable with his drive, the quarterback started a round at the Country Club of Mobile hitting 4-irons off the tee with fellow Tar Heel Sam Howell and Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy. But when the group got to the eighth hole, Maye saw an opportunity to take the driver out of his bag—and he drove the green on the par-4. Nagy, who knows the course, was stunned.

“Yeah, it was a short par-4, probably like 315 or 320,” Maye says. “I don’t really hit my driver. I’m a big iron-off-the-tee guy, but I rip it out every now and then. I got ahold of that one.”

Then there was the intramural basketball championship he won at North Carolina with a bunch of his football teammates. Maye confirmed that it is, in fact, one of his favorite accomplishments from his time in Chapel Hill, even as a decorated varsity athlete.

“Yeah, I’m real proud of that,” he says. “Shoot, those fraternity guys wanted to beat us so bad. It was fun.”

There were smaller moments, too, like the time when he, Rivers, Nix and Bradley staged an impromptu competition throwing 10-yard outs on Rivers’s lawn (Philip won that one). Or when conversation turned to pickleball, and Maye said to the guy he was with, “Oh, you play pickleball? You want to play right now? I have the paddles in the car.”

“They didn’t ask me. They snuck on the country club pickleball court,” said David Morris, Maye’s throwing coach at QB Country. “Seeing him and Bo go at it every day was really neat.”

But over the weekend, Maye made the business decision, like Williams and Daniels did, to not take part in the combine’s on-field throwing session.

Nonetheless, Maye was “itching” to get out there after watching other quarterbacks throw, and Morris explained later that Maye did find another way to get after it. Inside the Indiana Convention Center, Nobull (the combine’s presenting sponsor) had a turf area for prospects to warm up. Morris and Maye figured out the times when no one would be on that small field, and then wound up throwing every day over there.

There’s a blessing and a curse to Rivers’s style of competitor—with the latter manifesting in how the losses, mistakes and missteps haunt that type of athlete.

It’s those things that stick with Maye, and it’s also part of why he’s kept getting better.

“The biggest thing with three older brothers, they were always ahead of the curve,” Maye says. “I had to catch up and put in the extra work to get toward them. I’m one of those personalities that once I find something that I need to improve on, I’m harping on it until I see the results that end up coming true and feeling like that work’s paid off. I’ve got that personality where if I find out I need to improve in an area, I’m going to grind that area and just be honest with myself. That’s the biggest thing.”

And that brutal honesty, the kind his dad gave him, spilled into Maye’s meeting with teams. He told them what he’d do differently, how he’d learned, where his next steps would come, and why his recent experience informed all of it.

Maye’s second year as starter didn’t go as smoothly as his first. The Heels lost their top two receivers to the draft, the line didn’t come around, and OC Phil Longo left for Wisconsin.

What could’ve been the tipping point was the situation with Devontez Walker, in which the NCAA originally ruled him ineligible as a two-time transfer. Walker and Maye actually played basketball against each other going back to their freshman year in high school, and the receiver parlayed two spectacular years at Kent State into a scholarship back home at UNC—where he’d help replace the production of Josh Downs and Antoine Green.

Maye and Walker had gotten closer in the runup to the season. Usually, it’s the quarterback that has to get his receivers out to throw. But in this case, Maye says, “He was the one texting me, Hey Drake, let’s go throw. We had such a good thing going into fall camp.” The loss of the No. 1 receiver was crushing for the team. It was even more so for Walker. Someone needed to step up for the group, and it was Maye who did.

“I remember moments where he was sitting down crying to me in the locker room, with the NCAA really messing him up and messing that whole deal up,” Maye says. “Dealing with that, I’m like, Hey, going into my next chapter of life, you never know what’s someone is going through. Because he really kept it quiet throughout the whole time. Stuff hit the fan, and I had to find that extra drive to make him feel comfortable and take care of him, but at the same time, I’ve got a job to do on those Saturdays when he’s not playing. …

“I grew up with [Walker] and had to deal with the emotional aspect, then flipping the script and going to lead a group of men in that practice that same morning. It’s handling different weights on your shoulders as the guy at the program and now a guy going to a franchise.”

It’d test the fight and competitiveness Maye was known for, in a situation that looked like a lost cause.

So Maye asked more of his offensive teammates, and it worked.

The Heels started 4–0. The NCAA reversed its position in early October, and Walker was reinstated. The receiver fulfilled much of the potential he’d flashed in the offseason, catching 41 passes for 699 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games before declaring for the draft. Of course, the year didn’t end the way anyone in the program wanted, with a 2–5 finish after a 6–0 start.

Walker and Maye both entered this April’s draft.

Nell Redmond/USA TODAY Sports

But the lessons Maye took from leading his team through that, as The Quarterback, would go with him. And so, too, will little regrets that’ll help him chart his future.

“That time when you face adversity, and you face adversity numerous different times throughout the year, just learn from it,” Maye says. “Learn from your mistakes. Learn in different situations. It was really different situations as a leader for me on that team, coming from my first year, just trying to earn people’s respect as a player, to being a leader for those guys. I do think back on times where I got the offense together and tried to get them ready to go.

“But looking back on it, I wish I would have got the whole team. I feel like the impact I had as a guy in that locker room for the entire team would have paid off for us, would have paid off for me, paid more dividends than me getting the offense together. Some of those things, I regret. And those are things I’m taking to my next step and my next chapter in life.”

That next chapter is now here.

Familiar faces helped Maye execute his plan in Indianapolis. His first meeting was with the Atlanta Falcons. Quarterbacks coach T.J. Yates, an old Tar Heel quarterback, was there waiting for him. With Yates asking the questions, Maye easily and naturally loosened up and, as he intended to, showed the Falcons exactly who he is.

Same went for Maye’s meeting with the Minnesota Vikings. Their quarterbacks coach, Josh McCown, was in the room; McCown’s son Owen, now a quarterback at UTSA, backed up Maye at Myers Park High in Charlotte for two years, and McCown himself helped coach the team. Which meant, of course, the two had stories they could tell for coach Kevin O’Connell and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah that would explain who Maye is.

Maye had one in particular for the occasion.

“We were playing two-on-two vs. Josh and one of the other coaches,” Maye says. “It was one of those things where it was game point. I hit the game winner. I said, and-one after shooting it, and it went in. The old heads play where if you call and-one or a foul, it doesn’t count. They ended up taking the ball back, and they ended up winning the game.”

As it turned out, the other people in the room agreed with Maye’s viewpoint on it.

“Those guys were laughing and calling it b.s.,” Maye says. “Me and his son were giving him buckets.”

This type of competitiveness was something a lot of people wouldn’t expect from Maye. It’s also something, in time, we all learned about Rivers.

And so it was just about perfect that Rivers wound up being in position to help Maye (and Nix and Bradley, too) train for the draft over the past couple of months since he essentially lives down the street from Morris’s facility in Alabama. Maye relishes the opportunities he gets to meet his quarterbacking idols: He got the chance to meet Josh Allen last year at Peyton Manning’s party at The Masters, plus had dinner at the Super Bowl with him, and has come to admire how Allen handles adversity in his role as the franchise quarterback.

With Rivers, specifically, though, Maye did make the connection that so many others have. In fact, his approach to the combine was, in part, taken from what he loves about Rivers.

“I think it’s just being authentic,” Maye says. “The biggest thing with Philip, he’s authentic, everywhere he goes, in every step of his life.”

So, over the past week, Maye’s made every effort to do the same.

And, clearly, in Indianapolis, the NFL liked what it saw.



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