2024 NFL Draft: Why North Carolina’s Drake Maye is clearly No. 2 QB in class over LSU’s Jayden Daniels


Under 10 days to go until the NFL kicks off the 2024 NFL Draft in Detroit, and one thing is just about certain: USC quarterback Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner who is the only college quarterback during the 21st Century to throw for 30 or more touchdowns and run for 10 or more touchdowns while throwing five or fewer interceptions in multiple seasons, will be the first overall pick by the Chicago Bears. 

Caesars Sportsbook’s odds for Williams being the upcoming draft’s are -10,0000, implying a 99.9% chance he will be the first to shake commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand on April 25. Following Williams going to Chicago, the draft gets interesting with the quarterback-needy Washington Commanders possessing the second overall pick and the quarterback-starved New England Patriots in control of the third overall pick.

LSU’s Jayden Daniels, the 2023 Heisman Trophy winner who set college football’s passing efficiency rating record for a single season (208.0), is favored to go to the Commanders with -275 odds while North Carolina’s Drake Maye, college football’s only player with over 7,000 passing yards (7,929) and over 1,000 rushing yards (1,247) overt the last seasons, has the second-highest odds to be the second player off the board at +200. If you’re an NFL fan who doesn’t watch much or any college football, you may think “well those odds sound about right.”

However, Daniels having a 73.3% chance to go second overall to the Commanders, per Caesars Sportsbook, doesn’t quite add up when taking a closer look at both his and Maye’s resumes. Here is the case for why Maye should be the second quarterback drafted in the 2024 NFL Draft. 

Biographical/collegiate background context

Daniels played five seasons of college football from 2019-2023, the first three at Arizona State and the final two with LSU, so he will will 24 during his rookie season in December. Maye suited up for three seasons at North Carolina and will turn 22 in late August just before the start of the 2024 season. 

The Heisman Trophy winner put up massive numbers during his two seasons as did Maye, but recognizing the offensive ecosystems in which the two passers did so is critical to this evaluation. 

Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye Since 2022

Comp Pct

70.2%

64.9%

Pass Yards

6,725

7,929

Pass Yards/Att

9.4

8.4

Pass TD-INT

57-7

62-16

Passer Efficiency Rating

173.6

153.9

Carries

321

296

Rush Yards

2,019

1,147

Rush TD

21

26

Daniels broke records at LSU like the single-season passer efficiency mark and led the country in total yards (412.2) and total touchdowns per game (4.2) in 2023 throwing to two receivers who will almost certainly be selected in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft: Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. 

Maye threw to two receivers in his time at North Carolina, Josh Downs of the Indianapolis Colts — a third round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft — and Tez Walker — who might be a third round pick in 2024 –, who are worth at least a Day 2 NFL Draft choice. Maye only spent eight games with Walker in 2023 as NCAA litigation caused him to miss the first four games of 2023. The degree of difficulty Maye faced on Saturdays the last two years was much higher than Daniels, who could throw it deep to two of the better receivers in college football the last couple seasons. Maye was forced to carry the load on the ground for the Tar Heels in 2022, leading the team with 698 rushing yards on 184 carries. 

Their offensive line support also varied dramatically since 2022. LSU’s offensive line allowed a quarterback pressure on 25.8% of dropbacks across the last two seasons, the 12th-lowest rate in the nation. On the flip side, North Carolina’s offensive front surrendered pressure on 34.1% of dropbacks in the same span, which ranked 92nd out of 133 FBS teams. 

From a stature perspective, Maye, (6-foot-4, while weighing 223 pounds at 21-years-old) has the edge over Daniels (6-4, while weighing 210 pounds at 23-years-old). Maye possesses the typical size and build NFL teams look for in a quarterback along with a cannon for arm. He was the only quarterback in college football to total over 9,000 yards of offense the last two seasons despite the lesser supporting cast. 

There are some concerns about Daniels’ build. LSU listed Daniels weight in the 180’s during the 2023 season, and while he has bulked up training for the NFL this offseason, it’s unclear if he will maintain the 210 pounds as his playing weight in the league given his slender frame and limited growth potential as he is about to age into his mid-twenties. Even more concerning about the frame is his propensity to take massive, Looney Tunes-level hits as evidenced by the clips below. 

Handling pressure

Speaking of taking hits, one of the key ways to measure a quarterback’s efficiency is how often they go from being pressured to being sacked. What made recent all-time greats like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning great was their refusal to take sacks. That’s something Daniels struggles with: his pressure to sack rate, meaning how often pass rushers breaking through the line turns into sacks, was 26.7% in 2023, ranking eighth in the league’s incoming quarterback class according to SumerSports

Conversely, Maye’s pressure to sack rate from last season was significantly lower at 18.4%, good for the third-best in the incoming quarterback class. One reason for Daniels’ issues is his avoidance of the middle of the field, which is both surprising and alarming. 

Hitting the easy button, aka throwing over the middle of the field

Passing over the middle of the field illustrates a couple things about a quarterback: their ability to process what the defense is doing at a high speed and the ball placement and the touch a quarterback has — aka the ability to throw their targets open and lead them to yards after the catch. 

Daniels attempted throws over the middle on 50.6% of intermediate routes, throws of 10-22 air yards, while at LSU since 2022, which ranks 71st out of 109 qualified quarterbacks in that span. Maye’s rate to attempt such throws was 57%, 30th in the country in that same stretch. The Tar Heels quarterback racked up 149 completions on intermediate throws over the middle since 2022, the second-most in the nation behind only 2023 Heisman Trophy runner-up and Washington Huskies quarterback MIchael Penix Jr.’s 160. Daniels’ 104 such completions since 2022 ranked 23rd in the country. 

It’s peculiar to see Daniels utilize the middle at a noticeably lower clip given his experience (55 collegiate starts) and the aforementioned weapons and offensive line support he had at his disposal with LSU. Being unable to consistently threaten a defense over the middle on intermediate throws as a quarterback allows for defenders to take away the deep shots downfield and throws toward the sideline, which severely limit the spacing required for an offensive to consistently generate positive plays through the air. Daniels was able to get away with operating this way in college because of Nabers and Thomas, but the talent gap on Sundays is on average at smaller than it is on Saturdays. Even more telling on the positive side for Maye that he was able to laser in the second-most completions in the country since 2022 on these throws that are foundational to an offense consistently moving the chains for first downs, even with a lackluster offensive support system. 

Final verdict

Maye possesses the edge on Daniels in age, arm strength, sack avoidance and middle of the field proficiency as an NFL quarterback prospect despite working with less in college. Daniels is tantalizing player to watch and worthy of first-round pick, but his frame, pressure to sack rate and inability to threaten defenses over the middle calls into question how long he may last playing in the NFL. 



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