Unspoken truths about Drake Maye pours cold water on the hot takes 

May 11, 2024; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Drake Maye (10) arrives for practice at the New England Patriots rookie camp at Gillette Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
May 11, 2024; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Drake Maye (10) arrives for practice at the New England Patriots rookie camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports / Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

What do International Dinosaur Day and NFL silly season have in common? Well, they’re both annual events. Dino Day is on the 1st of June every year; unfortunately, silly season lasts much longer. The Patriots' silly season has already been interminable, and, unlike the dinosaurs, it has no basis in science.

Keeping rookie quarterbacks out of the spotlight should be a no-brainer for any team, not so much in New England, where the Drake Maye hype is already snowballing. The noises coming out of Patriots practice sessions from reporters would have you believe Maye is the second coming of Patrick Mahomes. Not rookie Patrick Mahomes either, but the version who has won three of the last five Super Bowls.

That seems wildly optimistic. 

Looking great and throwing perfect spirals in unopposed practice situations is simply marvelous, the Patriots aren’t paying him $36 million to throw darts under absolutely no pressure. Maye is in New England because they think he can win games.

While it is impossible to create hype about his performances in games until those games start, the practice hyperbole is entirely overblown. Especially once you know how inconsequential practice is. 

Even disregarding who is performing it, practice just isn’t that important. Numerous studies into how practice affects performance agree. 

The unspoken truth about Drake Maye that pours cold water on the hot takes 

In 2016, Perspectives on Psychological Science published a meta-analysis examining data from 33 studies focused on the relationship between practice and athletic achievement.  

Researcher Brooke McNamara and her team concluded, “Most important, deliberate practice accounted for only 1% of the variance among elite-level performers”. 

Even before that, in November 2014, Scientific American published an article entitled “Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect.” It refers to the work of McNamara and others, including Malcolm Gladwell, the originator of the controversial “10,000 hours” theory. That report outlined how psychologists aren't sure what factors impact performance, but they suggest that natural talent and intelligence are more important than practice. 

But, as Yogi Berra correctly pointed out, “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice – in practice, there is.” That’s especially true in a sporting context, where many uncontrollable variables influence performance. However, the relevant part remains in this particular case - how Maye looks in practice is only 1% of the picture. Uncontested practice only serves to make the impact even more inconsequential. 

If those psychologists are right about the more important factors, then Maye’s vital attributes are his athletic intelligence and natural talent.  

Athletic intelligence is the ability to combine physical attributes with cognitive ability to perform in a sporting environment. Good coaches can improve an athlete’s cognitive ability, but the athlete must have a certain level of ability to begin with.

Natural talent, on the other hand, is more of a gift that gets plenty of athletes to the professional level. But without the ability to apply the required level of athletic intelligence, they hit a wall before they reach an elite level of performance.

Maye’s natural talent allowed him to win games in college, 18 of 28 games, to be precise. By comparison (although it is somewhat of a false equivalency as they all played in different conferences), this year’s first overall pick, Caleb Williams, won 18 of his last 26 games, and Josh Allen, who Maye idolizes, 16 of 27. But does Maye have the athletic intelligence to become the new Patrick Mahomes?

Some reporters who have seen him throw a no-look pass want you to think so.

Those hot takes are all well and good, and who knows, maybe Maye even looks like Mahomes in a practice setting. But how he has looked in a controlled environment during minicamp can’t be allowed to override how he looked in 28 college games. 

Looking back on Maye's time at North Carolina tells us a lot about his game

How did he look in college? Well, you can’t talk about Maye without mentioning his big arm. But he’s 6-foot-5, so most of Maye falls squarely into the “big” category. Essentially, Maye is the same size as Will Levis (we can only hope Maye knows how to peel a banana, though). But Levis's physical attributes only got him drafted with the 33rd pick in his draft class. 

Outstanding physical attributes as a quarterback are a double-edged sword, as Levis and Anthony Richardson demonstrated last year. While they both showed promise on the field, they only started 13 games between them because they took too much punishment. 

Levis and Richardson suffered injuries during their rookie seasons as they failed to adapt to their new surroundings. Being a big kid in college is enough to beat most defenders, but there are some extremely large humans in the NFL, and many of them play defense.

Even if you expect increased physicality, as Richardson can attest, nothing can prepare your shoulders for being tackled by Harold Landry III. It's essential to learn from others' mistakes, and an abundance of caution is sufficient reason for the Patriots to minimize Maye’s appearances this year. 

Maye might be the perfect quarterback physically, but what about his technique? Everyone knows Bill Belichick believes there are some problems with Maye’s footwork, but that’s not the only red flag. 

Maye’s footwork does look more like a javelin thrower than a quarterback when he's winding up to unleash his trademark deep passes. But it seems unlikely the Patriots will be throwing many downfield bombs this year, so that’s a minor detail at this stage.

His most confounding trait appears when he's under pressure from pass rushers. Maye scored 16 rushing touchdowns but averaged just 4 yards per carry. So he's a mobile quarterback but a reluctant one. He doesn’t confidently step up to avoid edge rushers.

Instead, he prefers to buy time like Kyler Murray. Maybe it is a part of his decision-making process, or maybe his coaches were pragmatically trying to protect him. But it's something he will need to alter if he is to succeed in the NFL. He might even have to tuck the ball and run when receivers are covered. 

The rest of Maye’s game tape is as disconcerting as no-look passes are impressive. While he does have some eye-catching highlights, Devontez Walker’s catches were often just as remarkable as Maye’s throws in 2023.  

The Charlotte native only threw 16 interceptions in college, but nine of them came in 2023. Maye also threw 92 fewer passes in his sophomore season. That's probably more of a statistical anomaly than a trend, though. It’s the variety of the interceptions that is the real red flag. Some came when he didn't see a defender undercutting a route, some came when he broke the pocket, and some came when players were falling at his feet. There's a lot to work on there.

The root of all Maye's issues revolves around how he reacts to uncontrollable variables. When his first two reads are covered, things get off track quickly. Maye is more methodical than instinctual, and that can be a positive. It should help him learn the playbook and make him teachable (provided the coaches understand his method). But it doesn’t facilitate quick decisions like a more holistic decision-making process would.  

When Maye is presented with an unexpected picture, it adds more steps to his method, consequently adding more time to his decision-making. If even more uncontrollable variables are added to the mix and he has to react, then he becomes even more discombobulated. When receivers are covered, he has to first overcome that obstacle before he can begin the next stage of his decision-making process.  

If the pocket begins to break down, too, then one obstacle becomes an obstacle course, and Maye can become bewildered. Adjusting to the speed of NFL defenses is an issue every rookie quarterback has to overcome, and Maye's methodical approach will only accentuate that process.

Subsequently, Maye’s teammates will need to be almost perfect to put him in a position to succeed. Nobody could claim that the Patriots' pass protection was perfect in 2023, not with a straight face. Failing to add a left tackle seems an even bigger oversight now. 

Because of the further uncontrollable variables involved, Maye sometimes struggled with option plays at UNC (which is a bit weird for a college quarterback). Interacting with his running back while watching the defense counts as multi-tasking, and when a receiver goes in motion? Forget about it. Faking the handoff and keeping track of the receiver just added extra stages to his method.  

It’s unlikely Alex Van Pelt will be drawing up many option plays for his 2024 Patriots offense, but Maye will have to run play-action pass plays to slow down NFL defenses. He will also have to learn that a receiver going in motion is supposed to affect the defense more than the quarterback. 

It’s unrealistic to expect a 21-year-old to arrive at minicamp as the finished article, and the Patriots were prepared for that. After all, they have hired three coaches who can all work with the quarterbacks this season. But until Maye can process quicker he shouldn’t be drawing comparisons to Patrick Mahomes, or even on the field

The Patriots' top brass essentially got caught up in the Mac Jones furor and took a flyer on the least Mac Jones quarterback they could find in the first round (and the sixth round, too). There's no denying Maye fills the uniform out nicely, but the unspoken truth is he can't process information fast enough to succeed in the NFL.

As much as the media wants to manifest the next Tom Brady based entirely on throws made on the practice field, it will take a while before he lights up NFL defenses. There's no guarantee he ever will.

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