2024 NFL Draft: Drake Maye Challenged by Clemson’s NFL Talent-Laden Defense

How did UNC QB Drake Maye fare against a Clemson defense packed to the brim with NFL-quality talent? It was an up-and-down day, but his talent is clear.

Drake Maye and the North Carolina Tar Heels took on the Clemson Tigers in Week 12 of the college football season. Maye didn’t will his team to the win, but 2024 NFL Draft evaluators were able to see some of his best traits, as well as some of his areas for improvement.

Drake Maye Has Up-and-Down Day Against Clemson Defense

The Tar Heels lost to the Tigers 31-20. They were down for the entire game past the first quarter, and never quite built their way. Maye completed just 16 of 36 attempts for 209 yards, a touchdown, and a pick, and added 67 yards rushing.

It wasn’t a banner day statistically for Maye, and that was reflected on the field as well. There were exceptional plays — reminders of why he’s one of the favorites to be the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. The most of which was his touchdown pass.

Maye’s TD toss, in particular, was a display of his high-level physical talent. Fading backward from pressure, he was able to generate the necessary torque and velocity to push a throw past deep coverage. It’s the kind of throw only elite arm talent can unlock.

Maye also had high-velocity touch throws that were dropped in several spots — one in particular to Devontez Walker on the boundary, who was tightly covered by Nate Wiggins.

The box score didn’t give credit for those high-quality throws that were dropped, but Maye also earns justified criticism for some of his missed opportunities and poor decisions.

MORE: 2024 NFL Draft Big Board

The Clemson defense, more than once, forced Maye to hold the ball longer than desired with suffocating coverage, and Maye took a few bad sacks as a result. His worst play, however, was the game-sealing interception.

On that play, Maye was a little too slow to align and trigger on the boundary curl for Walker. As a result, he keyed in Wiggins, who broke early on the pass and swooped into front of it for the interception.

To be clear, an up-and-down outing was to be expected. North Carolina simply doesn’t have the talent to counteract Clemson’s defense. Clemson has over a half-dozen draftable prospects on its unit — led by potential first-round talents in Wiggins, Andrew Mukuba, Jeremiah Trotter Jr., and Barrett Carter.

It wasn’t a game that will move Maye’s stock much, up or down. His QB1-worthy talent was on display, and he generally moved well inside the pocket. But there are also still areas to improve — areas that are made more distinct when he’s under pressure and playing against NFL-quality opponents.

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