Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels? What film shows about 2 of the draft’s top QB prospects


Caleb Williams is the consensus top quarterback in this draft class, but which signal caller should be selected next after him — North Carolina’s Drake Maye or LSU’s Jayden Daniels? Both prospects possess high-end traits, but there are real concerns about how they will develop on the next level.

Daniels has elite athleticism, regularly slicing up SEC defenders with his legs, and he made substantial strides as a passer, but ultimately, he was still too reliant on his scrambling ability. Maye has flashed exceptional creativity and aggressiveness as a downfield passer while also exhibiting the ability to create outside of structure. However, Maye’s production took a hit this year while his footwork and decision-making got sloppy as the season progressed.

Maye was the consensus No. 2 quarterback before the season, but Daniels has improved his draft stock as much as any 2024 prospect. Has he done enough to close the gap on Maye or even surpass him?

Daniels

A bet on Daniels is a bet that he can continue his rapid progression as a passer. Perhaps no player in the country improved his draft stock as much as Daniels did. He entered the season with no real consideration as a first-round-caliber quarterback, but he’s possibly a top-10 pick after throwing for 40 touchdowns and rushing for another 10 en route to a Heisman Trophy.

Daniels ran for 3,307 yards in his career (2,019 at LSU). At 6-foot-4, his explosion and long speed made him a home run threat every time he took off. He easily ran away from SEC defenders and not only separated vertically, he could make horizontal cuts without losing speed.

This season, he made strides as a passer, remained more patient in the pocket and made a concerted effort to get through his progressions more often, but he still scrambled frequently. Scouts may not like his propensity to run, but Daniels was trying to win games and his legs were a massive weapon. The Tigers finished as the country’s No. 1 scoring offense largely because of his scrambling ability.

Daniels scrambled on 14.1 percent of dropbacks. The Athletic’s Nate Tice noted on his comprehensive scouting report on Daniels that since 2019, his scrambling rate ranks third among 196 qualifying quarterbacks.

On this play against Ole Miss, Daniels first looked to a “sail” concept frontside. Receiver Malik Nabers had a lot of space on a backside dig but Daniels looked to run instead of getting to his next progression. He got decent yardage but had a chance for an explosive play if he stayed in the pocket and threw to Nabers in the second window with anticipation or kept his eyes up as he climbed the pocket.

Tice also noted that Daniels did not utilize the middle fo the field as a passer often. According to Telemetry Sports, Daniels was 23 of 35 for 505 yards, six touchdowns and one interception on throws in between the numbers from 11-20 yards downfield. That represents just 9.3 percent of his total attempts. The previous season, 11.8 percent of his pass attempts were thrown intermediate between the numbers, so this has been a trend.

He was accurate when he threw in the middle of the field. On this play, he again looked to a frontside concept, but this time, he got to the backside dig and hit his receiver in stride for a big play.

Though he didn’t attempt many intermediate passes to the middle of the field, Daniels was much more efficient throwing there last season. He completed 65 percent of his passes and averaged 14 yards per pass, but it helps to have Nabers, one of the nation’s fastest players, creating after the catch. Daniels should get credit for consistently good ball placement, consistently throwing to spots that allowed his receivers to run after the catch.

On this play against Florida, Daniels saw the defense was in man coverage and wanted to take a shot to receiver Brian Thomas Jr. Thomas effectively beat press coverage, took an inside release but quickly got vertical. The safety was tilted to Thomas’ side but after the snap, Daniels saw the safety playing flat-footed and knew he could take a shot.

Daniels has an efficient throwing motion and effectively marries his eyes to his feet as he gets through his progressions. The common comparison is Lamar Jackson and although there are similarities, there are important differences between the two as prospects. They are both supreme athletes with just above-average arms and both have a noticeable calm in the pocket because they know they can take off if things break down. However, Jackson was more advanced as a nuanced passer in college, while Daniels is a better natural thrower than Jackson was. Daniels was one of the most accurate passers in football throwing to all three levels.

Daniels fits more into the Russell Wilson, Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields mold: Quarterbacks who don’t utilize the middle of the field and depend on out-of-structure play to produce consistently.

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Maye

Maye was identified early on as a potential first-round quarterback because of his prototypical size and high-level arm talent. He’s continued to flash the ability to win in and out of the pocket in his two years as a full-time starter. His stats took a hit this season. Like Anthony Richardson last year, you have to grade Maye on a curve because of the talent he played with and the system he played in.

Maye ranked 32nd among qualifying Power 5 passers in Telemetry’s accuracy score, which measures actual completions with expected completions and takes into account factors like dropped passes and batted passes.

What stood out watching Maye was how out of sync his footwork was with his receivers’ routes. Quarterbacks typically want to match their drop with the passing concept. The quarterback should get to the top of his drop as his first read is about to break so he can throw the ball with no hitch or one hitch.

Here, Maye took a quick drop like he was going to throw the ball short but ended up hitching twice while waiting for his receiver to get to his breakpoint before throwing the ball on the third hitch. His intended receiver didn’t create separation on his break and the ball looked to be thrown short on purpose so the defensive back couldn’t make a play. Plays like this showed up far too often in Maye’s film.

Where Maye impressed was throwing deep. His accuracy score on deep passes ranked seventh among qualifying passers. Maye routinely hunted for opportunities and uncorked passes whenever he sensed a crack in the secondary.

The defense was in Cover 4 on this play. Maye saw the split-field safety stop his feet so he knew receiver Devontez Walker had a chance to win on the deep post. Maye put good touch on the deep pass to beat the corner over the top for the touchdown.

Maye’s aggressiveness meant he had to hold onto the ball and invite pressure at times. According to Pro Football Focus, Maye was second to only Williams in the percentage of pressures created by the quarterback (25.9 percent). However, Maye was excellent at evading pressure and subtly drifting and sliding in the pocket to buy time.

On this play against Clemson, the line slid to Maye’s right. The defense overloaded the weak side with one extra rusher. Maye knew the defense was in man-to-man and wanted to go to a mismatch in the slot, however, the route took a while to develop. He knew he had a free rusher coming from his left so he drifted toward the direction the offensive line slid to. He was careful not to drift too far outside his right tackle. He bought just enough time and unleashed a perfect pass off his back foot for a touchdown.

Maye dealt with a lot of pressure and there were times when his footwork got sloppy which led to inaccuracy, but more often than not, he was able to buy time within the pocket for downfield throws.

Though Maye isn’t the athlete that Daniels is, he’s much bigger — he weighed in at 223 pounds at the combine. He can rip through arm tackles but has the speed and elusiveness to create big plays on the ground. Though Maye developed a reputation as a gunslinger, his turnover-worthy play rate was only 1.9 percent, which ranked seventh among qualifying passers.

Conclusion

Daniels’ gaudy statistics and eye-popping athletic ability are tantalizing, but he had the benefit of playing in one of the nation’s most talented offenses. Daniels still has a long way to go when it comes to speeding up his process and consistently attacking the middle of the field. His rare abilities are his athleticism and accuracy, which will give him a substantial floor to work with, but it’ll take time for him to develop the anticipation and timing he’ll need to be a plus passer. Additionally, his arm is just better than average, which makes his margin for error smaller.

Maye attacks the middle of the field with anticipation and aggressively hunts for deep opportunities. Ultimately, Maye’s rare traits are more reminiscent of the passers we’ve seen reach the modern pinnacle of the position. His creativity in the pocket and the way he manipulates defenses is hard to teach and is reminiscent of Josh Allen or C.J. Stroud. He needs to clean up his footwork, but that’s a relatively easy fix compared to other flaws. Maye may need a year to hone in his fundamentals and experiment to understand what he can get away with in the league, but in my opinion, he has the skill set to take off as soon as his second season in the league. After studying both quarterbacks closely, Maye might be closer to challenging Williams than he is to Daniels as a prospect.

(Photo of Drake Maye by Rich von Biberstein / Getty Images and Jayden Daniels by Justin Ford / Getty Images)





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