Tom E. Curran

Should Patriots fast-track Drake Maye if he develops faster than expected?

Can Drake Maye play his way into a starting QB job this summer?

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FOXBORO – I like Drake Maye. He won’t shortchange the Patriots on toughness, effort, durability, enthusiasm, fearlessness or arm strength. He also appears to be kind, trustworthy and brave.

Terrific. Nobody cares. He’s not our neighbor. He’s not our cousin. It’s great that him being a dink is unlikely, since that’s sometimes an impediment to NFL success. But all that really matters is how good he’ll be.

That completely depends on how consistent he becomes and how quickly. Through our four sessions watching Maye, there’s been steady improvement in his footwork, smoothness and command.

Still, it feels like it’s gonna to be a while. Even though Maye moved up to No. 2 this week behind Jacoby Brissett, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt pulled the reins on expectations.

“We always talk about earning your reps around here. As he continues to grow and have successful practices and starts stacking those, then we can think about moving him up the depth chart. But it's a process, like I said, and it's a marathon. So we're going to take our time and do it the right way.”

What’s the process for him becoming the starter, as the No. 3 pick inevitably will be?

“I think you have to take that as it comes, really,” said Van Pelt. “I think it'll be a combination of a couple of things. When those decisions are made, it'll be made together as a group with (GM) Eliot (Wolf) and (head coach Jerod Mayo). But when that time comes, we'll see. But there is no timetable on when that time comes.

"Jacoby again is our starter and he's playing excellent football for us in the spring and Drake is coming on. So until that changes, we're going to stick with what we've got."

Alex Van Pelt asked about timeline for potential Drake Maye start and how the decision will be made to move Jacoby Brissett from the starting position.

As expected.

At the NFL owners meeting back in March, the Patriots signaled interest in Maye when Mayo said Maye had “no ceiling." But Mayo also pointed out the prep time Maye would take when he added, “You’ve also got to see how low is the floor. A guy like Drake Maye, he has a lot of room to grow. He’s a young guy. He hasn’t played football nearly as much as these other guys.”

Would the timeline be different if it were Jayden Daniels, Michael Penix Jr. or J.J. McCarthy? Maybe. But the Patriots' comfort with taking a project was apparent all spring. They are willing to play the long game and maximize the return.

Makes sense. The organization just witnessed their 2021 first-round quarterback go from competent to cast-off in a 16-month span between July 2022 and December 2023. Loser franchises repeat that process over and over.

There will be days Maye looks like an All-Pro. There will be days he looks like he’s trying to get benched. All quarterbacks do. Maye has the potential to be an extreme example of it.

Take Tuesday’s OTA practice, for instance. Maye threw two wince-inducing picks in 11-on-11 work. One was on a checkdown inside the 5-yard line on a miscommunication. The other he basically threw over the catcher’s head and into the backstop.

AND YET! He also had a nice dart to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a score where he showed real patience, footwork and precision. On another red zone throw, he worked forward, waited, dropped his arm angle and threw a precise bullet at the goalpost for a score in 7-on-7. He looked like a shortstop coming across the bag.

🔊 Patriots Talk: Drake Maye makes minor leap at choppy Patriots OTAs | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Nothing can matter less than a rookie quarterback’s NUMBERS during OTAs. But there’s a lot to be learned from how he looks from one down to the next: How he gets in and out of the huddle, his command at the line, where his eyes go after the snap, whether his feet stay in sync with his eyes, his internal clock, the fundamentals of his throw, the type of throw he chooses, the accuracy of said throw, whether his receiver is actually open and adept at catching the type of ball thrown.

There are great throws that fall incomplete and ass throws that go for touchdowns. What matters for Maye right now is how it looks.

And in each of the four practices we’ve seen, he’s looked a little better than the previous one.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He’s got a Bledsoevian feel to him. Maye doesn’t have the same arm strength. Bledsoe didn’t have the same speed or elusiveness. Maye is comfortable with a wider range of throws. Neither is/was known for pinpoint accuracy. Both have/had busy feet.

As a leader, Bledsoe was ideal for an awful team. His stoic personality, toughness and eye-popping arm had a calming effect. Even as he was ripping picks all over the place in 1993 (15 interceptions alongside his 15 touchdowns and a 49.9 completion percentage), there were ALL THESE THROWS that left everyone convinced Bledsoe was “can’t miss.”

And he didn’t miss. He didn’t become a Hall of Famer, but he was certainly a top-10 quarterback from 1994-1998.

Thirty years later, Maye’s personality is a lot different. He’s got a goofy, authentic enthusiasm (a different strain than the sometimes forced-feeling goofy enthusiasm of Mac Jones) that seems to go over well with teammates but shouldn’t undercut him being taken seriously. And his physical skill will buy him time even through mental lapses and execution mistakes.

In contrast, Jones didn’t have that luxury. When the poise, accuracy and decision-making stopped showing up, there were no other accessories to fall back on.

So why doesn’t Maye start right out of the chutes like the 21-year-old Bledsoe? Or Jones?

Three major reasons.

First, Jacoby Brissett is currently better than Maye. The guys ahead of Jones and Bledsoe were not.

It was apparent after one training camp practice in 2021 that Jones wasn’t normal. His accuracy and decisiveness were markedly superior to Cam Newton’s. And it went that way throughout camp. Newton wasn’t even bad in camp. Jones was just that much better.

Jones earned it, and the fact Newton was coming off a season where he threw eight touchdowns and 10 picks in 15 games didn’t help. No discredit to Newton. He ran for 12 touchdowns in 2020 and caught a TD pass. But after a free-agent splurge on skill players, the Patriots could play NFL-style offense again and Jones was the better fit.

As for Bledsoe, he turned away the challenges of Tommy Hodson, Scott Zolak and Scott Secules.

“Anybody knows what we’re trying to do,” Bill Parcells said after Bledsoe’s first preseason game when he came in after Hodson and Secules. “We’re trying to give everyone a shot, but we’re trying eventually to get Bledsoe ready to be a quarterback. Maybe that’s not going to be this year, I don’t know. Maybe it is. That’s his first time out there. He’ll go out four times this preseason to do something and we’ll see what it is.”

By the end of preseason, he’d won decisively.

In the past three seasons, Brissett has made 16 starts and played in 30 games for the Dolphins, Browns and Commanders. He’s 6-10 in those starts and has thrown 20 touchdowns and 10 picks.

Is he “fine”? Yes. Is he “good”?  I don’t know. But he’s good enough to start for a 4-13 team that had about a dozen guys pass through its quarterback room last year. Plus, he knows the offense that Van Pelt’s installing. Which brings us to the second reason.

Command. Maye and Van Pelt both talked this week about the strides Maye’s making with his strides. His footwork. It needed work. It’s getting work. It still needs work. But there’s a lot to it based on the play call and timing.

Brissett knows all that stuff because he’s been in this offense. He also knows the play calls and verbiage, which both Maye and Van Pelt said is pretty intricate.

When it comes to getting the play, spitting it out, getting to the line and then adjusting as needed, Maye is at “Je m’appelle Drake” stage and Brissett is doing Ted Talks in French. Which is helpful to the rest of the offense.

Brian Hoyer joined Tom Curran and Phil Perry on a new Patriots Talk podcast to talk about Drake Maye

And that’s the third aspect. Who they were playing with. Who they’re playing for.

Bledsoe had a blossoming tight end (Ben Coates), an All-Pro left tackle (Bruce Armstrong) and a first-round left guard (Eugene Chung). He had a 1,000-yard rusher in Leonard Russell. He didn’t have great skill players, but he did have a competent line. Most importantly, he had a Super Bowl-winning head coach on the sidelines in Parcells.

Bledsoe was actually an anchor in his first nine starts with seven touchdowns and 13 picks while completing 48 percent of his throws. But fans and media in 1993 happily deferred to the Tuna as knowing what was best. And in the Patriots' last four games – all wins – Bledsoe had eight touchdown passes, two picks and completed 53 percent of his throws.

In 2021, Jones had Trent Brown, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Ted Karras and Isaiah Wynn in front of him. He had all the wideouts and tight ends the Patriots splurged on in free agency. He had an OC who had won three Super Bowls since 2014. He had Bill Belichick – who was still cloaked in infallibility – on the sidelines.

The current Patriots had arguably the worst offense in the NFL last year. They suffered because the protection was bad. They suffered because they lacked receivers that defenses were scared of. And they suffered because their starting quarterback, without any physical superpower, needed protection and highly-skilled receivers to maximize his accuracy. Without it, he melted.

Astonishingly, the offensive line may not be better than last year. And we’ll see on the tight ends and receivers. That’s what happens when you opt to take the quarterback rather than trading down and loading up.

Brissett has seen some things. He won’t melt like Mac did and he won’t lack for coaching support either. The Patriots are paying him pretty well to stand in the fire and keep the heat off their rookie.

The Patriots seemingly have no intention of putting Maye in harm’s way. Even though they’ll need Maye to be ready every week if he’s a twisted ankle away from starting, it’s practically a redshirt year for him.

And that’s the way they drew it up.

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