Tom E. Curran

Best, worst and most likely scenarios for Drake Maye's rookie season

What will we see from Drake Maye in 2024? Tom E. Curran breaks down a couple potential outcomes.

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Early July. Time for hot dogs, burned-out lawns, fireworks, vacations and fanciful football content. The kind you disown if you’re wrong. The kind you trumpet if you’re right.

“Called it! Did I not call it? I called it in July!”

MANY ARE SAYING the Patriots will be the worst team in the NFL this season.

It’s hard to give that assertion a hearty Lee Corso. Facts is facts. They were 4-13 last year, couldn’t score, had a “meh” free agency session, are dogged by persistent questions on the offensive line, had a potentially pretty good draft that's tethered to a quarterback who needs significant fine-tuning and have a first-year head coach piloting what could be a jarring culture change for the team.

Oodles of questions face the team, and as Jerod Mayo’s predecessor said about 2,000 times in his 24 seasons in charge, “I don’t have a crystal ball.”

The most likely outcome for 2024 can be delivered in four simple words. “Better. Still not good.”

BUT! It could be better than that. And it could be worse. With that in mind, we’ll do a little exercise over the next week looking at key positions and projecting "best-case scenario," "worst-case scenario" and "most likely scenario" in 2024 for each one.

We start with the player whose improvement – or lack thereof – will determine the team’s fortunes for the rest of the decade: Drake Maye.

Best-case scenario

Maye’s improvement from the start of rookie mini-camp in May to his final mini-camp practice a month later was noticeable. The Patriots went all-in on fine-tuning his footwork, timing and accuracy and Maye went from kind-of-robotic to fluid.

He had a number of “wow” throws in early June, showing off his on-the-move accuracy and arm strength. He also showed he’s really, really, REALLY into it in a way that’s goofily and embraceably enthusiastic. He’s happy to be here, happy for the chance and when he says “I’m a sponge” – which they all say – you believe it.

Best case is Maye takes that mini-camp momentum and rolls it into training camp. He shows the day-by-day improvement that Mac Jones did in 2021 and shows resilience and bounce-back when the inevitably ugly plays and days occur.

By the end of camp, he will have been the best quarterback on the field on a few days and the gap between he and presumptive starter Jacoby Brissett will be solely based around on-field leadership. The little things like getting in and out of the huddle, recognizing defenses, changing plays, etc. -- Maye can’t make up that stagger on an eight-year veteran in 20 practices.

So Maye will start the season on the bench, but after impressing in mop-up duty against the Niners and Dolphins, he’ll be on the field by Columbus Day.

He’ll get 10 starts and win nearly half. He’ll end up with a 1.5 to 1 TD/INT ratio (go with 16 and 12), will key a stirring comeback win against Caleb Williams and the Bears on November 10 and have a couple of games where he goes for over 50 yards on the ground as well. Despite taking a pretty good beating behind a still suspect offensive line, Maye shows the same kind of physical toughness he displayed at North Carolina and doesn’t miss a start.

He first develops a reliance on Hunter Henry and Rhamondre Stevenson, then starts to find a spark with DeMario Douglas and Ja’Lynn Polk. Among the rookie quarterbacks taken in the first round, he’s only outshined by Williams. By the end of the season, even though the team’s out of contention, nobody wants the season to end because the arrow is pointing straight up.

Tom Curran and Phil Perry on Arbella Early Edition to share they're takeaways from Day 1 of Patriots minicamp

Worst-case scenario

Reminder, this is how it will look if the worst-case scenario comes to pass. Not a prediction. OK. Off we go.

Drake Maye has a July/August where he is: Jumpy. Inaccurate. Befuddled. Unable to master the mechanics in the huddle or at the line of scrimmage. Discouraged. He exhibits shaky confidence. Runs when he should throw. Throws when he should run. Has the pocket awareness of a birdbath. Is outshined by Joe Milton and not in the same galaxy as Jacoby Brissett.

He is ineffective both in joint practices and in preseason games.

When the season starts, he gets some spot duty in mop-up situations and his mechanics make him look like a giant, smiling used-car windsock. Feet going one way, shoulders going another, ball going to the wrong team.  

He handles the criticism and wailing about him being a blown draft pick poorly, shuffling off blame and moping.

But even when it’s going really badly, there are enough throws, enough plays, enough stretches to make you say, “If he could JUST …” but then it vaporizes. The comp becomes Zach Wilson in terms of peekaboo competency. By the end of the season, Maye still hasn’t gotten a start and – because of the spotty protection and lack of offensive firepower – it seems the team’s no closer on offense than it was in January of 2024.

Which means five seasons into the post-Brady rebuild, the team still isn’t getting better and Maye might not be the answer.

Most likely scenario

Patriots quarterback Drake Maye
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Patriots rookie Drake Maye showed encouraging progress during minicamp.

From the start of training camp until the start of 2025, the Patriots never waver in their message that they got the guy they wanted, the progress is what they expected and they can’t wait for tomorrow because Maye gets better looking every day.

And it’s not gaslighting. Maye pretty much picks up right where he left off when minicamp ends and the semi-throngs who show up to watch training camp come away impressed and believing it’s just a matter of time before Maye’s the starter.

But the day-to-day fine print demonstrates why he isn’t. Maye flattens out when the pads come on and there’s a bunch of red zone work, but when he’s able to operate away from the end zone and run two-minute he tears it up. He alternates between brilliant and boneheaded but doesn’t flog himself when it’s ugly. The extended work he gets in the preseason games is invaluable and by the end of August, he’s got good momentum.

Maye’s cameos in the fourth quarter of blowouts by San Fran and Miami are ugly at first but competent by the end. Those become springboards for a few increased reps at practice through October. With the team scuffling and everyone understanding the future is not now, the noise to let Maye play gets real loud.

Finally, Maye gets his first start against the Colts in Week 13. The team’s playoff hopes are extinguished so a lot of the season becomes about 2025. He plays OK. Then he plays horribly. But the very end of the season winds up reminiscent of 1993 when the light went on for rookie Drew Bledsoe and the Patriots finished with a flourish.

Among fans and media there’s a little buyer’s remorse because it was such an uneven performance overall and Offensive Rookie of the Year J.J. McCarthy was sitting right there for the team at No. 3. But the Patriots never waver.

They got their guy, they say. Just wait ‘till next year.

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