Caleb Williams is probably essentially the most electrifying participant in all of school soccer. The USC quarterback is coming off a Heisman Trophy season, and has already delivered his first dynamic second of the 2023 faculty soccer season with this unimaginable play in opposition to San Jose State every week in the past.
However will he be the primary quarterback taken within the 2024 NFL Draft?
For some time that appeared like a positive factor, however draft veterans keep in mind the times of “Sam Howell QB1, “Spencer Rattler QB1,” and different way-too-early prognostications that failed to return true.
Certain, Williams seems to be each bit the a part of a future star within the NFL, however issues change, and different quarterbacks might need one thing to say about that dialog.
Like Drake Maye.
Whereas Williams was lighting up scoreboards out West final season, Maye was doing the identical on the East Coast. In his first 12 months because the beginning quarterback at UNC, Maye related on 66.2 % of his passes for 4,321 yards and 38 touchdowns, in opposition to simply seven interceptions. Past the manufacturing had been the traits Maye displayed a season in the past. As increasingly more NFL draft evaluators began to dig into his movie over the summer time, momentum started to construct round Maye — not Williams — being QB1 heading into 2023.
Simply what’s it that has individuals excited concerning the UNC passer?
Totally different evaluators have completely different approaches in the case of learning gamers, and quarterbacks specifically. From my vantage level, it’s critically essential to look at not simply the nice video games, however the unhealthy ones. The video games the place a quarterback’s workforce loses, and the video games the place the quarterback himself struggles.
For Maye final season, the ACC Championship Recreation in opposition to Clemson was one such outing. It was one in all simply two multi-interception video games he had on the 12 months, and one in all simply two video games final season the place he didn’t throw a single landing move. Whereas NCAA Passer Score shouldn’t be essentially the most ultimate metric, the 106.0 he posted in opposition to the Tigers was his third-lowest of the season.
UNC misplaced 39-10.
And but … even this sport might be used to bolster the argument that Maye could be QB1 when the draft rolls round.
As a result of on this loss you see Maye doing issues on the quarterback place that matter, and doing issues at an extremely-high stage for the place. Even in a shedding effort, Maye demonstrates traits NFL groups covet on the place.
Traits which will very nicely make him QB1.
We will begin with this play from early within the sport, with UNC going through a 2nd-and-4 state of affairs. UNC catches Clemson in a Tampa 2 protection, and with a pair of routes bracketing the defender working the center, Maye makes use of his eyes to perfection, getting that defender to flatten for a step earlier than drilling in a throw to the receiver popping out of the fitting slot:
The tip zone angle offers an incredible take a look at how the QB makes use of his eyes right here to affect that defender. Maye takes the snap, offers a fast peek on the route he finally throws, after which will get his eyes to the center of the sphere. That forces the defender to flatten his footwork for a step, which is all Maye wants. He then will get his eyes again to the slot receiver on the fitting, and places the ball proper into his chest.
The defender he froze arrives a step late, and the Tar Heels have a recent set of downs.
Life within the NFL is difficult as a quarterback. Nothing is ever excellent, pockets are hardly ever clear, and the defenders on the opposite facet of the ball could make your life depressing. In recent times the league has trended in direction of passers who can create off-script, and off-structure. The quarterbacks who can create magic when performs break down make life brutal for opposing defenses, and create massive performs for his or her offenses.
Later within the first quarter UNC faces a third and 6 on the Clemson 10-yard line. The Tigers convey stress, and get a free runner on Maye. Whereas the Tar Heels have a Mesh idea dialed up, the QB can’t sit and wait within the pocket. He must react.
Which he does, to perfection:
These are the sorts of moments — the place a QB turns potential catastrophe into a giant play for his offense — which might be vital in at this time’s NFL. Maye avoids the free runners, retains the play alive (and his eyes downfield) and finds Josh Downs on his crossing route to offer the Tar Heels a recent set of downs within the low pink zone.
A 3-yard landing run from Maye on the subsequent snap would give UNC an early 7-0 lead.
Ball placement is one other vital facet of enjoying the place. If the quarterback shouldn’t be placing the ball the place it must be, and when it must be there, it’s arduous for an offense to have sustained success. Whereas Yardage After the Catch (YAC) is usually thought of a large receiver stat, the quarterback performs an enormous rule in that metric. Throws which might be on-time and well-placed put the receiver in place to select up these massive YAC yards, or typically simply give the receiver the very best likelihood to make the catch.
Early within the second quarter the Tar Heels face a third and eight in Clemson territory. The Tigers ship 5 after Maye, whereas UNC dials up a three-receiver idea to the left facet with a wheel route, a swing route, and a snag route from Downs.
Watch as Maye, from a collapsing pocket, will get this ball out on-time to Downs, who breaks away from the defender walling off the center of the sphere:
Maye places this throw within the absolute excellent spot, main Downs away from the closest menace. That offers the receiver an opportunity to finish the catch and switch upfield, spinning away from the defender and falling ahead for the primary down.
Later within the drive UNC faces one other third down, this time a Third-and-17 state of affairs. With the soccer on the left hashmark they run a Flat-7 Smash idea, with the working again releasing to the flat and the remoted huge receiver working a nook route.
Clemson once more will get a free runner at Maye, however he solves that drawback with contact and anticipation:
With how this play unfolds, Maye can’t wait a second longer to make this throw, in any other case the Tar Heels will face a tough fourth-down choice. How does he resolve the issue? With anticipation, and contact. The receiver has but to begin his break, however the ball has to return out now. So Maye takes one thing off this throw, permitting the ball and the receiver to return collectively completely.
Simply take a look at the state of play when Maye is about to launch this throw:
The receiver has but to begin his break, not to mention get his eyes again to Maye, however the ball is popping out.
Downside fixing is a part of enjoying the place, and Maye does it extraordinarily nicely on this third-down state of affairs.
Typically as a quarterback your finest choices are the throws you don’t make. This subsequent instance — one more third-down state of affairs — is one such second from Maye. The Tar Heels face a third and seven, and run Tosser to the fitting facet of the formation, which is a pair of slant routes.
Usually talking, quarterbacks learn this idea “inside-out,” working from the slot receiver to the skin receiver. If that inside slant route is open, hit it shortly. If not, get your eyes and ft reset to the skin slant, and get the ball out.
Right here, Maye opens to that inside slant, however the Tigers convey man stress whereas dropping the security into the throwing lane as they bracket Downs within the slot. With one more pocket collapsing round him, Maye — who has began to throw to Downs — resets himself and drills the skin slant to maneuver the chains:
If you hear the phrase “processing velocity” used to explain quarterback play, that is one instance, Maye has to catch the snap, get his eyes to the within slant, learn it out and resolve “throw or no-throw,” and when he doesn’t throw inside, he has to reset and get the ball out to the skin slant route.
All whereas six move rushers are attempting to place him within the hospital, and this all occurs inside three seconds.
So that you wish to play quarterback?
Early within the fourth quarter the Tigers held a 29-point lead, however Maye was nonetheless battling. As soon as once more you see how nicely he can use his eyes to govern defenders on this instance. UNC dials up 4 verticals out of a 3×1 formation, with Clemson dropping into Cowl 6 (Quarter-Quarter-Half) within the secondary.
Watch as Maye influences the within security on this play by first trying to the within receiver as he crosses vertically, earlier than throwing the seam path to the center journeys receiver:
Maye creates the house along with his eyes, in addition to the timing. The second his proper foot hits his drop depth, the ball is popping out of his fingers. He additionally places this proper on the receiver, and the Tar Heels have one other first down.
All of those performs present Maye fixing issues in several methods, and answering the challenges that quarterbacks face on a down-to-down foundation within the NFL. And doing so at a really excessive stage.
Now, as talked about on the outset Maye threw a pair of interceptions on this sport. These two performs want only a little bit of context. The primary fame on a Third-and-goal state of affairs late within the third quarter, and may even go into the books as a optimistic for Maye, regardless of the disastrous outcome:
As we’ve seen all through this piece, the Tigers introduced lots of stress that evening. However on this play, they throw Maye fairly the curveball as they rush simply two and drop eight defenders into protection, utilizing another as a spy on Maye within the pocket.
None of his preliminary reads are open, given the variety of defenders in protection, so he buys a little bit of time by rolling to his proper. Finally a receiver works again in direction of him, and Maye has an choice within the passing sport. However the throw is off course, main the receiver to imagine that the move is meant for another person, so he pulls his arms down.
As a substitute it goes proper to a defender, who returns it the space for the Choose-Six.
The opposite interception? That got here with underneath six minutes left, and the Tar Heels nonetheless trailing by 29. As soon as once more the Tigers introduced stress, and Maye tries to hit a vertical route alongside the left sideline. He has some trash at his ft, so he can’t step into the throw, and the move is barely underthrown, resulting in the decide:
Whilst you hate to see turnovers, including within the context for each performs makes them look just a little higher than simply the numbers on the stat sheet.
There’s a lengthy, lengthy method to go till the 2024 NFL Draft. Quarterbacks will rise, quarterbacks will fall, and who is aware of? Perhaps Maye decides that life on campus is value residing one other 12 months.
However even in a sport like this, the place UNC got here out on the shedding finish, you see traits that matter on the place, particularly on the subsequent stage.
Williams might find yourself being QB1 on some boards.
With traits like this, nevertheless, Maye is perhaps there on others.