NFL Draft Notebook: Patriots develop Drake Maye, Michigan's secondary setback, and More

Why the Patriots are taking their time with top pick Drake Maye, how Michigan's secondary is coping with a major injury, and more.
2024 NFL Draft - Round 1
2024 NFL Draft - Round 1 / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

In this week's Monday edition of the NFL Draft Notebook, we spotlight the New England Patriots strategic approach to grooming their new quarterback, Drake Maye, while also examining the impact of Michigan's significant loss in their secondary. Additionally, we highlight Oregon's next standout running back, discuss the Miami Hurricanes' defensive line boost, and introduce an intriguing all-purpose back from Texas State.

Patriots to take time with Drake Maye

Look for New England quarterback and the third overall pick Drake Maye to start the season as a backup, and to remain in that role for at least the first couple of games in the 2024 season. This was evident by how few of reps he got in recent OTAs as both Jacoby Brissett and Bailey Zappe received more snaps.

This is not a major surprise as some areas showed up on his college film that need work before he is successful as an NFL quarterback. One of these is his footwork especially when it comes from taking a drop back from under the center. He also struggles at times setting his feet in the pocket which hurts his accuracy.

While I doubt he will spend more than four of five games as a backup this season, especially if the Patriots get off to a slow start not being rushed into action will likely benefit him.

Oregon’s new lead back

Oregon had one of the more dynamic backs in college football in Bucky Irving last season. Irving led all Power Five running backs with 395 receiving yards while posting the fifth-best forced missed tackle rate on the ground (37 percent) according to Pro Football Focus in 2023. Now that Irving is off to the NFL though having been selected in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL Draft the question is who will replace him in the Duck’s backfield.

The man who will likely be tasked with that role is Jordan James. As a sophomore, James led the Pac-12 with a 7.09 yards per carry average and also was Pro Football Focus's highest-graded running back in 2023. He also had a strong spring with coach Dan Lanning making this statement about James, “Jordan’s running like an angry guy. Which is exactly how you want your running back to run. He’s out here really improving this spring."

As a pro prospect, James' most impressive trait is his vision as a runner. He consistently finds open running lanes even when the hole he is expected to is clogged by a defender. Another positive with him is his impressive contact balance. He consistently runs through arm tackles which is a major reason he was able to rush for 759 yards on just 107 carries last season. One concern that scouts will likely have about him though is he lacks the blazing speed to consistently break off the long run.

College football: Oregon's Jordan James
Jordan James / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

Going into the 2024 season I am higher on James than other members of the NFL Draft Media are. I currently grade James as a sixth-round pick due to his physical running style and impressive football intelligence. However, he is only graded as an undrafted free agent by other media sources according to Mock Draft Database.

Tyler Baron transfers to Miami

The Miami Hurricanes improved their already strong defensive line this past week when they picked up Tennessee transfer Tyler Baron. Last season, Baron recorded six sacks and over his four-year career with the Vols, he has accounted for 13.5 sacks and 27 tackles for loss.

Baron has made commitments to three different schools this offseason. Initially choosing Ole Miss, he then switched to Louisville before ultimately reentering the transfer portal and finally ending up with the Hurricanes.

When looking at Baron as a pro prospect several positives stand out. One of these is his strong initial punch when he comes off the ball. This allows him to keep separation from the offensive lineman and more easily get off blocks. Another positive with him is his versatility having seen significant time as both a three and five-technique defensive lineman. His impressive strength and 6-foot-5 and 260-pound frame should allow his NFL coaches to line him up in several spots in their defensive scheme. He also shows good speed off the ball for a player his size.

Baron joins one of the better defensive lines in college football, and possibly the top unit in the ACC. Other draft prospects to watch on the Hurricanes' defensive line include Akheem Mesidor, who had seven sacks in 2022 before battling injuries most of last year, and Elijah Alston, another transfer who joined the Hurricanes after recording six sacks for Marshall last season. The team also boasts one of the top sophomores in college football, Rueben Bain, who tied for the team lead with 7.5 sacks as a freshman.

Michigan suffers a major blow

The Michigan Wolverines already lost one of their top defensive backs when Keon Sabb transferred to Alabama. Then in spring ball, they suffered another big loss in the secondary when Rod Moore went down with a torn ACL, which could cost him the entire season,

This is a big loss as Moore would have been one of the better safeties in the Big Ten this season. One of the traits that has allowed him to start for the Wolverines since the second half of his freshman season is how football smart he is. This understanding of the game allows him to make all the checks in the Wolverines in the secondary, and to be a leader the younger players could count on.

"Let me talk about Rod right quick. The guy gets injured, then the next day he’s the first guy in the front seat in every meeting. He hasn’t missed anything. He’s asking questions. He’s just unbelievable, but that’s the culture that we have here."

Michigan DB coach Lamar Morgan on Moore

The player who will likely be counted on to replace Moore is Quinten Johnson who has been with the team for six years. Last season, he only recorded 22 tackles and one interception in limited playing time.

All-Purpose back

One of the biggest sleepers in the 2025 NFL Draft is Texas State running back Ismail Mahdi.

What makes Mahdi such an intriguing prospect is his ability to help out as a runner, receiver, and return man. Last season, he led the nation with 2,169 all-purpose yards and was named the Paul Hornung Award National Player of the Week in Week five after totaling 316 all-purpose yards and scoring 4 total touchdowns at Southern Mississippi.

What will likely excite NFL scouts the most about the Texas State running back is his ability to help out on special teams. In 2023 he averaged 25.6 yards per kick return which ranked 14th in the nation and also took one return back for a touchdown. What makes him so dangerous in this area is his quickness which allows him to get to top speed quickly and very hard to box in for kickoff teams.

This speed also helps him as a runner which is one of the reasons he rushed for 1,331 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry last season. In addition to his impressive speed, another positive with Mahdi is his elusiveness and how well he can make sharp cuts to evade defenders. In addition, to rushing for 1,331 yards last year he also caught 20 passes and displayed the soft hands to be a receiving threat out of the backfield.

The biggest concern scouts will have with Mahdi is his lack of size coming in at just 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds. This lack of size and his impressive production in the passing game could make NFL teams look at him more as a slot receiver at the next level. If he does stick at running back look for him to be a situation runner who does most of his damage on special teams.