CHAPEL HILL, N.C. –– It’s official. The Drake Maye era in Chapel Hill is over.
After a three-year tenure in Carolina blue, two of which where he was the starting quarterback, Maye has decided to forgo the remainder of his eligibility to declare for the 2024 NFL draft.
While Maye is the most significant departure for the program, several other players announced their plans to enter the draft yesterday including OL Corey Gaynor, LB Cedric Gray, DL Myles Murphy, and WR Tez Walker. All of these players excluding Murphy will also not play in North Carolina’s bowl game on Dec. 27.
“We want to thank these young men for all they’ve contributed to Carolina football during their times with the program,” said UNC head coach Mack Brown. “It’s been a pleasure to watch them grow and flourish both on the field and off. We wish them nothing but the best and look forward to watching them represent UNC as they move on to the next chapters of their careers.”
A redshirt sophomore, Maye started all 26 games totaling 8,018 yards, enough for fifth in the program’s all-time passing list. He notched 63 touchdowns in his career and will leave with a 17-9 record as a starter.
Over the past few months, there’s been talk about Maye’s contention for the No. 1 overall pick. I’ve dived into a bunch of mock drafts, and the general consensus is that Maye will be the first quarterback off the board. However, he could land at that No. 2 spot if the Chicago Bears chose to go with Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. If this is the case, Maye would go to the New England Patriots.
Other high-ranked signal-callers include USC’s Caleb Williams, Heisman winner Jayden Daniels, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon’s Bo Nix.
It was Drake’s dream to play at Carolina after Coach Brown flipped his commitment to Alabama and encouraged the 21-year-old to stay with his roots. Maye’s dad Mark is a former UNC quarterback and his older brother Luke played basketball for the school and was a member of the 2017 NCAA National Championship team. His third-eldest brother Beau was a walk-on for the team and his mother Aimee is
also a UNC alum.
Maye’s departure means that redshirt freshman Conner Harrell will slide into the starting spot. Harrell grabbed his first collegiate touchdown against Campbell on Nov. 4, 2023 when he rushed into the endzone for a 61-yard score. It was the first time he got consistent game action in Carolina blue after playing just seven snaps against Syracuse earlier in the season.
Against Campbell he played 11 snaps game – going for a perfect 4-for-4 passing and 71 yards, showing off his speed and ability to outrun a defensive secondary. After this performance, Brown noted that while Drake is a better passer, Harrell is a lot faster saying, “Drake doesn’t want to race Conner.”
As North Carolina prepares for a future without Drake Maye, it seems as though Harrell has written himself into the script as a rising star for the Tar Heels. And now he awaits his curtain call which is set to arrive when the team travels to Charlotte for their bowl game in two weeks.
The Tar Heels will play West Virginia at 5:30p.m., but they will be without several of their most productive players.
Tight ends John Copenhaver and Bryson Nesbit are suffering from lower-body injuries. Defensive backs Will Hardy and Alijiah Huzzie also won’t be making appearances with upper and lower body injuries respectively. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Zach Rice will also miss out on the game with a lower body injury.
While UNC’s roster is incredibly depleted, it’ll be interesting to see how each player will play their role with Harrell now at the helm.