Advertisement

Quarterback Drake Maye makes it official: UNC QB declares for the 2024 NFL Draft

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, who said it was his “boyhood dream” to play for the Tar Heels, now will pursue another football dream: playing in the NFL.

Maye, a redshirt sophomore, announced Monday he plans to enter the 2024 NFL Draft, where he is expected to be one of the first quarterbacks taken and likely picked high in the first round.

Maye was the 2022 ACC player of the year and was selected in preseason balloting by the ACC media to repeat that honor in 2023. Much was said nationally about him being a possible Heisman Trophy candidate if he could lead the Tar Heels to a special season.

That didn’t happen. UNC, which played in the 2022 ACC title game, won its first six games to move into the top 10 in the polls, then lost four of its last six games in a late-season slide.

UNC was beaten 39-20 by N.C. State to close out the regular season, a sour ending that Maye called a “bummer.” He did not complete a pass in the first quarter and had 58 passing yards at halftime — UNC trailed 26-7 — before finishing with 254 yards and two touchdowns.

Maye said after the game that no decision had been reached on the NFL draft or if he would play in the Tar Heels’ bowl game, but indicated he might want to play in one more game and be with his teammates to erase part of the season-ending sting.

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye (10) breaks open on a 56-yard gain ahead of N.C. State’s Robert Kennedy (8) and Devan Boykin (12) in the third quarter against N.C. State on Saturday, November 25, 2023 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.
North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye (10) breaks open on a 56-yard gain ahead of N.C. State’s Robert Kennedy (8) and Devan Boykin (12) in the third quarter against N.C. State on Saturday, November 25, 2023 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.

He has since said, in announcing his intention to enter the draft, that he will not play in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in Charlotte.

Maye was named second-team All-ACC, finishing the 2023 season by completing 63.3% of his passes for 3,608 yards, with 24 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. Those numbers were down from his 2022 season: a 66.2% passing percentage, 4,321 yards, 38 TDs and seven picks.

That apparently will not hurt his draft stock. At 6-4 and 230 pounds, Maye has the size many NFL teams look for in a QB, a strong arm and the ability to escape the pocket and make plays – he scrambled for a 56-yard run against the Pack’s defense..

Some NFL mock drafts have Caleb Williams of Southern California and Maye as the top two quarterbacks.

Maye said he attended games at Kenan Stadium as a kid and grew up in a “Carolina household.” His father, Mark Maye, was a quarterback for UNC coach Dick Crum in the 1980s. An older brother, Luke, earned a national championship ring in 2017 when the Heels won the NCAA basketball title.

North Carolina’s Devontez Walker (9) scores on a 21-yard pass completion from quarterback Drake Maye in the third quarter against N.C. State on Saturday, November 25, 2023 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.
North Carolina’s Devontez Walker (9) scores on a 21-yard pass completion from quarterback Drake Maye in the third quarter against N.C. State on Saturday, November 25, 2023 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.

WR Tez Walker will enter NFL Draft, too

North Carolina fought a long, increasingly public eligibility battle with the NCAA to get wide receiver Devontez “Tez” Walker in the lineup this season.

Walker eventually was granted eligibility and did play for the Tar Heels — eight games. Now, he’s leaving.

Walker announced Monday he will enter the NFL Draft and the Heels have confirmed Walker will not play in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against West Virginia. The Charlotte native was invited to the 2024 Senior Bowl along with other NFL prospects, an early indication about his pro intentions.

Despite a truncated 2023 season, Walker finished as the Heels’ leading receiver and was named third-team All-ACC. He had 41 receptions for 699 yards and seven touchdowns, quickly becoming Maye’s favorite target in an 8-4 season.

At 6-2 and 200 pounds, Walker gave the Tar Heels another deep threat and the kind of speed that should help his NFL draft chances.

Walker transferred to UNC from Kent State in January 2023 expecting to be in the lineup from the start of the 2023 season. Although it was Walker’s second transfer, UNC believed he would be granted a waiver from the NCAA’s two-time transfer rule that requires undergraduate athletes sit out one year.

Walker was at N.C. Central before transferring to Kent State, but never played a game. The Eagles’ 2020 season was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But just days after Walker enrolled at UNC, the NCAA voted to make waivers for two-time transfers more restrictive. Walker later was denied immediate eligibility for the 2023 season.

Eric Church, wearing Tez Walker’s jersey, walks out with the captains for the coin toss before UNC’s game against South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023.
Eric Church, wearing Tez Walker’s jersey, walks out with the captains for the coin toss before UNC’s game against South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023.

UNC appealed the decision. Gov. Roy Cooper sent a letter to NCAA president Charlie Baker supporting Walker’s case. Later, state attorney general Josh Stein sent a letter to the NCAA that said possible legal action could be taken if Walker’s appeals for a waiver were denied.

UNC coach Mack Brown didn’t stay silent. Exasperated by the NCAA’s refusal to grant a waiver, the Hall of Fame coach issued a statement that said he had lost faith in the NCAA and ended, “Shame on you, NCAA. SHAME ON YOU!”

UNC players were seen wearing Walker football jerseys — No. 9. — and T-shirts were sold. “Free Tez Walker” chants were heard at the home games in Kenan Stadium. It quickly became a national story and another test of the NCAA”s autonomy in running college athletics.

The NCAA, which rarely discusses cases publicly, issued a statement Sept. 13 saying some committee members involved with Walker’s case had received “violent threats.”

On Oct. 5, the NCAA announced Walker was being made eligible to play, saying it has received “new information” from UNC the school had not provided previously — an assertion athletic director Bubba Cunningham denied.

Walker played his first game Oct. 7 against Syracuse as UNC won 40-7 at Kenan Stadium.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed about,” he said after the game. “It’s a blessing.”

North Carolina’s Cedric Gray (33) reacts after sacking Campbell quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams (6) for a 13-yard loss in the second quarter on Saturday, November 4. 2023 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.
North Carolina’s Cedric Gray (33) reacts after sacking Campbell quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams (6) for a 13-yard loss in the second quarter on Saturday, November 4. 2023 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.

More UNC opt-outs, injuries

While Maye and Walker are the highest-profile players who will enter the NFL Draft in 2024, UNC announced Monday that three more players will declare for the draft: OL Corey Gaynor, LB Cedric Gray and DL Myles Murphy.

UNC said in a release Monday Murphy will suit up for the team’s bowl game, while Gray and Gaynor will not.

“We want to thank these young men for all they’ve contributed to Carolina football during their times with the program,” UNC head coach Mack Brown said in a release Monday. “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.”

In addition to the Heels’ draft entrees, two players listed as entering the transfer portal will still play in the team’s bowl game: QB Jefferson Boaz and DB D.J. Jones.

Additionally, the following players are injured, and the Tar Heels have already said they will miss the team’s bowl game: TE John Copenhaver (lower body), DB Will Hardy (upper body), DB Alijah Huzzie (lower body), TE Bryson Nesbit (lower body), OL Zach Rice (lower body).