I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Marcus Maye pick when it happened. I was hoping a complement to Jamal Adams would fit a more traditional free safety profile, and I didn’t think doubling up on safeties made the most sense relative to other needs and draft value (an opinion I still have to some extent). He also came into the league an older rookie, a good two and a half years older than his running mate Jamal Adams and a year older than third-year veteran Leonard Williams. If he’s coming in at 24, he better be good right away. And he is.
At the risk of sounding off about #intangibles and #leadership, both safeties deserve credit for their ability to come in and look comfortable from day one, especially with no veteran partner lean on. If Jamal Adams is the soul of the new Jets defense, Marcus Maye is the brain. Maye has slid in seamlessly to the role Marcus Gilchrist occupied during Bowles’ first two years here, spending most of his time as the deep safety and the secondary’s play caller. Maye was paid the greatest complement from Todd Bowles in training camp when Bowles said of Maye “he doesn’t play like a rookie,” and it has shown in not just his readiness to play but also his ability to quickly pick up a complex NFL defense.
Despite starting the two rookies in the back end, the Jets are a significantly better team defending deep passes than they were last year. Ranking 27th in deep passing DVOA in 2016, the Jets are up to 9th in 2017. The Jets last year were not just beat through the air because the players were bad, we also saw cheap big plays caused by miscommunications or busted coverages. We’re seeing much less of that this year.
Adams tends to play much closer to the line than the two on a given snap (often at linebacker depth), so Maye’s role in run defense is typically cleaning up plays that spill to the second level. He’s done a good job – he takes good angles, reads plays well and has the willingness to hit you need from the last line of defense.
Below is a great example. This play is well blocked by Oakland and Washington is to the second level untouched. But Maye recognizes the run play, comes downhill, and stops a potential big play after six yards.
Though Maye has been deployed mostly as a deep safety, when he gets snaps closer to the line of scrimmage he shows a willingness to get into the box and meet runners head on. Below, he meets Leonard Fournette in the hole and cuts him down after a few yards.
This is another smart play. Unfazed by Cleveland’s attempt at misdirection, Maye meets the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage, attacks him with outside leverage and drives through the bottom of Njoku to make the stop at the line.
Below is Maye’s first interception. It’s a good example of what has been the foundation of his strong rookie season. Maye is an aggressive player but he’s a smart one too – trusting his eyes and knowing when to take risks. He undercuts this pass because he recognizes that after DeValve motioned to his side and ran to the flat, the intent was likely the quick pass.
Maye’s second interception is an ill advised toss by Matt Moore but Maye plays his deep zone perfectly and breaks on this for the interception. This type of positioning is typical of Maye’s season.
Below is the type of thing Maye’s been doing well but won’t show up on the stat sheet or often times the live game footage. Fitzpatrick wants to get it to DeSean Jackson who has gotten a step on Mo Claiborne, but thinks twice due to Maye’s awareness and positioning. Maye puts himself in a good spot to make a play on a deep attempt to Jackson, and it forces Fitzpatrick to either take a chance on Jackson winning in this situation or going elsewhere. The result is a checkdown.
It’s been a good season for Maye, but if there’s one knock, the Jets could do with Maye performing better in tight coverage situations. Below is from his first ever game so perhaps it’s a little harsh to highlight, but he bites heavy on Clay’s inside step and doesn’t even get a hand on him before Clay has the ball in the end zone.
On the below play Maye actually reacts well initially after being sucked in by the play action. However, he too quickly loses track of Austin Hooper in an awkward attempt to undercut Hooper’s route. Hooper creates space for himself with a clever step inward and Maye is left several yards behind Hooper who makes the grab.
I’m already comfortable saying this: Marcus Maye has been the best draft pick Mike Maccagnan has made in his three years as general manager. As a rookie he’s played a significant role in the Jets improvement as a pass defense and he’s playing with the maturity of a veteran of several years. At present he’s a solid, balanced free safety who is as comfortable coming up to support the run as he is playing single high. And what’s most encouraging is this role doesn’t really do justice all the facets in which he has shown potential to contribute. He’s also comfortable in and around the box and has flashed in limited blitzing opportunities. It’s an exciting prospect that as strong as this rookie season has been, there’s potential for him to do even more. In Maye, the Jets have a real secondary building block.
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