New York Jets safety Marcus Maye had an encouraging, although inconsistent rookie season. Despite being a second round pick, usually cursed territory for the Jets, he started 16 games and finished playing over 95% of the team’s snaps. After a fast start, Maye struggled down the stretch but overall had the look of a player who could be Jamal Adams’ running mate for a prolonged period of time. Considering how much the Jets move Adams around the formation, they regularly counted on Maye to secure the back end of the defense in a traditional free safety role. Let’s take a quick look through Maye’s work in coverage last season…
Downhill ClosingWhether he was functioning in a two high look or as the single high free safety, Maye’s tackling against both the run and pass when coming downhill was a positive throughout the season. Below, he demonstrates his closing speed on a shoot route to Jared Cook, preventing any YAC and dropping him after a short gain. Maye’s closing speed is supported by quickly recognizing the route combination and not hesitating in his pursuit.
Later in the season, he demonstrates similar route recognition and takes the proper angle on a short hitch route thrown to his side of the field. Maye shows foot speed and decisiveness so his cornerback isn’t left one on one with a receiver he is giving up size to.
In this one high look, the Jets are beat by Rob Gronkowski off the line of scrimmage for what could turn into a monster play. However, Maye quickly closes the gap to prevent too much bleeding after Gronk worked such a clean release. If it is not the best tight end in the NFL, this could very well be a drop or fumble and is the type of hit receivers or tight ends remember the next time they come over the middle.
Maye regularly found himself matched up in the slot, predominantly on tight ends but also occasionally on wide receivers. He learned about guessing on routes the hard way on this wheel combination against Kansas City. Maye tries to undercut Travis Kelce but guesses wrong, allowing an easy touchdown.
Early in the year, Maye is far too flat footed and reactive when matched up in the slot on Charles Clay. It should never be this easy for a receiver or tight end to win on a simple speed out in the red-zone. Maye needs to be more physical at the line of scrimmage and anticipate an outside breaking route based on Clay’s tight alignment.
When Tyreek Hill breaks into Maye’s zone on this route, he actually does a good job anticipating his breaks and pacing with him over the top. However, he keeps his back to the football, which allows Hill to make a play on it while he is flat footed. Needless to say, the Kansas City game will serve as a hard taught lesson to Maye moving forward.
Learning On The Fly
After getting beat on a speed out for a touchdown in week 1 by Clay, Maye does a great job anticipating a similar route against Cleveland a few weeks later. This is a film room interception. Maye recognizes the formation, motion and situation leading to him taking a direct line to where the football is going to be thrown for his first career NFL interception.
For his second career interception, Maye takes advantage of an ill advised decision from Miami’s quarterback. He does a good job keeping the route combination in front of him and then breaking downhill on the vertical route to make a play. Turnovers are not always this easy in the NFL but defensive backs drop this more often than not so credit to Maye for finishing the play.
This play flies more under the radar but shows Maye at his best in a one high look. Miami is looking for a home run shot on a deep seven route to their H-back but Maye reads it perfectly and is all over the coverage, leading to a wasted down for the Dolphins.
One High Woes
Maye did still have moments of being too hesitant and peaking in the backfield as a one high safety. New England gets a touchdown here if the pass is not underthrown because Maye is late on support over the top. The few steps he loses by breaking in the wrong direction are not able to made up at this level.
As a current 25 year old, Maye was an older rookie who has a lower ceiling than his running mate, Jamal Adams. He is not going to be moved around the formation quite as much and will be expected to be a steady presence behind him to limit big plays and help clean up turnovers thanks to the chaos Adams creates or the coverage from players like Trumaine Johnson Maye’s inconsistencies and struggles down the stretch were mildly concerning but may have been emblematic of a rookie wall. The player we saw the first 10 weeks of the season has a trajectory to be a more than capable starter next to Adams for the foreseeable future.