ARIZONA CARDINALS

As Cardinals settle in NFL standings, Drake Maye rises and Caleb Williams falls in mock drafts

Nov 2, 2023, 12:03 PM

Drake Maye, North Carolina...

Drake Maye #10 of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks to pass against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the second quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 28, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals are one of two one-win teams eight weeks into the 2023 NFL season and have the worst record by percentage.

Kyler Murray should be incoming this week or the next, and that figures to improve Arizona’s chances at winning moving forward.

But as they are, the Cardinals have strong odds to own the top pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, where it was long believed to be worth tanking for USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams. The Cardinals have settled at the bottom of the standings nearly halfway through the year, but Williams suddenly isn’t the sure-fire pick to go No. 1 overall.

North Carolina’s Drake Maye has narrowed the gap and, according to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler and Yahoo! Sports’ Charles McDonald, is the top prospect.

Brugler has Maye atop his big board.

Cut from the same cloth as Justin Herbert, Maye (2,559 yards passing, 22 total TDs) continues to impress with his on-field command despite inconsistent help around him. A tall, well-put-together athlete, he has an explosive release with the touch to threaten every level of the field.

He still makes a few more reckless decisions than you’d want, but his timing has improved, and his aggressive decision-making is more of a strength than a weakness.

Brugler has had Maye and Williams close in his evaluations for a while.

It was never fair, he argues, to call Williams a “generational” talent.

Williams’ situation at USC has made for a season of relative struggles, if a 68% completion rate and 25-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio are worth complaining about. Writes Brugler:

Williams is fantastic at navigating chaos, but he does hold the ball too long at times. Often he has no choice, either because a defense gets immediate pressure with its front four or his receivers haven’t created separation. And when that happens, Williams feels forced to put on the superhero cape, which can lead to negative plays.

With the bar set so high, it can be easy to call Williams “overrated” after a mistake, but let’s not lose sight of his tremendous strengths as a player.

McDonald tabs Maye higher than Williams on a mock draft, with the UNC product going to the Cardinals at No. 1 overall.

This may be a surprise, but Maye isn’t a consolation prize for teams that don’t get Caleb Williams. He’s a bona fide prospect worthy of the first overall draft pick with huge upside, and his floor might be higher than Williams’ based on recent games. The Cardinals still have to make a decision on Kyler Murray, but if they trade him, Maye makes a lot of sense.

Of course, the trade deadline passed with Arizona shipping off this year’s only starting quarterback, Joshua Dobbs, to the Minnesota Vikings.

By the looks of it, Murray has a very real shot to show the Cardinals’ new regime that he is the quarterback of the future. If he does so, it will make them think hard about what to do with the first-round draft pick — and that of the Houston Texans (3-4).

Should Murray look like the difference-maker he’s been, Arizona will likely not earn that top overall choice in 2024. But lingering in the top-five will still lead to bountiful things, whether it’s Maye, Williams or Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. still being there when they select.

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