Top NFL Draft Prospects: Gators' secondary in good hands with Marcus Maye
With the help of Maye, the Gators should once again boast one of the country's elite secondaries
In preparation for the 2017 football season, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top NFL draft-eligible prospects with a different player profile each day. The series will culminate with the preseason top-20 prospects in August.
The hiring of Jim McElwain was supposed to spark the offense at Florida but the better play a year ago came on defense, where the Gators featured legitimate NFL prospects at nearly every position, including arguably the most talented secondary in the country.
Gone are first-round picks Vernon Hargreaves III (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Keanu Neal (Atlanta Falcons) but returning is junior cornerback Jalen Tabor (who had a better season last year than Hargreaves) and Marcus Maye, a defending All-American with a track record for producing turnovers.
Graded as a four-star prospect coming out of talent-rich Florida, Maye could have signed virtually anywhere, passing up offers at Alabama, LSU and Florida State (among others) to join the Gators. He redshirted in 2012 and played mostly as a reserve and on special teams a year later, starting twice and finishing with 16 tackles (including one for loss) and an interception.
Maye started nine games in 2014, jumping back and forth between safety and nickel cornerback. He led Florida's talented defensive backs with 62 tackles (including three for loss) and emerged as a legitimate playmaker, intercepting the second pass of his career and forcing two fumbles. As it turns out, this was just a preview of Maye's breakout 2015 season, in which he set career-highs in tackles (82), passes broken up (eight), forced fumbles (five) and interceptions (two), giving him an impressive 11 turnovers created in just 21 career starts.
Maye sports a compact, athletic frame with good overall weight distribution. He is a highly aggressive defender who trusts his eyes and is not afraid to attack upfield as an enforcer in the running game, showing vision and balance to evade blockers on his way to the ball.
Maye shows impressive closing speed, including an extra gear when he needs it. He is a controlled, yet physical hitter who breaks down well, providing the excellent open-field tackling skills required as the last line of defense. He possesses excellent timing and hand-eye coordination, snaking his hand between opponents' as the ball arrives to break up passes or to pop the ball out to force fumbles, a la longtime standout NFL cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman.
Though Maye's ability to produce turnovers might be his calling card, his coverage skills also deserve praise. Possessing light feet, fluid hips and very good speed for the position, Maye is a true three-down defender with the experience and talent to drop down to handle nickel duties. He shows excellent diagnosis skills, often defeating would-be blockers on quick screens because he read the play and uses his active hands to rip free. These attributes have helped Maye emerge as one of Florida's core special teams defenders, as well.
Maye's aggression, of course, can get the better of him, at times. His willingness to extend his arms to attempt to knock the ball out can leave him grabbing at facemasks and jerseys, potentially drawing the wrath of officials. Maye sneaks peeks at the quarterback and will drop his primary assignment to undercut receivers ahead of him if he senses an interception opportunity. He is so willing to attack that Maye will occasionally overpursue, as well, leaving potential cutback lanes for savvy runners to exploit.
Scouts are eager to see if the loss of buddies Hargreaves and Neal force Maye to play a more tempered style in 2016. With another big campaign from he and Tabor, however, the Gators' secondary could once again be well represented in the early rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.
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