As training camp dwindles and the regular season nears, teams will be keeping a close eye on the overall health of their roster. Many players will begin to get nicked up near the end of camp, but some players are just beginning to return to form.
For the Jets, one of those players is safety Marcus Maye.
Maye, the Jets’ third-year safety out of the University of Florida, has been recovering from a shoulder injury throughout the offseason. Recently, he has been working his way back into practice. While he has not begun to engage in full contact just yet, he has been taking reps with the second-team defense while wearing a red no-contact jersey.
The Jets missed Maye for much of 2018. In his second season, Maye only played in six games, rotating in and out of the lineup as he battled injuries.
His health is going to be vital for the Jets’ chances of success in 2019. Maye brings skills to the table that are difficult to replace, and we have seen his abilities make an impact from the day he was drafted.
New York selected Maye with 39th overall pick in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He was the second consecutive safety selected by the team, as in the first round, the Jets had selected LSU safety Jamal Adams. The team envisioned the pair becoming one of the league’s most dynamic duos in the back end.
Maye came out of Florida with a versatile array of appealing traits. Already 24 years old entering the NFL, he had the experience and seasoning to make an impact right away. Additionally, Maye offered plenty to like off the field. He was well known as an extremely hard worker and a high quality leader by example.
On the field, the Melbourne, Florida native offered a wide range of skills. He had proven he could be trusted to play in a deep safety role. No matter the defense, Maye had shown that he had the instincts and football IQ to consistently position himself correctly in the back end of the defense. Playing deep safety is like playing a cat-and-mouse game with the quarterback, and Maye had proven that was something he could handle.
While the deep game was where the Jets projected him playing in their defense, Maye was not just a coverage guy. He could lay the wood as well. As a tackler, Maye showed tremendous consistency with his ability to finish, but also laid his share of bone-shattering hits as well.
Altogether, Maye offered the versatility that teams want out of their safeties in the modern NFL. Pairing him up with Adams, there were a variety of ways that Maye could make an impact for the Jets.
In his rookie season, Maye impressed. As is the case with most rookies, it was far from perfect, but Maye flashed plenty throughout the season. He recorded two interceptions and a forced fumble, while safely manning the last line of defense throughout all 16 games. He played a whopping 1,064 snaps for the Jets defense, which was third on the team behind only Adams and linebacker Demario Davis.
Hopes were high for Maye going into 2018. At 25 years old, he seemed prepared to enter his physical prime early in his career. With a few touch-ups on his deep coverage, Maye was primed to have a big year. Coupled with Adams, the pair was set to become among the best in the NFL.
When Maye was healthy in 2018, he lived up to expectations. In the six games he appeared in, Maye was targeted only four times across 213 coverage snaps, a rate of one target per 53.3 coverage snaps. That ranked second-best in the NFL among all defensive backs, trailing only Colts deep man Malik Hooker (a fellow 2017 draft pick). Maye allowed a passer rating of only 62.5 when targeted, 16th best in the league.
Each number marked an improvement over 2017, when Maye was targeted once every 31.0 cover snaps, which ranked seventh in the NFL, and allowed a passer rating of 107.6, which ranked 236th.
His impact became evident when he left the lineup. In the ten games Maye missed, the Jets allowed 21 completed deep passes for 20+ yards. That’s an average of 2.1 per game, which would rank as the 19th-fewest in the NFL.
In the six games Maye played, the Jets allowed only 10 completed deep passes for 20+ yards, an average of 1.7 per game that would rank as the 7th-fewest in the NFL.
Overall, Maye looked like a refined player in his second season. He patched up many of the coverage issues that popped up here-and-there as a rookie, bringing his overall game together and helping him elevate as a player.
Behind Maye on the safety depth chart, the Jets are lacking a player who can play his role. Doug Middleton and Rontez Miles are big hitters who can contribute on special teams, but both have struggled when asked to fill in at safety. In 2018, the Jets were so thin at safety behind Maye that at one point, they had to turn to outside cornerback Darryl Roberts to take his place. Predictably, the results of that experiment were not good.
While Jamal Adams took the limelight for his elevation to superstardom last season, the man beside him in the defensive backfield quietly took a few steps forward in his own right.
If Maye can stay healthy in 2019, he and Adams can be one of the most dangerous safety duos in the NFL.