Now he’s in the left slot, poised to drop into pass coverage. But wait — a sneak attack. He blitzes Allen from the front side. Another sack.
Later, Maye tries to make it a hat trick, rushing from the right slot. This time, Allen gets off a pass, but it’s batted down by Maye.
Now a changeup: Maye is positioned as a deep safety in a two-deep look. He picks up Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs out of the slot and breaks up a pass in the end zone, foiling Allen once again.
When a defensive player has a great game, we like to say, “Player X was all over the field.” In Maye’s case, it was literally the case in Sunday’s Week 1 loss against the Bills. Out of 81 snaps, he lined up in nine different places, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He played the game of his life, recording two sacks, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. He almost had an interception and a third sack, which would’ve taken his performance to another level of exceptional.
Deployed in the old Jamal Adams role, Maye, 27, proved he’s quite capable of replacing his good friend, whom the Jets shipped to the Seattle Seahawks because of a contract dispute. Maye blitzed only four times, not as much as a typical Adams day, but it equaled his 2019 total and served notice to the NFL that he can be a multidimensional safety. Maybe the Jets knew what they were doing when they traded Adams, who made two Pro Bowls as their defensive catalyst.
“Talk about a guy that probably did about everything imaginable at the safety position — from blitzing, coverage, coverage from in the box, safety play, breaking up [passes], almost picking a ball in the red zone, doing a great job of identifying what they were doing and anticipating it,” Jets coach Adam Gase said of Maye. “He did everything this last game. I don’t think there are many guys that can do what he did this last week as far as the variety.”
Grouping it into positions, Maye played 34 snaps at free safety, 23 at outside linebacker, 19 in the slot, three at inside linebacker and two at cornerback. The latter four consisted of left and right sides. It was a dramatic departure for him. In his first three seasons, he patrolled the deep end, often lining up 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. That allowed Maye to wreak havoc near the line of scrimmage.
“I was just out there playing ball,” Maye said of last Sunday. “Coach did a great job of calling the plays.”
Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams decided to change Maye’s role before training camp, after the Adams trade, and it quickly became apparent on the practice field that Maye enjoyed the versatility of his new spot.
“He’s coming to show everybody he’s not just a post safety,” said Jets free safety Bradley McDougald, who was part of the Adams trade. “He can make plays in the box as well, he just hasn’t had his opportunities. He’s taking advantage of them now.”
He’s living up to his Twitter handle, @alldayMAYE.
“Like I was telling everybody when we were doing some of these questions when Jamal had left and it stands true today: [Marcus] is a dog,” Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “He can come up and hit somebody; that’s just the way he’s been his whole life, knowing him. He’s just an athlete. He’s not going to back down from nobody. He can get it done. He’s just going to go out there and be a ballhawk.”
When the Jets drafted free safety Ashtyn Davis in the third round, it was speculated that he and Adams would be the long-term tandem and that Maye would leave as a free agent in 2021. But that was before the organization’s relationship with Adams deteriorated. Now the Jets need Maye, who is in line for a big payday.
On Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox) against the San Francisco 49ers (0-1), Maye will have a spotlight matchup, as he likely will line up against star tight end George Kittle, assuming he plays (sprained knee. When healthy, Kittle might be the best all-around tight end in the sport).
“I don’t know how many more difficult matchups you can have than this guy,” Gase said. “When you go against [Rob Gronkowski], it’s all about physicality and things like that. Kittle and [Travis] Kelce and those guys, they’ve got a little more of that speed, where you almost feel like receiver-ish type speed when those guys are running routes.”
The Jets can put Maye on Kittle. Or not. You never know. And that’s the good thing about having a player like Maye.