Patriots QB Drake Maye to grow with two rookie receivers

The highlights from newest Patriot Javon Baker (0:37)

Check out the highlights from the Patriots' newest wide receiver, Javon Baker. (0:37)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Maye's mates: Once the Patriots knew that quarterback Drake Maye would be their pick at No. 3 overall in the NFL draft -- a decision that ultimately was anticlimactic by the time it was announced April 25 -- they had another goal in mind.

Draft a receiver, or two, who could grow with Maye.

Chemistry between a quarterback and receiver takes time to develop, and the idea that Washington's Ja'Lynn Polk (second round, No. 37) and UCF's Javon Baker (fourth round, No. 110) would be signing four-year contracts was appealing to executive vice president of player personnel Eliot Wolf and the Patriots' brass -- providing a longer runway to hopefully see that QB-WR growth evolve.

This team-building approach is timely to highlight after the Patriots' first week of voluntary organized team activities. One of the most notable things reporters saw was how Maye, Polk and Baker were the last three players on the field, staying well after practice had ended, to extend their work together.

Maye would call out certain throws he wanted to work on -- "back shoulder!" -- and the receivers would then run routes at half speed as Maye mostly delivered in stride.

"It's super valuable," remarked former Patriots receiver Deion Branch, the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX. "These young men coming in, they are in this together and I think that can be amazing for them, if they all commit."

Branch had a similar experience in 2002 when the Patriots selected him in the second round out of Louisville. He and seventh-round receiver David Givens of Notre Dame developed an immediate bond, which also extended to tight end Daniel Graham, the team's first-round pick from Colorado.

"We were very tight. These are guys you can go through the rut with. 'Hey man, I'm making mistakes today' and your teammate, especially your draftmate, is going to pull you up," Branch said.

"You can lean on each other. Bounce ideas off each other. Study together. All these things, these young men will have the opportunity to do with one another. It's magical if these guys buy into everything."

Even though quarterback Tom Brady was entering his third NFL season in 2002, he was still closer in age to the draft class than the majority of veterans on the team, which Branch said helped rookies develop a similar connection with him. Branch remembers Brady stressing the importance of making the transition from "amateurism to professionalism." Branch recalls soaking it up "like a sponge," and it didn't hurt that the team was coming off an unexpected Super Bowl triumph over the heavily favored Rams, with Brady having replaced the injured Drew Bledsoe and then keeping the job upon Bledsoe's return to health.

So that part is notably different from what Maye, Polk and Baker are currently living in New England, where the team is coming off a 4-13 season and is led by first-year coach Jerod Mayo, with longshot odds to contend for the AFC East championship.

In addition to their extended work after last week's practice, there have been other signs of how the three are leaning on each other. During wide receiver drills at rookie minicamp, Polk took the initial repetitions, followed by Baker. When Baker let a pass slip through his hands -- which was one of the knocks on him in college, as he totaled 14 drops over the past two seasons -- he reached out his right arm in Polk's direction and the two slapped hands as Polk offered his encouragement.

And as Maye finished an interview with reporters, Polk waited for him to walk down the steps to the locker room. Before departing the field, a smiling Polk flashed his right index finger toward Maye and said to reporters, "This is the guy right here!"

Patriots WR Ja'Lynn Polk's prospect profile

Check out some of the top college highlights for new Patriots wide receiver Ja'Lynn Polk.

Maye and Polk attended a Boston Bruins playoff game together, and on the field during competitive portions of practice, all three have started to make plays.

"They look good," Maye said at rookie minicamp. "I threw a couple behind them and they still made the catches. Those guys are going to be some special players."

The 6-foot-1, 203-pound Polk played in 41 games (30 starts) in college -- beginning at Texas Tech before moving to Washington -- and is coming off a career-best season of 69 catches for 1,159 yards and nine touchdowns. Baker (6-1, 202 pounds) began his career at Alabama before transferring to Central Florida, where over the past two seasons he had 108 receptions for 1,908 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Branch points to the Bengals' duo of Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase as a shining example of a talented quarterback and receiver growing together and helping lift an entire team in the process.

"The opportunity is there and these kids have the potential," said Branch, who currently serves as director of player development and alumni relations at Louisville. "They just have to understand there are going to be some tough times and push through it. That's football. If that happens, they'll be fine and this will work."

2. Dungy at practice: Former NFL head coach and current NBC "Football Night in America" analyst Tony Dungy visited Patriots practice on Thursday, addressing the team. Mayo has said he is open to various perspectives as he embarks on his head-coaching career, and Dungy's presence is an example of him acting on that. Dungy also has a strong faith-based connection with Matthew Slater, who is serving as a right-hand man to Mayo.

3. Attendance high: Mayo said he was pleased with the overall attendance at voluntary organized team activities, noting that the few players who weren't there -- such as outside linebacker Matthew Judon -- were "true professionals" who would know what to do to report in shape for training camp.

Veteran defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, who two weeks ago at an event for his charitable foundation said football doesn't really start until August, was the other projected starter not spotted on the day reporters were present. Reporters are scheduled to be present at Wednesday's practice this week.

4. Maye admirer: Count former ESPN analyst and 14-year NFL QB Matt Hasselbeck among those who believe the Patriots got it right with Maye.

"To me, he's a lot like Justin Herbert. So if you like Justin Herbert, I think you'll like Drake Maye. And I really like Justin Herbert," Hasselbeck said in an interview.

"I think his best football is ahead of him. I love his personality. I love his demeanor. I love his toughness. I love his athleticism. Athleticism can get you in trouble sometimes, and it doesn't always translate from college to the NFL, but I think his athleticism does. I think, more than anything, I think I really like the person. He has a contagious thing about him."

5. Brady night: Branch is looking forward to June 12 when the Patriots officially induct Brady into their Hall of Fame as part of a first-of-its-kind, sold-out ceremony inside Gillette Stadium. He'll be among the hundreds of former players on hand, saying he's most looking forward to the camaraderie.

"There's nothing like being around the guys that we did phenomenal things with, and most importantly, just to give congratulations to Tom. Celebrating this guy. He deserves it all," he said.

6. They said it: "Last year [at this time], I was probably at 60%. Right now I'm like 100%, so it's a big difference. It's not easy coming off a knee injury having a long season and coming back [with a quick turnaround the next year]. I feel great. I've never felt better." -- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, who enters his second Patriots season and could be fighting for a roster spot

7. Okorafor's intro: Left tackle is one of the major question marks on the Patriots' roster, and free agent signee Chukwuma Okorafor took the top repetitions there as OTAs opened last week. Okorafor also addressed reporters for the first time since joining the team and expressed confidence he will fill the void while also acknowledging "it will take time" for him to adjust.

Consider that of Okorafor's 4,077 career snaps in six seasons with the Steelers (including two playoff games), only two came at left tackle.

8. Mafi at center: Atonio Mafi, the 2023 fifth-round pick from UCLA, took snaps at center behind starter David Andrews in the lone organized team activity open to reporters last week. Mafi converted from defensive line to offensive line in college, starting 13 games at left guard and three at right guard, so his presence in the pivot (in addition to later working at guard) stood out as a new wrinkle under first-year line coaches Scott Peters and Robert Kugler. Mafi made five starts as a rookie in New England, all at left guard.

9. Dugger distraction: Safety Kyle Dugger, who signed a four-year, $58 million contract with $32.5 million guaranteed after being assigned the transition tag in the offseason, acknowledged that compartmentalizing his contract status was sometimes easier said than done. It is a good reminder of how the business side of the game sometimes bleeds into preparation and on-field play. "Just a relief," he relayed. "It's nothing you can completely ignore, as much as you try to, if I'm being honest."

10. Did you know: The Patriots' season opener at the Bengals marks the fourth time in franchise history they will open a season against Cincinnati. The other times came in 2010 (a 38-24 home win), 2001 (a 23-17 road loss) and 1972 (a 31-7 home loss).