One went exactly where he was projected. The other stayed on the board longer than he probably should have.

That disparity aside, the first 2 ACC players taken in the NFL Draft on Thursday night couldn’t have hand-picked better landing spots to start their professional careers.

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye was selected by the New England Patriots with the 3rd overall pick. Florida State edge rusher Jared Verse went to the Los Angeles Rams at No. 19.

Their selections helped the ACC extend its streak to 36 consecutive years with at least 1 1st-round pick. The league also had 4 players taken in Round 1 for the 3rd consecutive draft, although it took until the 3rd-to-last pick to do it.

Maye was the odds-on favorite to be the 3rd player taken behind fellow quarterbacks Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels. So once the past 2 Heisman Trophy winners came off the board as expected, it was only a matter of where rather than when the former Tar Heels star would go.

There was speculation that New England might trade its pick away to 1 of several teams looking to trade up for a quarterback. Instead, new coach Jerod Mayo and scouting director Eliot Wolf decided to stand Pat and make Maye their quarterback of the future.

He was 1 of a record-tying 6 passers taken in a 1st round slanted heavily toward offensive talent; the first 14 picks all were offensive players.

That trend caused Verse and every other defensive player to drop several spots. But it all worked out for the best when the Seminoles’ All-American was finally taken by a team looking to fill a glaring need on its defensive line.

Joining Maye and Verse in the 1st round were Duke offensive lineman Graham Barton and Clemson cornerback Nate Wiggins. Barton was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 26 while Wiggins lasted until the 30th pick before becoming the newest member of the Baltimore Ravens.

The draft will continue with rounds 2 and 3 Friday night before wrapping up on Saturday.

Here’s the lowdown on the ACC’s 1st-round picks:

‘Just trying to be Drake Maye’

One of the first questions Maye was asked during his post-selection Zoom session with the media was about following in the footsteps of Tom Brady.

Maye, decked out in a Patriots hat and Carolina blue tie, said all the right things.

He referred to Brady as the GOAT, which he is, And he said he hopes to meet the 6-time Super Bowl champion so he can be “a sponge” and learn from him.

But the reality is that Maye isn’t actually following in Brady’s footsteps.

Mac Jones took care of that for him,

In doing so, he helped set the bar much lower for his newly drafted replacement. Jones threw more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (10) last season and ranked 28th out of 32 starting quarterbacks with a 77.0 rating before being benched in favor of Bailey Zappe.

So instead of trying to be the next Tom Brady, Maye can still be a success by simply not being the next Mac Jones. Not that he’s heading to New England, where he’ll be part of a quarterback room that also includes NC State alumnus Jacoby Brissett, intent on doing either.

“I’m just going to try to be Drake Maye,” he said.

Replacing The Donald

No, not that Donald.

We’re talking about Aaron Donald, the former ACC Defensive Player of the Year from Pitt who helped the Rams win Super Bowl LVI in 2021. His retirement at the end of last season left a hole for the team to fill.

The Rams got their man when Verse, who was expected to come off the board several picks earlier, fell into their lap at No. 19.

Verse is a much different player than Donald. Instead of using brute force to get into the opposing team’s backfield, his skill set is built around a combination of quickness, strength and a high motor.

But the 2 talented defensive linemen do have at least 1 similarity. Both were mentored in college by Greg Gattuso, who was Donald’s defensive line coach at Pitt and Verse’s head coach during his first 2 seasons at Albany.

That connection may have played a role in helping Verse become one of the most disruptive defensive forces in college football and exactly the type of player the Rams were looking for with their first 1st-round pick since 2016.

“I got to pick his brain a little bit,” Verse said of a Zoom call he had with Donald during the COVID season of 2021. “I asked him a couple of questions that helped me elevate my game. The biggest thing I took away from the questions was … if you have a couple of good moves and you execute them to the highest level, you can destroy anyone. And aggression beats everything.”

Center of attention

Barton was an All-ACC left tackle at Duke. But because of his arm length, which is considered to be below average for a tackle, the Buccaneers plan to use him at center. Which also happens to be an area of need for the defending NFC South champions.

That’s not an unfamiliar position for Barton. He played there for the Blue Devils in 2020, earning freshman All-American honors before moving outside. To prepare for the move, he has spent much of his pre-draft preparations working on snapping the ball.

“He plays with a great base; he plays with a good anchor, and he plays with a nasty temperament,” Tampa Bay general manager Todd Licht said of Barton in a post-selection press conference. “That is all of the ingredients that we look for in our offensive line. He fits all the traits that we look for in a Buc.”

Worth the wait

Clemson’s Wiggins was shaping up to be one of those poor unfortunate souls whose draft night celebration was dampened by his name not being called. He was spared that fate when the Ravens finally took him with the 30th of 32 picks. The relief on his face was visible as he hugged family members and other well-wishers, including Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.

Like Verse, though, the payoff for the longer-than-expected wait was the opportunity to play for a contending team in dire need of a player at his position.

While Wiggins’ slight build is a concern that may have kept him from going any sooner, his speed and ball skills are elite and should fit right in with a defense that is traditionally among the best in the NFL, but currently lacking in depth at corner.

The Ravens are such a good fit for Wiggins that Swinney started texting team officials as their pick was coming up to remind them that his former player was still available.

“We were getting texts from the head coach,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. “Dabo was texting us during the first round [saying], ‘Please take this guy.'”