Kansas City Chiefs Film Room: Patrick Mahomes

May 6, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes II (15) throws a pass during the rookie mini camp at the University of Kansas Hospital Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
May 6, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes II (15) throws a pass during the rookie mini camp at the University of Kansas Hospital Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

Alex Smith’s days as the Kansas City Chiefs unquestioned starter are numbered, and they can feel confident knowing that Patrick Mahomes has a good chance of being ‘the guy’.

Every NFL franchises’s fan base wants to fall in love with their young quarterback. It’s why Dallas Cowboys fans think Dak Prescott is a top-five quarterback, it’s why the Philadelphia Eagles fans actually think Carson Wentz is better than Prescott, and it’s why Jacksonville Jaguars fans used to delude themselves into thinking that Blake Bortles was the right pick at No. 3.

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Patrick Mahomes hasn’t taken a snap for the Kansas City Chiefs, but fans of the team have every reason to feel optimistic about him. I know I just poked fun at the way fans fall in love with young quarterbacks. But the truth is that every signal-caller brings positive traits, in addition to the negative ones, to the table.

In Mahomes’s case, the positives are exciting, and some of the negatives are overblown. The Chiefs didn’t have a pressing need at quarterback in this year’s draft, per se, but they made the right decision when they elected to trade up for a guy who is probably the best quarterback prospect in the class.

I praise Mahomes in this manner, yet my first impression of him when studying the film was quite negative. Let me show you the first three plays I saw of Mahomes’s, which came in Texas Tech’s game against West Virginia.

So let’s quickly run through why these plays are problematic. In the first case, Mahomes reads through his progressions, but fails to notice the safety set to cover the out route. The throw itself is too high and too late, and it’s a mistake on third-and-7.

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The second play is just filled with unnecessary hesitation. Those pump fakes aren’t going to do him any good, and he should have either made the decision to use his quickness and run or to get rid of the ball. As for the third play, I don’t think it needs an explanation: It’s literally the dumbest throw he’s ever attempted in college.

What makes these three plays so interesting is that they are atypical of Mahomes as a quarterback. He usually gets rid of the ball quickly, and when he doesn’t, the result is either a successful deep pass or a backyard play. Let me give you an example of each of those, mostly because it’s kind of fun to watch Mahomes work his magic.

(And football is supposed to be fun, damn it!)

If you want to know why so many people have fallen in love with Mahomes’ game and like to throw the word “upside” around, just look at those two plays. Mahomes is the anti-Alex Smith in many ways, and it goes beyond the fact that he’s a prolific deep passer.

Unlike Smith, Mahomes lives off of taking risks. He thrives and going for the types of passes that other quarterbacks wouldn’t dare make. This often leads him into trouble, such as on the play below.

For those of you who like looking for “fatal flaws” in prospects, Mahomes’ gutsiness is probably it. The thing is, he’s usually good about throwing the ball away and can use his legs to get out of sticky situations, but he likes to tests the realms of what is possible when it comes to attempting deep passes in tight windows.

And while Mahomes’s arm talent is exceptional and undeniably the best in the 2017 NFL Draft class, there is only one player on the planet who can make a pass like this. That player is, of course, Aaron Rodgers. Patrick Mahomes is not Aaron Rodgers (sorry, Chiefs fans).

That said, Mahomes isn’t just some moronic gunslinger who throws the ball around blindly hoping for results. No, that’s Zach Mettenberger, and Mettenberger had Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in college. The likes of Dylan Cantrell, Keke Coutee, and Jonathan Giles were solid receivers for Mahomes at Texas Tech, but he didn’t exactly have a Mike Williams (or Mike Evans, for that matter) at his disposal.

We’ve seen quarterback prospects benefit from wide receivers with exceptional talent and catch radii, but Mahomes completed most of his “wow” passes without that benefit. The Red Raiders, again, had good receivers, but they are closer to Derek Carr’s supporting cast at Fresno State (with the exception of Davante Adams), in the sense that they are talented, but don’t win consistently.

I don’t blame Mahomes for attempting these kinds of passes, because he had a much higher success rate with them than your average college quarterback would. Heck, he had a much higher success rate with them than your average first-round college quarterback would.

Philip Rivers would be proud of that one. Man, Mahomes can be a maniac sometimes, and I have no idea how he hung in there and found the power to deliver that strike. Mahomes’s arm talent is so good that, like Matthew Stafford and Michael Vick, he only needs a mere flick of the wrist to send the ball flying down the field into the wide receiver’s basket (go to around 3:30 of the TCU film to see an example of this).

I take exception to the notion that Mahomes leaves the pocket too quickly and relies on his feet. To me, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, Mahomes is indeed quite good at picking up yardage with his feet due to his exceptional short-area quickness and agility (go to around 5:45 of the Kansas State game), but he’s content to either throw the ball away or take his licks in the pocket when he needs to.


The play above is critical in Mahomes’s evaluation, because it’s evidence that he can do more than just be a gunslinging, backyard quarterback. For better or for worse, that’s how most people picture Mahomes, but he can win from the pocket.

As you can see, he’s clearly reading through his progressions, he keeps his eyes down the field despite sensing the pressure, and he’s able to deliver a pass in between the defensive backs for a first down on third-and-five. Mahomes isn’t some tools-y Bortles or Johnny Manziel project; he’s a quarterback who can legitimately win from the pocket, even if it isn’t necessarily his strength.

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Quarterbacks operating in a spread offense tend to get a bad rap, because most of their reads occur quickly. However, it’s important to dilute the sample and focus on all of the other plays to see if the quarterback can “win” in a more traditional sense and read defenses, especially while under pressure.

Many analysts missed badly on Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota, who are two of the best quarterbacks in the league today, because they were unwilling to embrace the idea that quarterbacks in non-traditional college offenses can be just as smart as those operating in pro-style offenses. People cling to the idea that pro-style QBs have inherent advantages. But quarterbacks operating in an offense like Texas Tech’s are actually better at making their reads faster and making decisions when plays break down. And yes, plays break down more often than people think at the NFL level.

I enjoy watching how Mahomes is able to embrace a few different styles at the quarterback position, because you can’t pigeonhole him as one type of passer. He makes exciting and risky throws (think Brett Favre), he somehow finds open receivers after scrambling for seconds (think Russell Wilson), he can take off and run for first downs, he can sit in the pocket and absorb hits while keeping his eyes down the field, and he can get the ball out quickly after running through a few progressions.

There are people out there who refer to Mahomes as a “project”, but I bristle at that term. First of all, “projects” don’t get drafted in the first round, let alone by a head coach like Andy Reid who doesn’t seem like the type of decision-maker or quarterback guru who enjoys investing heavily in total uncertainties.

The appropriate word that applies to Mahomes is “inconsistent”, because for all of the times that he displays the accuracy and decision-making required from a franchise quarterback, there are examples of him failing in this regard. He makes Jay Cutler-type “YOLO” throws, he misses open receivers (GIF 1 below), and there are times when he fails to sense pressure appropriately (GIF 2).


Even though he loves to attempt passes off his back foot or across his body, Mahomes did an exceptional job of avoiding hugely negative plays. Compare his 1.7 percent interception rate to Deshaun Watson’s 2.9 percent, despite an advantage in yards per attempt (8.5 to 7.9), and it’s easy to see why the Chiefs preferred Mahomes, taking him 10th overall (Watson went 12th to the Houston Texans).

When the Chiefs surprised some people by making the aggressive move up for Mahomes — despite already being a playoff team with an adequate quarterback in Smith — most analysts were ecstatic about the fit. And rightfully so. Reid has been successful with a variety of quarterbacks, but his offenses are at their best with a signal-caller who has mobility, the ability to challenge defenses vertically, and sufficient accuracy to move the chains as needed.

While Mahomes’s best plays come when he’s operating outside of a distinct structure, there are plenty of signs that he can succeed within the confines of a system. If he were forced to play as a rookie, Mahomes would have his struggles, but I believe he could hold his own.

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More importantly, he has enough arm talent and enough football intelligence to develop either on the bench or on the job. Out of all the quarterbacks in this class, he was the one worth actually gambling on, so I give credit to the Chiefs for having the guts to make the move. Now, if only they didn’t release Jeremy Maclin.