Before Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes became a defense-destroying, record-shattering football warlock, he was a three-star QB and the 50th ranked player in the state of Texas coming out of high school. He was seen as a raw prospect, who flashed the tantalizing arm strength and creative ability, yet didn’t do enough within the pocket to be considered one of the top QBs in the class.
So, how did Mahomes get to this point, and what did we learn from his drafting and development?
The Air Raid QB Problem
Mahomes went to Texas Tech, at the time coached by Kliff Kingsbury. That meant he was in the infamous Air Raid offense, an offense predicated on space and timing. The receivers are spread out all the way across the formation, and QBs are tasked with throwing the ball—a lot.
Like, a lot.
The Air Raid is viewed by the NFL as sort of taboo, because the Air Raid the space it relies on closes real quickly when everyone you play against is just as fast and just as athletic. At Texas Tech, Mahomes wasn’t necessarily trained in ways that the NFL viewed prototypical quarterbacking. He would hold onto the ball for a long time, run out the pocket and create plays when he got outside the pocket.
Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and completed almost 66 percent of his passes, but his play was seen as “unsustainable” without operating from the pocket. The gunslinger mentality was there for Mahomes, but scouts didn’t know if he would be able to acclimate to an actual NFL offense
In addition, Texas Tech lost a LOT of games. As a starter, Mahomes went 13-19, and while football is seen as a team sport, Mahomes was dinged for that as well. Once Mahomes declared for the draft, he was seen as a first rounder but not a top pick.
The Evaluation Process and what we learned
Throughout the evaluation of Mahomes in the draft process, a lot of buzzwords were used. “Has to operate within the pocket”, “undisciplined and inconsistent footwork” and “has to adjust to calling plays in the huddle”. While these are valid criticisms, it’s also serves as an important landmark in QB evaluation and process. What we learned from the draft process of Patrick Mahomes is that sometimes, doing the prototypical dropback passing isn’t enough in the NFL. Being able to create under pressure and make something out of nothing has become extremely important, and Mahomes sort of ushered in that thinking with his play.
RSP’s Matt Waldman said it best:
“Ryan Leaf, Brandon Weeden, E.J. Manuel, and Josh Freeman were robo-quarterbacks with the physical dimensions and technical specifications that an assembly line would have been proud to build. Their failures weren’t inaccurately conflated with their style of play because conventional decision-making – even when incorrect earns a lesser punishment than creative decision-making that fails.”
“On that note, I’d argue in Weeden and Manuel’s cases (the other two went the path of Manziel) that their failures to sustain starting jobs were due to a lack of productive creativity within a traditional passing strategy. Another way of saying it? They weren’t aware, intuitive players.”
Mahomes’ spatial awareness and ability to consistently get throws off from odd platforms could be considered an even bigger strength than his perceived inability to read the field from the pocket.
In addition, we also learned that environment matters when it comes to QB development. Patrick Mahomes was an extremely talented QB, who went to one of the best QB developers in the NFL in Andy Reid along with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. For a QB to succeed in the NFL and truly realize the potential that he has, he has to have protection, playmakers and playcalling. Mahomes got all three, and his development time was sped up with the people surrounding him. It’s a lot easier to coach footwork into a young QB, which will then help their accuracy. When it comes to decision making, it’s easier to tell a QB to reign it in some than it is to get a QB to open it up and take more shots downfield.
The draft process of Patrick Mahomes is one that serves as a critical turning point in the evaluation of future QBs. The idea of developing good process in a QB, while allowing the QB’s best traits to shine with the proper talent around him. Then, as the talent leaves (like Hill), the process and development that turned a player who was deemed raw into one of the best QBs we’ve ever seen, shines.
Not every QB is Patrick Mahomes, though. Don’t compare anyone else to Mahomes.