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Arguing with Patrick Mahomes doubters

The decision by the Chiefs to trade up to snag Patrick Mahomes in with the 10th pick of the draft has, by and large, been received with resounding approval by Chiefs fans.

However, as always, there is a sizable group that stands in dissent of the unusually aggressive move by John Dorsey and Andy Reid. Those objections sometimes involve the price paid to trade up in the draft, but most often revolve around Mahomes himself and his purported limitations/flaws.

I have already written about Mahomes quite extensively here, a film review written well prior to the draft. In it I addressed some concerns people were already being raised about the quarterback. However, seeing as that review consisted only of four games, I felt it was important to go back and review more now that we know the Chiefs have drafted him.

Additionally, this is a good opportunity for me to dust off an old article format called “Arguing With (insert whatever you want here)”, in which I take on some common arguments and address whether or not they have merit (as you can probably guess, the ones I choose generally lack merit).

And so, let’s take a look at more Mahomes film, tracking accurate/inaccurate throws, multiple read plays, bad decisions, and franchise quarterback throws. After we look at those numbers, let’s talk about some common arguments I’ve seen (or heard) against the Chiefs’ apparent QBOTF.

For the sake of inclusiveness, click here (the original Mahomes film review) to see his numbers in the four games I initially covered).

One thing to note: I reviewed only a single 2015 game by Mahomes: the one against LSU. The reasoning behind this was that I wanted to see how he looked against what was an absolutely dominant college defense, which we’ll talk about more shortly. The bonus was I got a chance to see what Mahomes looked like before his final year in college, which we’ll get back to in a bit as well.

On a final note before we get to the arguments, if you’re interested in seeing how Mahomes stacks up against Trubisky, Watson, Kizer, Webb, Dobbs, Kelly, and a few other quarterbacks, click here.

All right, let’s talk about some of the most common arguments I’ve heard against Mahomes as to why he’ll fail (or why he needs multiple years to develop), then let’s discuss some legitimate criticisms of his play.

“Patrick Mahomes is not a winner. In his time as a college quarterback Texas Tech never beat a single upper-tier team”

Look, if you think quarterback wins are a stat, that’s fair I suppose. I disagree. The problem with associating any individual player with a win or a loss is that it completely eliminates the rest of the team, as well as the opposition.

The eternal example of an unearned “QB loss” should be the Chiefs’ playoff loss to the Colts several years ago. Alex was absolutely brilliant for the majority of that game and very, very good in many other spots. Yet the Chiefs lost. On the flip side of that coin, Alex was quite mediocre against the Panthers last season, but the Chiefs escaped with a win due to defensive heroics by Eric Berry and Marcus Peters (and others, really).

So in a vacuum, if you treat wins / losses like a quarterback stat rather than a team stat, the Panthers game was a GOOD game for Alex while the Colts game was a BAD game. Given that the opposite actually occurred, it raises serious doubts as to whether there’s any value this this metric at all. An argument can be made that over time, good quarterbacks win more games than bad quarterbacks, and that’s certainly LIKELY to be true at the pro level. However, it remains wildly unreliable given all the other factors that go into a win or a loss.

In college football, this is even more true, as the disparity in talent between teams is markedly increased as opposed to the professional game. Additionally, in college football, a bad defense is something that is likely to be exploited at a much higher rate than it would be in professional football, as a bad defense means a REALLY BAD defense.

Let me give you an example. Generally, people who value QB wins value stat lines as well, so let me give you some stat lines.

34/51, 361 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs

38/53, 540 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs

52/88, 734 yards (not a typo), 5 TDs, 1 INT

Those are some fantastic stats, no? The last one in particular looks made up it’s so ridiculously good.

Mahomes’s team lost every one of those games, surrendering 44, 68, and 66 points respectively.

Now tell me ... how specifically are we supposed to blame Mahomes for that kind of performance from his defense? During Mahomes’s final season at Texas Tech, his defense gave up an absolutely stunning 44.9 points a game. Read that again. It’s unbelievable.

In addition to all of this, it’s important to go back and watch the tape in order to see WHY the team lost games. Yes, the defense was bad. Once you watch the tape, so was the blocking, and quite often the receivers. Mahomes, essentially, was Texas Tech in 2016, having to be almost flawless for his team to even compete, let alone win. Take him off that team and put another quarterback in there and they win one game in 2016.

So that addresses “he’s not a winner.” What else is there?

“Mahomes has terrible footwork. He will never get away with that in the NFL”

Hey, I’ll be the first to tell you, Mahomes has footwork that is unusual at best and bad at worst. On the other hand, Andy Reid just said that’s not really a problem with him (check his answer to the third question in the transcript), so there’s that. We could, you know, believe him, but rather than taking the simple approach let’s talk about footwork and its role in a quarterback’s level of play.

I’ve been trying to think of an analogy to drive this point home, and I thought perhaps throwing a punch might resonate with some readers. We all know that there’s a right way and a wrong way to throw a punch, yeah? You’re not supposed to just swing with your arms, because you can’t generate power like that. The power is supposed to come from your entire body acting in concert, swinging together in one perfect shot (from your feet to your hips to your shoulders to your arm, etc).

However... for some dudes, that crap just doesn’t matter. Some guys just have heavy hands and can hit hard from a variety of stances and angles. It’s an inherent genetic trait that you either have or you don’t. And if you’re one of the few lucky human beings alive to have that kind of unique strength, form doesn’t matter nearly as much on a consistent basis.

Arm talent as a quarterback is similar. The REASON proper footwork exists for quarterbacks is so that guys can use their entire body to generate “power” in their throws. When most quarterbacks get away from proper footwork, they’re unable to generate enough power from their arm to drive the ball the way they need to. This also leads to inaccuracy, as most quarterbacks will try and overthrow from their arm to get the power they need without the requisite footwork.

Mahomes, much like Aaron Rodgers, does not have this issue. Watch Rodgers play sometime. His footwork goes all over the place depending on the situation. However, it doesn’t matter because he can generate the requisite power from his arm alone without having to strain. This means he can be consistently put zip on the ball with accuracy despite bad footwork. Mahomes is the exact same way.

Almost no one on earth can throw that pass with that kind of velocity, especially with footwork that isn’t ideal. Mahomes is unique in that he CAN throw with velocity and he CAN throw accurately regardless of footwork. That’s why this is such an overblown issue.

But don’t believe it just based on one or two throws. Look at the rate of accurate throws vs inaccurate throws Mahomes made over the course of 10 games (the 6 above and the 4 from the pre-draft article). Mahomes had 4.17 accurate throws for every inaccurate throw. In case you’re wondering, that’s better than Trubisky, Kizer, Webb, Dobbs, Kaaya, and Peterman, all quarterbacks with MUCH better mechanics than Mahomes. In fact, Deshaun Watson, who is considered by most to be very mechanically sound and accurate, had a 4.65 accurate throws for every inaccurate throw. Comfortably ahead, but not by a landslide.

The point of all this is that many quarterbacks that are considered more “pro ready” because (in part) of their superior mechanics and footwork were actually LESS accurate than Mahomes in college. Stop watching the process leading up to the throw, and watch the throw itself.

Additionally, it should be noted that Mahomes’s footwork DID improve from 2015 to 2016 (if the game against LSU is any indication), which makes it logical to assume it will continue to improve. Also, and this is crucial, Mahomes was rarely given good pockets to work with at Texas Tech. That was often the reason he was throwing off-balance or leaning backwards: it was a survival mechanism. Give Mahomes a decent pocket and his footwork (while not great) improves markedly during the throw.

To sum up, Mahomes’s footwork

  1. Doesn’t affect his accuracy very often, given that he’s MORE accurate than most other quarterbacks in this class, including those with far superior footwork.
  2. Doesn’t affect the velocity on his throws the vast majority of the time.
  3. Has improved over time.
  4. Is markedly better when he’s not running for his life.

You combine all four of those facts and his footwork is about as close to a non-issue as you can get. If you’re obsessed with a QB’s footwork when it doesn’t affect his game, you’re too focused on the process and not the consistent result.

“Mahomes played in the air raid offense. No QB out of that offense has ever been successful, and he doesn’t know how to read defenses or complete timing throws in an NFL offense.”

This issue has actually been addressed by Mahomes himself, multiple times. Most recently he discussed it with Soren Petro. The basic premise is that Mahomes, while he did play in an air raid offense, was given a ton of pre-snap responsibility which depended on his recognizing coverages and knowing how to exploit them.

However, an absolutely ESSENTIAL read for anyone having this particular concern about Mahomes can be found here, in an interview with Doug Farrar. In said interview, they discuss Mahomes’s responsibilities pre-snap as well as some of the complicated verbiage his system required. Additionally, Farrar has Mahomes walk him through multiple Texas Tech plays to explain what he saw pre-snap and how it affected the play. It’s a wonderful read, and all by itself should put to rest the idea that Mahomes was some kind of robot who didn’t understand why he was doing what he was doing.

However, if that’s not enough to convince you, a trip through his film should do the trick.

There were multiple plays in which Mahomes surveyed the coverage and began to sign to his receivers a change in play/route. He also spent some time in every game pointing out potential blitzes to his linemen. It’s interesting to me how much this part of his game gets overlooked, and I assume that’s because the whole “he’s a wild gunslinger” narrative took hold and no one bothered to dig much deeper (well, besides Farrar and a few others, who deserve credit for doing so).

With regards to timing routes, the common theme there is that because Mahomes played so much “schoolyard football” he won’t be able to run an NFL offense predicated on timing and throwing to spots.

That would make total sense, if he didn’t do so multiple times at Texas Tech.

The simple fact of the matter is that most people don’t seem to understand what “air raid offense” or “spread offense” actually means. It’s like they assume it’s some kinda of flag football, amateur, no-route-combinations-exist junior high level offense that doesn’t involve any spot throwing or any timing routes. And frankly, that’s just not accurate. Read up in detail on the offense here if you like (a “smart football” article that is incredibly in-depth). Or perhaps here, where it’s openly discussed that NFL offenses (including Andy Reid) have incorporated aspects of air raid offenses for a few years now.

The truth is that the air raid offense is unique and definitely a shift from what you see in the pros (even with many NFL teams running primarily out of shotgun/pistol spread formations now), it absolutely incorporates route combinations, ordered progressions often based on pre-snap reads, and timing routes. To believe anything else is to bury your head in the sand and be willfully ignorant of the truth.

Of course, that still leaves us with the truth that air raid quarterbacks haven’t been successful so far at the NFL level, an undisputed fact. However, if you look at a list of spread quarterbacks who have played in the NFL, you find a common denominator: none of them have Mahomes’s physical talent. None of them have remotely the arm Mahomes does (few do), and many lacked his athleticism. In the case of those quarterbacks, it was generally a system allowing less talented QB’s to produce big stats.

However, the argument for Mahomes isn’t (or at least, shouldn’t be) based on stats for this EXACT reason. Go back and watch the tape of other air raid quarterbacks. Then watch Mahomes. You will see a stark difference in arm talent, pocket presence, accuracy at intermediate and deep levels of the field, and the burden placed on the quarterback to make something happen. Mahomes wasn’t a cog in a machine, he was THE machine at Texas Tech.

For all those reasons, the idea that Mahomes can’t read defenses or understand a complex offense is largely based on absolutely no evidence and is rather based on people saying “air raid offense” without delving into what that actually MEANS in this specific case. Keep in mind that when Dorsey and Reid were praising Mahomes, they first praised his recall and how he impressed them during the 6 hours they met with him and threw questions at him to test his football acumen. That’s a big deal.

While Mahomes undoubtedly has a lot to learn (all rookie QB’s do), he’s demonstrated the ability to read defenses, make timing-based throws, move well in the pocket against the rush, and go through progressions in a way that makes it seem much more likely than not that he’ll be able to pick up on the pro game just fine.

“Mahomes only looked great because he played crappy defenses. You can’t make the throws he made in the NFL, he’ll throw five picks a game.”

This is an easy one to lean on if you want to hate the Mahomes pick, because it’s impossible to completely disprove... you can’t show something WOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED against a pro defense. It’s impossible.

But we happen to be in luck, because Mahomes did happen to play a defense in college that boasted multiple future NFL players in 2015: the vaunted LSU defense in the “Advocare V100 Texas Bowl” (not made up).

This is incredibly fortuitous. The defense that Mahomes played that day boasted two players who were just taken in the first round (safety Jamal Adams and corner Tre’Davious White), another corner who is considered a top prospect in 2018 (Kevin Toliver II), not to mention a defensive lineman who was drafted in ‘17. Additionally, safety Jalen Mills was drafted in 2016 along with linebacker Deion Jones. Also, linebackers Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith were drafted in ‘16.

In short, of the defensive players lined up against Texas Tech that day, SEVEN were going to be drafted. Well over half the defense, and specifically guys who were rushing the passer or defending receivers, were guys who were drafted to play at the highest level.

In the meantime, Texas Tech had their RB, a WR and a LT who would be drafted, along with Patrick Mahomes and a bunch of other guys.

Turn on the tape of that game. You will see within about five snaps that the talent disparity in that game was far, far beyond anything Mahomes will ever see at a professional level. Even his soon-to-be-drafted LT got absolutely destroyed multiple times, while the rest of the line looked like they were running some kind of “stand up and wave at the pass rushers” drill. In short, this was the game that things were going to fall apart for Mahomes if he was just a paper tiger beating up on bad defenses (see what I did there with “tiger?” LSU? Right?)


Mahomes refused to cooperate. In fact, while the final score was quite lopsidedly in LSU’s favor, they weren’t able to pull away until the second half was well underway, despite running all over Texas Tech’s “defense” and annihilating Tech’s offensive line and skill position on virtually every snap.

The only thing that kept Tech in that game was the fact that Mahomes played hero ball like I’ve never seen before.

Mahomes was getting pressured on nearly every snap he dropped back to pass, and took some brutal shots along the way as well. But he still, despite everything, managed to get the Tech offense down the field and score enough times to make LSU’s vaunted defense sweat a bit.

And the few times LSU wasn’t immediately in his lap at the snap he made them PAY.

That’s a future NFL corner Mahomes is torching (with an assist from Grant, a tiny dude who was the only guy on the field besides Tech’s RB who looked like he belonged out there with LSU. A small guy with blazing speed... hmmm, that sounds so familiar). And he did it repeatedly.

The tragic thing about the LSU game is that as gaudy as Mahomes’s final stat line was (370 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT), it actually could have been significantly higher. I counted no fewer than five absolutely inexcusable drops by Tech players, several of which would have been very big gains. Mahomes only completed 50 percent of his passes that day (28/56), but roughly 10 of those incompletions (not an exaggeration) were throwaways, with another five coming from drops.

I’ll say this as bluntly as I can: I have never, ever seen a quarterback do so much on his own to try and overcome a talent disparity and make a game competitive. NEVER. If you take Mahomes out of that game and replace him with an average college QB, I don’t think Texas Tech scores more than a couple of field goals. That’s how uneven that matchup was.

This was the only game Mahomes faced a great defense that I watched. However, he passed the test with flying colors despite receiving very, very little help from the vast majority of his teammates on offense.

Oh, and by the way, with all that NFL-level speed on the defensive side of the ball, Mahomes threw one pick in 56 attempts ... and that was only because of a tipped pass. So get out of here with that “he can’t do what he does against NFL-caliber players” argument. He did it, and it was one of his most impressive performances.

“All Mahomes does is chuck deep passes.”

I’m including this one here even though it’s completely absurd. Look, if you really think all Mahomes can do is throw the deep ball, go to, look him up, and watch for yourself.

Mahomes, despite all narratives to the contrary, hit his checkdowns plenty of times and worked short/intermediate routes on a regular basis. He was not a “home run or bust” player by any stretch of the imagination. He did use that cannon of an arm to his advantage on shorter throws...

...but this idea that Mahomes can’t operate in the shallow zones is just ridiculous and not at all based on his film. It’s a complete and total non-issue.

“Well, Seth, are there ANY legit concerns with Mahomes?”

I’m glad you asked. Look, the above concerns are by far the most common I hear about Mahomes, and quite frankly none of them really hold water under examination.

However, that doesn’t mean Mahomes is perfect, or a lock to succeed. He DOES need to work on his decision making (as Sam Mellinger did a great job talking about here) and he DOES trust his arm too much. He also really should get his footwork improved (I know, I spent a thousand words arguing with this, but still) if he wants to go from “pretty accurate” to “very accurate,” which should obviously be the goal. And like any other college quarterback he needs to improve at reading disguised coverages and diagnosing disguised blitzes.

The decision making is really where he needs to improve. While his decision making wasn’t really that bad considering the circumstances he played under, he’s got to reign it in about 10 percent or so and learn to just let some plays die (with a throwaway or by simply taking a sack).

All that said, the criticisms I see of Mahomes are generally pretty overblown. He’s a very, very good quarterback prospect. There’s a reason Dorsey and Reid gushed over the guy. We’ll see how it plays out, and here’s hoping we look back on these conversations one day and laugh at how there was ever any doubt that Mahomes would be great.

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