When you watch Patrick Mahomes’ college tape, it’s easy to get caught up in the arm talent. He throws the ball all over the yard and he does it from all over the field. We all talk about his school yard style, and that’s where a lot of the Favre comparisons come from. We’ve all seen plays of Mahomes putting his insane arm talent on display. He escapes pressure, rolls out and flicks a ball 50 yards down field with minimal effort. You can find several plays of him creating big plays off scrambles.
It's great that he can do that, and he’ll certainly use the talent to his advantage. But there's an attribute to Mahomes that people aren't talking enough about and is a very underrated part of his game: He has the potential to be lethal against pressure in the pocket in the NFL. He already shows the traits (although unrefined) needed to do that at the highest level.
After watching his college tape the last seven months, I do believe his first inclination is try to win from the pocket first and scramble out of the play as a last resort. He has a good feel for when to bail and when to stay. I think he wants to deliver throws with the routes called and the circumstances at Texas Tech led him to have to be more creative most of the time.
The structure of the pocket Mahomes will have in the NFL is significantly different than what he experienced in college. Texas Tech uses a unique pass protection scheme that you will never see in the NFL. They use wide splits and their tackles often open up early to the sideline as part of their pass set. It forced Mahomes to take odd angles and routes at times to escape pressure when his linemen got beat.
Mahomes won’t be able to get away from pressure the exact same way in the NFL as he did in college. He’ll have to make more subtle adjustments to escape pressure in a tighter area. In my opinion the drastic adjustments he had to make in college have more to do with the protections and play calls than his desire just to run around and make plays outside of the pocket. Before looking to scramble, he looks to find a receiver on their original route.
Pocket negotiation might look different with NFL protections, but his mind is in the right place. Eyes up, executes the original play call. pic.twitter.com/XhZQW7Tvo5— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) July 26, 2017
You can find several instances of Mahomes doing what he can to try and hang in the pocket to deliver a throw. He feels where the pressure is coming from and understands spacing. When he does, he’s deadly. A defense can do everything right but have the result ruined by a quarterback managing the pressure and finding a completion.
Mahomes steps up and finds an easy completion with YAC. Doesn't bail on the play call entirely. Executes original route construction. pic.twitter.com/sJCJnGvFcC— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) July 26, 2017
Making plays out of the pocket is important and valuable. But beating a team inside the pocket can be more just as lucrative and more safe and efficient. When a quarterback scrambles out of the pocket, it initiates scramble rules for the receivers. Based on where the quarterback scrambles to, the receivers make adjustments on their routes. If scramble rules are initiated, the quarterback has to find a clear escape from the pocket in order to find an open receiver. If play structure wasn’t important, we’d just have quarterbacks and receivers running around like flag football every down. While those plays can be explosive, you have to rely on a lot of things to happen to find a completion.
Pass coverage is designed to hold up long enough for defenders to get to the quarterback. You can’t cover every receiver for an extended period of time. Even against good coverage, the longer a receiver runs his route, the more difficult it becomes to keep him covered. If you can hang on in the pocket and deliver a throw before scramble rules are initiated, there’s less things that have to occur before you can execute a throw and the payoff can be just as good as a scramble. With good pocket presence, there’s also less negative plays than when you scramble. The risk for a sack or throwaway isn't as high.
Full field read after stepping up and away from pressure. Arrives at a big play on a nothing throw. pic.twitter.com/i7TKT7T8Fv— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) July 26, 2017
One of the things that separates the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers from others is their willingness to find completions from the pocket and resorting to scrambles as a last ditch effort to salvage a play. They want to give a play every chance it has to be executed as designed. It’s not something a lot of people can do. Being able to feel pressure and make small adjustments to give yourself enough space is an elite skill set. Mahomes possesses the traits to one day be able to do it a high level.
It’s one thing to be able to move around in the pocket. It’s another thing to be able to see the play unfold while you do it. Seeing the play while under duress is critical if you want to be an elite quarterback. I’m not convinced this a trait that can be taught. There's a level of fearlessness involved. You either have it or you don’t. Mahomes’ college tape shows someone who is able to see the play under pressure.
This is the kind of pocket congestion Mahomes will see in the NFL. Doesn't let it phase him, steps in and finds a play downfield. pic.twitter.com/BbvJHPmK7w— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) July 27, 2017
Some quarterbacks will drop their eyes when they have to adjust in the pocket. While they’re able to keep the play alive, they may not be able to find the big play or any play at all because they aren’t looking to find a receiver while avoiding a sack. To be good in the pocket, you have to able to navigate both the play and the pressure to find an open receivers.
This subject is a prime example of the learning curve Mahomes has. While he'll take time to learn how to maneuver differently in the pocket, the physical and mental traits are there to be exceptional. He shows a ton of ability, but adjusting to different footwork and techniques takes time. Most of it is just tightening it all up to be as efficient with his movement as possible. His mental process and awareness are there, he just needs to turn new mechanics into reflexes off those capabilities. If he does, he'll be terrifying.