By the time players reach the NFL, it’s pretty reasonable to think there is not much they can do to surprise us. Most of them spent their college careers under the bright lights of a major program, where they’ve been interviewed, cataloged and analyzed to ridiculous lengths.
Then comes the draft process, where it starts all over again. There’s a whole industry that’s grown up around collecting and collating every conceivable detail about these players so they can be endlessly discussed by NFL fans before draft day.
How can there be anything we don’t know about these guys?
Yet sometimes, they surprise us. And that continues to happen with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
We knew that he had incredible arm talent. We knew that he had incredible vision and athleticism. We knew he could be aggressive and make plays.
But the thing we did not know — that we could not know — was how he would adjust to being an NFL quarterback. During the opening days of training camp, Mahomes addressed this.
“In high school, [the system] is very generic,” he said. “At Texas Tech, it is a spread. They put a lot on the quarterback, but it is still not as much as you do now. You get here and the complexity of the offense is something that you really have to get after it and grind through. For me, every single day is a learning experience, every single day I have to push myself to get better.”
A few days later, head coach Andy Reid was obviously pleased with how Mahomes was working through all of it.
“The great thing about Pat is that he never makes the same mistake twice,” Reid said. “It doesn’t happen. He sees everything. He knows it. When he makes a mistake, he comes back and can talk to you about it. He’s done nothing but get better and better as we go. He has a load on him here and is responding exactly how we’d like. You don’t see him repeat mistakes. It’s fun to watch.”
But Reid has said that they expected this from Mahomes — as he did during the preparation for the Week 3 game against the San Francisco 49ers.
“When we brought him in we spent a bunch of time with him trying to exhaust him with that day you can spend. We came out of it knowing he can handle a load. He came in behind Alex. You weren’t going to run out of gigabytes with Alex. [Pat is] right there. We haven’t slowed down with what we’re doing or anything else. Alex a brilliant guy and this guy is hanging right in there with it and has been since he got here. He is where we hoped he would be.”
And as the season has progressed, so has Mahomes. Each week, when he’s asked about what he learned in the previous game, he gives us a window into his development — as he did on Sunday night after the 45-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
He was asked about what went wrong on his interception on Sunday night, when his pass to Tyreek Hill was underthrown.
“Yeah, [Tyreek] burnt the dude. It wasn’t a bad read. It was Cover 4 and Tyreek was the post-alert. I had been asking Coach Reid for it all game. I got there and I was like, ‘I don’t want to overthrow him,’ but [I} forgot that you can’t overthrow him. I left it short and they picked it off.”
Even on a successful play — like Kareem Hunt’s incredible 21-yard run that set up the Chiefs’ first touchdown of the game — afterward, Mahomes is thinking about what went wrong.
“It was RPO (run-pass option) and I probably made the wrong read. Then I handed it to him. It should’ve been a tackle for loss and then he broke a tackle and jumped over a dude. This is a very talented defense who have a lot of guys who are built to stop the run. It just speaks to the strength and the power that [Kareem] has when he runs with the football.”
We knew a lot about Mahomes before the Chiefs drafted him in 2017, and there was ample reason to be excited about his talent and potential.
But what we didn’t know — his ability to learn and develop so quickly into one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks — is the best surprise we could have had.