I have one of those personalities where I just like to go where the wind takes me. Earlier this week I had planned on writing another “Ask Gary” article, but I was approached by a question which I thought deserved some attention.
I've always been curious how thrown ball speed affects time and distance. For instance, how does a Mahomes thrown screen differ from AS? How much quicker does it get there, and how does that translate to yardage? How does ball speed affect defensive reaction times.— Mike Jones (@mkth_jones) June 5, 2018
I loved everything about this question and decided I had to see if I could look further into this...
Comparing Mahomes to Alex Smith
I had no idea how to compare the two quarterbacks at first, but eventually an idea drifted into my mind - if I could somehow find similar plays between Mahomes and Smith then I could line them up side by side and compare the two quarterbacks.
I took the two non-RPO quick outs from Mahomes game in Denver, and then crawled through Alex Smith’s tape to find similar plays. Fortunately I was able to find some Alex Smith plays that were very similar to the Mahomes plays.
Eventually I was able to find a tool to merge gifs and I was able to create the following:
Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes on the same play. Everything is equal except Mahomes gets the ball to Wilson more quickly. The benefits of Mahome's ability to throw from any platform is on display here. pic.twitter.com/q3Cuq78ly5— Gary McKenzie (@Super_G_Chiefs) June 9, 2018
As you can see, these plays are nearly identical. The main difference between the two plays is that Mahomes gets the ball to Wilson 0.15 seconds faster than Alex Smith does.
Alex Smith turns, sets his feet, and throws the ball to Wilson. Mahomes on the other hand, starts his throwing motion while he is still turning, doesn’t completely set his feet, and throws the ball.
For all the concern around Mahomes’ footwork, it looks like throwing from any platform has its benefits when it comes to getting rid of the ball quickly.
Quick one step drop comparison between Smith and Mahomes. Mahomes starts his windup while stepping back, and Smith sets his feet before winding up. In Smith's defense, DAT was about a yard or two further away.— Gary McKenzie (@Super_G_Chiefs) June 10, 2018
Mahomes' ability to get the ball out quickly is a nice asset. pic.twitter.com/OsNvYjF7eO
In this play, once again Mahomes is able to start his throwing motion before completely setting his feet. Alex Smith on the other hand takes his step backwards, sets his feet, and then throws the ball.
The difference in timing is obvious. Albert Wilson has already caught the ball from Mahomes before Alex Smith’s ball is halfway to DAT.
Effect on Yardage
So we have two throws - one where Mahomes’ ball reached the receiver 0.15 seconds quicker than Alex Smith’s, and another where Mahomes’ ball reached the receiver 0.35 seconds quicker than Alex Smith’s did.
The question is, how much of an advantage does this give the receiver? We’re going to need a few pieces of information to figure this out...
- Let’s assume the average 40 time of an NFL defensive back is 4.5 seconds
- So on average, an NFL defensive back will run 8.9 yards per second
Using the distance formula, the 0.15 and 0.35 from the Mahomes/Smith comparison, and the 8.9 yards per second we can do the following:
8.9 * 0.15 = 1.335 yards more separation
8.9 * 0.35 = 3.115 yards more separation
While this isn’t exact science because players run at different speeds, and acceleration will vary, it does offer a very basic idea of how much an advantage getting the ball out quickly can be.
If Mahomes continues to get the ball out quickly, it gives the Chiefs receivers extra space to work with. Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins are both very fast and even the smallest amount of extra space for either of those two can be deadly.
Long story short - it’s only two plays, but it appears Mahomes can get the ball out more quickly than Alex Smith. This should lead to more separation for the Chiefs receivers on screen plays and RPOs, as well as more YAC opportunities for the Chiefs receivers.