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With Patrick Mahomes, optimism should be tempered with uncertainty

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There’s plenty to like about Mahomes, but there is still room for concern.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Frank Schwab’s 2018 NFL Preview on Yahoo! Sports focused on the Kansas City Chiefs. Schwab made some interesting points about quarterback Patrick Mahomes that are worth examining further.

Schwab acknowledged the possibility that Mahomes could be one of the NFL’s best in 2018, but for him, that acknowledgment is tempered with uncertainty.

Due to his supporting cast and his amazing talent, Mahomes could be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season. Or he could have typical first-year struggles and then everyone will second-guess Kansas City’s decision to trade Smith. We really have no idea what to expect from him. That uncertainty makes the Chiefs one of the league’s most interesting teams coming into this season.

Most Chiefs fans — and even some local and national pundits — aren’t buying into uncertainty. They think Mahomes will crush it from Week 1 on. That optimism is not unjustified, as Schwab points out.

[Mahomes’] best plays last preseason were phenomenal. He looked calm and comfortable when Kansas City gave him a start in a meaningless Week 17 game at Denver last season. Mahomes is big, athletic and has one of the strongest arms in the NFL.

Still, Schwab’s earlier point still stands: NFL quarterbacks in their first year as starters typically face some struggles. It’s not unreasonable to think that even if Mahomes performs at a high level in many games this season, there could easily be some games in which he does not. Neither is it unreasonable to think that those highs and lows could be distributed more evenly within each game of the season, resulting in an overall average performance from Mahomes.

But Schwab did not acknowledge the elephant in the room: the possibility that Mahomes could be injured and miss substantial playing time. Nobody likes to talk about this; I’m reluctant to even bring it up. Yet the NFL is coming off a season where a troubling number of starting quarterbacks — some of them star players — lost significant playing time. Names like Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer, Deshaun Watson and Jameis Winston were in the weekly injury reports far too much, and even the eventual Super Bowl winner entered (and completed) the postseason with a backup quarterback.

In an article posted last November, FiveThirtyEight’s Scott Kacsmar attempted to quantify the phenomenon to that point in the season. He found that while some seasons had been worse for QB injuries, 2017 was still pretty bad.

Fortunately, the Chiefs have paid attention to this problem in recent seasons, keeping a competent backup quarterback on the roster as insurance against a worst-case scenario. Chase Daniel and Nick Foles were able to take the reins for Alex Smith as he recovered from (thankfully) short-term injuries. Chad Henne — a more experienced player than either Daniel or Foles — now fulfills that role. Both Daniel and Foles had skill sets similar to Smith, which allowed them to step into the offense smoothly. Whether Henne’s skills match with those of Mahomes is more open to question, but the Chiefs current abundance of offensive weapons should provide some comfort should the worst happen.

There is ample reason to be optimistic that Patrick Mahomes will be a breakout quarterback in the NFL this season. There is every reason to believe that even if he doesn’t become a star this season, it is only a matter of time before he does. But uncertainty is inarguably a part of NFL football, and there is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Chiefs new quarterback.