It was only a matter of time.
On Wednesday, FiveThirtyEight.com’s Michael Salfino published an article entitled Quarterbacks Usually Regress After Historic Seasons. Not Patrick Mahomes.
The statistics geeks at FiveThirtyEight — who write about all kinds of sports topics when they’re not crunching election numbers — were bound to notice what’s been going on with the Kansas City Chiefs and their your quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
And now it’s happened.
As Salfino notes in his article, after three games of the 2019 regular season, Mahomes is on pace to throw for 53 touchdowns and 6,373 passing yards. After his MVP season in 2018 — when he threw for 50 touchdowns and 5,097 yards — it’s wouldn’t be enough to say that would be unexpected. Instead, it would be entirely unprecedented.
No NFL quarterback has ever thrown for more than 5,477 yards — the total from Peyton Manning’s astonishing 2013 season. To suggest that such a record might be exceeded by over 16% is... well... crazy.
Let’s give that percentage increase some perspective. In the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, American Bob Beamon set a new world record of 8.90 meters in the long jump. The news struck the sports world like a thunderbolt, because Beamon had broken the existing record by not just a few centimeters — the usual margin by which new world records in the long jump had been set since 1901 — but by 55 centimeters!
But even that headline-inducing number (I clearly remember the banner headline in the Kansas City Star sports page the next day) was an increase of only 5%.
Salfino points out that if Mahomes should exceed 6,000 yards in 2019, it could be a long time before that mark is exceeded.
After Joe Namath first cracked the 4,000-yard barrier in 1967, it took 12 years (and adding two extra games) for anyone else to match it. Then, in 1984, Dan Marino topped 5,000 yards — a feat that would not be repeated until Drew Brees threw for 5,069 yards in 2008. Now, Mahomes isn’t just on pace to repeat 5,000 passing yards1, but to easily crack 6,000. No quarterback has come within 500 yards of that mark. And if Mahomes keeps his 2019 pace, history tells us that it could be decades before anyone does it again.
Maybe. Or maybe not.
While it took 24 years for anyone else to throw for 5,000 yards after Marino did it in 1984, it’s happened nine other times in the 10 seasons since Brees first did it in 2008. When you look at it that way, it’s not that unreasonable to think that the 6,000-yard threshold could be breached much more quickly.
And if it is, Salfino has already identified the reason why: a perfect marriage of quarterback, receivers and coach.
We’re seeing the perfect merger of a quarterback with enormous arm strength (he threw the ball out of his home stadium), accuracy and a receiving corps that runs like a relay team. Sammy Watkins clocked a 4.43 40-yard dash, Mecole Hardman timed 4.33, and the injured Tyreek Hill ran a 4.26 at his pro day. Hill’s replacement, Demarcus Robinson, is slow in comparison with a 4.59 time, yet he already has three TDs and has averaged 23.9 yards per catch in his two starts replacing Hill. Have I mentioned that Mahomes is going to get Hill back soon? (He’s no longer in a sling.) And don’t forget that Travis Kelce is one of the game’s fastest tight ends, with a 40-yard dash time of 4.61.
And Mahomes has a head coach in Andy Reid who has tailored the offense to his quarterback’s strength: throwing downfield with uncanny accuracy. Consider that Mahomes this year already has 12 completions of 20 or more air yards (in 20 attempts), according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. That’s a pace of 64 for the season, which would shatter the record since 2001 of 39 shared by the Eli Manning (2011) and Blake Bortles (2015). And it’s on pace to nearly double the Chiefs’ deep-passing completions last season (37). Put another way, Reid’s scheme has enabled Mahomes to be on pace for more than 2,700 yards just on deep passes — that would be nearly double the record of 1,446 yards set by the 2011 Packers.
But we shouldn’t let ourselves get carried away. Statistical projections made three games into a 16-game season rarely match the eventual reality — but even with that caveat, Mahomes clearly hasn’t been regressing the way so many predicted he would.
It might prove difficult for Mahomes to maintain the pace he has set in victories against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens. But it’s a more credible scenario than another projection that’s out there — that the New England Patriots will post “historic” defensive numbers this year based on what they did in their victories against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.
I’m just saying.