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Patrick Mahomes put in the work to reach new heights in 2019

We didn’t see a lot of Mahomes in the preseason, but what we saw reveals a quarterback who is ready to improve on his 2018 season

Kansas City Chiefs v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs fans aren’t far removed from three decades of agony; the team famously went over thirty years between selecting first-round quarterbacks. That nefarious streak jaded an entire generation of fans.

But now, Chiefs fans are just a little over two years removed from Patrick Mahomes taking a jackhammer to the angst. The 2018 NFL MVP has shattered the mold, creating an almost unattainable expectation for what it means to have a franchise quarterback in Kansas City.

So much has been normalized. The Chiefs playing in the AFC Championship — and coming within a few inches of the Super Bowl — is more remarkable when you consider the adversity the team faced last season.

The Chiefs released Kareem Hunt in the middle of the season, got little out of their 2018 draft class, experienced injuries to key players on both sides of the ball, played nearly the entire season with two burned roster spots (Eric Berry and Kahlil McKenzie) and employed Bob Sutton as defensive coordinator.

There was a lot stacked against the Chiefs in 2018, but the kid at quarterback made people forget about all that — and put the team tantalizingly close to hoisting the Lamar Hunt trophy.

The highest level the Chiefs have experienced at quarterback in recent memory is purgatory: good enough enough to win, but not good enough to win it all. There hasn’t even really been a ramp-up to Kansas City’s new normal; this ride went from 0-60 faster than the league has ever seen.

It’s hard to completely grasp what has happened — which makes it hard to grasp that there could not only be room for growth, but also for new levels of performance. Mahomes is a rarity in almost every respect. He’s wanted to be a professional athlete his whole life — and had the rare opportunity to learn at the feet of professional athletes. He is driven the same way as the world’s best: he doesn’t just want to just be great. Instead, he wants to be the greatest.

Mahomes arrived at this season’s training camp in excellent physical and mental shape. He looked at what he could do to take a step forward — and worked hard to reach that goal. The few glimpses we had of Mahomes preseason action revealed the fruits his of hard work.

It started on his first throw of the preseason.

Right off the bat, Mahomes delivers a perfect ball to Travis Kelce on an out-and-up for a big gain. The middle-field safety is working tight to the far hash mark and the cornerback to the field runs vertically with Demarcus Robinson. With Kelce on the double-move, Mahomes knows he has room to work, calmly delivering a perfect throw to his tight end. This is such clean, quiet execution — both effortless and confident.

The same can be said for this throw.

This is a basic mesh-wheel route (Williams’ path is more of the backfield than a typical wheel route) that Mahomes has been running since college — but he looks a lot cleaner than he did at Texas Tech. He’s comfortable in his drop, good with his eyes and delivers a beautiful ball with anticipation, timing and touch.

In this early (and limited) sample, everything Mahomes did seemed to be a tick faster.

He’s been so good getting the ball out on time. This can be attributed in part to offseason efforts to create more consistency with his feet. Combine that with quicker processing, and you get accurate throws that get to the receivers early — when they’re in position to make a play.

Here, the first throw he wants is the shot play. But he calmly works down to his outlet and delivers the ball with touch. He intentionally throws more to Sammy Watkins’ front shoulder because of the soft coverage the corner gives him; this allows Watkins to open to the field and make a move. It’s also a straight drop from under center with clean feet — something you didn’t see Mahomes do much (if at all) last year; his under-center throws were in play action.

In the remaining plays, you can see Mahomes’ improved footwork, decisive delivery and accuracy — and working farther down his progressions.

Mahomes looks less raw than he did this time a year ago. He looks a little wiser and a little more confident. In training camp and preseason games, I saw plenty things that say he’ll be a more efficient version of what we saw in 2018.

The small improvements he showed in these clips are part of what Mahomes has been talking about during the offseason: taking plays to extend drives, instead of trying to make the big play all the time. He’s more workmanlike — and it looks good on him. That’s a scary thought, but it’s real.

Patrick Mahomes put in the work to achieve even greater heights in 2019. He and his team are well-positioned to not only hoist the Lamar Hunt trophy, but also the one that comes two weeks later in Miami.

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