Ed Zurga/Associated Press
Few athletes are must-see television. The Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes is appointment viewing as he changes the way the quarterback position and offensive game is being played.
Some athletes are just different from those who preceded them. Different isn’t a bad thing; it can be the best thing and change sports forever.
Mahomes’ ascendancy is similar to Steph Curry’s rise in the NBA. Their respective sports have changed because of their gifts.
Professional basketball is now a wide-open, three-point-driven and point-guard-dominated league thanks to the Golden State Warriors, who built their franchise around a prospect once seen as too frail to be worthy of a top-five draft pick. With his limitless shooting range, Curry smashed three-point records, and the league became more about spacing to counteract the Warriors’ lineups.
The NFL is trending in a similar direction.
The league has never been more offense-driven, with quarterbacks now serving as point guards on grass distributing the ball from numerous angles to multiple weapons with varying skill sets.
Mahomes is leading the way, and it’s more than his league-leading 43 touchdown passes. It’s how those passes are delivered, the silly little plays made during drives and how he’s changing viewpoints around the league.
His playground style is perfect for a social-media-driven world because he’s an instant viral sensation. What better way to understand how he’s changing the game than seeing how he broke the internet during Sunday’s 27-24 overtime victory against the Baltimore Ravens at Arrowhead Stadium.
His no-look pass was Magic Johnson-esque and set the NFL world abuzz since the league and its fans have never seen a quarterback intentionally misdirect a throw yet still lace the pass with perfect precision.
The throw itself is phenomenal. However, Mahomes’ pocket mobility to evade a pair of pass-rushers, reset his feet and then attempt the unimaginable is just as important to the play.
Some NFL quarterbacks are no longer statues who need to deliver from the pocket when pressured. Mahomes, like multiple other young options, helps extends plays. His feet are a positive in both the passing and running games.
The pass borders on wizardry, if it was something he never practiced. Apparently, Mahomes has been preparing for the moment since his days at Texas Tech, according to ESPN The Magazine‘s Seth Wickersham.
The ability to extend a play is like a good shooter who can stretch the floor. There’s nothing more maddening for a defense than to do everything right yet feel completely helpless when the shooter still drains the shot or the quarterback escapes the pocket to make a positive play.
Mahomes is already a master despite being in his first full season as a starter.
The Ravens aren’t just any defense; Baltimore entered Sunday’s contest as the league’s best. It is talented at all three levels with rock-solid run defenders, ferocious pass-rushers and opportunistic defensive backs.
In the play above, the Ravens had everyone covered. Mahomes continued to extend the play until he found running back Spencer Ware creeping along the sideline.
According to BJ Kissel of the Chiefs’ official site, the Ravens allowed only 212 passing yards per game in their four matchups this season with the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger (twice). Mahomes had a cool 377 passing yards and made all of the biggest plays when necessary.
Most quarterbacks struggle to handle pressure in tight games. Mahomes did everything wrong in the following play, yet it still worked.
The quarterback shouldn’t be retracing his steps. He could have easily run for positive yards. Signal-callers are taught never to throw back to the middle of the field, especially when momentum is taking them in the opposite direction.
As good as the previous play was, it’s routine for Mahomes. He’s doing everything a quarterback shouldn’t do and still excelling, much like some ill-advised three-pointers Curry chucks that touch nothing but net.
It’s a natural gift others simply can’t replicate, but they’ll try. Only Mahomes will be successful, like when he reproduced the completely unorthodox approach to convert the biggest play of the season.
On 4th-and-long with the game on the line, Mahomes rolled to his right, never broke stride and threw from an awkward arm angle and across his body only to lace a perfect pass to Tyreek Hill.
Only a few quarterbacks in history could even attempt this pass with the remote possibility of it being completed. In fact, the odds weren’t in Mahomes’ favor, either, per NFL Next Gen Stats:
Great players aren’t entirely defined by the spectacular. Sure, big shots must be part of the lexicon, but great shooters must make the easy layups, too, especially in crunch time. Mahomes’ best throw Sunday might have been his last in regulation.
At first glance, Mahomes made a simple throw in the flat to a wide-open running back.
However, he had to do so on fourth down with the game on the line while throwing off his back foot and accounting for an incoming defender’s outstretched arm. The pass could have easily been airmailed or not placed in the proper spot for the back to easily make the catch.
Even difficult plays can be simple with the right talent pulling the trigger.
The performance was the best of Mahomes’ young career and continues to build on an important league narrative.
Professional football’s landscape is changing, much like the NBA’s has. What organizations are looking for and prefer is different today than just a few years ago.
Russell Wilson wasn’t a first- or second-round pick because many considered him too short for the position. Yet, the 6’1″ Baker Mayfield went No. 1 overall in April’s draft six years after Wilson heard his name called. NFL evaluators learned how to shift their viewpoints instead of continuing to rely on archaic scouting approaches.
Offenses at the high school and collegiate levels predominantly run spread schemes in which their quarterbacks grow up playing seven-on-seven tournaments year-round while working with gurus to hone footwork, throwing motions and an overall understanding of the position.
As a two-sport athlete growing up, Mahomes didn’t quite fit the bill, even though he did play in college football’s most pass-happy offense at Texas Tech and threw the ball 1,164 times during his final two seasons on campus.
He didn’t need to fit into a neat little package that looked like the NFL archetype of a 6’5″, 235-pound signal-caller with a beautiful over-the-top release just like Curry didn’t need to be the next Magic, Jason Kidd or Chris Paul. Their styles of play set them apart, and smart evaluators took notice.
The Air Raid offensive scheme, in particular, was a bugaboo for years. Mahomes played in a variant, as did Mayfield and Jared Goff.
“Chiefs general manager Brett Veach, who is a far cry from the spread panickers of years past, told me his team didn’t even consider what type of offense Mahomes was playing in at Texas Tech before they traded up to draft him with the 10th overall pick in 2017,” Kevin Clark of The Ringer reported. “Rather, they just evaluated the player’s skills.”
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
This approach is a game-changer. It seems so simple, but it hasn’t been for NFL decision-makers. The NFL dictated style of play for decades. Now, influence is matriculating upward from lower levels to the pros.
“The availability of all this information and game tape has brought football together. It really has,” Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “College guys are getting our tape, we are getting their tape, and there is a lot of cross-referencing going on right now. That’s why you’re seeing the two mesh together.”
Mahomes’ lasting impact as he experiences more and more success will be changing once-impermeable viewpoints. The Chiefs adjusted to him and continue to reap the rewards. An electric talent has been unleashed because Kansas City wasn’t scared to draft raw ability, develop it and build around his strengths. It allows its shooter to shoot.
As a result, Mahomes and Co. are must-see viewing, especially when the quarterback is leading the fast break with a little flair.
“It’s a quarterback-driven league,” right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said, per the Kansas City Star‘s Sam Mellinger. “And we’ve got the best going right now.”
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.