Patrick Mahomes II - Texas Tech
Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes is bound to be one of the most polarizing prospects in the 2017 draft class. The 21-year old gunslinger stands in at a respectful 6’3” and 230 pounds, similar to the stature of an Andrew Luck or Matthew Stafford, and has a howitzer for an arm.
As a Junior at Texas Tech, Mahomes led the nation in total yards (5,337) and total touchdowns (53), slightly edging Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson, and National Championship game hero, Deshaun Watson, in each category. Despite all his success Mahomes’ is sure to be under some criticism in the coming months due to his unorthodox style of play paired with the Air-Raid offense that he ran at Texas Tech.
To understand Mahomes’ style of play it might help to understand where he comes from. Mahomes comes from a baseball background. His father, Patrick Mahomes Sr., pitched in the majors for 11 seasons and his godfather is LaTroy Hawkins, who pitched in the majors for over 20 years.
Mahomes is a really unique player. There are instances where Mahomes shows the quick footwork of infielder turning a double play and ability to throw from several different arm slots and different platforms like an infielder charging and fielding a ground ball. Every so often we’ll hear the masses compare Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig or a Yoan Moncada to the build of linebacker but you don’t often hear it the other way around.
Anyways, let us take a closer look at Mahomes’ game. QB’s from the Air-Raid offense haven’t faired well transitioning to the NFL. The stereotype that goes along with Air-Raid offense is that QB’s often are just sitting back and throwing to wide-open receivers and there isn’t much pre or post snap diagnosis of defenses. With Mahomes that is true in some sense, the offense has inflated his production but there are instances of him working in a compressed pocket, manipulating defenders, reading defenses, and throwing with touch and anticipation to all levels. So, this is where I’ll ask you to scout the traits and not the scheme. Mahomes has it all and plenty of things that need to be cleaned up.
Let’s have some fun now.
Games Watched: Baylor (2016), Oklahoma (2016), Oklahoma State (2016), Arizona State (2016), Louisiana Tech (2016) & LSU (2015)
The first thing you notice when watching Mahomes is how effortless and on-point his deep ball is. He has shown the ability to throw with pinpoint accuracy and appropriate touch down the field while standing in a clean pocket, under pressure and while on the move. Mahomes isn't afraid to use the whole field and has the arm to pull it off.
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Mahomes' arm talent is special but he does need to become more consistent with his footwork. There are plenty of instances where Mahomes ends up casually throwing off his back foot and ends up under-throwing his intended receiver down the sideline allowing defenders to make a play on the ball.
More impressive than his raw arm strength is Mahomes' ability to throw with touch, anticipation and accuracy to all levels of the field. In the below play Mahomes flawlessly drops a 30-yard pass in over a defender from the far hash of the field. A second look at the play and you'll notice that Mahomes is winding up to throw before the receiver breaks towards the sidelines. That's what throwing with anticipation is all about.
Mahomes has no problem with floating out a screen pass to the running back or knowing when to let his machine gun of a right arm rip and riffle a ball in through three defensive backs. In the gallery of gifs below you can see the wide spectrum of throws that Mahomes is able to make with relative ease.
(Use arrows to scroll through more gifs of Mahomes displaying touch to all levels of the field)
Now we get to see Magic Man Mahomes in his natural habitat. When Mahomes gets drafted, these will be some of the plays you'll see ESPN air during his 30-second highlight clip.
Mahomes' freelancing, living on the edge, backyard style of play is one that very few can pull off with success in the NFL, so I understand why many will be hesitant when it comes to their projection of him but I'm a believer and I think there is a method to his madness.
Let's also point out the elephant in the room right way; Texas Tech's offensive line was routinely manhandled so Mahomes had no choice but to go off-script. He also is more than willing to throw the ball away, but highlight videos won't show that.
What separates Mahomes' improvisational play from others is that his eyes are consistently down field calculating how the defense will react to his movement, as well as where his receivers may break off their route too. His ability to gauge the defense while scrambling and staying composed with defensive lineman barreling down on him is so impressive. He goes about these plays so nonchalantly it's almost as if the game slows down for him in these situations.
The baseball player in Mahomes also comes out in these plays. Mahomes, for better or for worse, has no issue with throwing on a dead sprint towards the line of scrimmage, throwing across his body or throwing in the middle of a backpedal off of one foot. Any arm angle or throwing platform is in the cards, which again is something, not every quarterback who tries these plays is able to do. The media shoves down our throats that you need to have pristine mechanics at all times, so Mahomes' unique ability is likely why some may characterize him as being more reckless than he truly is.
What I love about a quarterback who has this improvisational skill-set is that they are able to create opportunities for others and are constantly putting pressure on the defense with their arms and legs. It's very hard for a defensive coordinator to game plan for someone like this. In Mahomes’ case, he is also comfortable using the whole field which puts, even more, pressure on the defense to not have a blown assignment at any point in a play.
At the end of the day when you factor in his size, arm strength, mobility and this backyard style of play I think you can see why Brett Favre comparisons may start to come out of the woodwork for Mahomes.
(Use arrows to scroll through more gifs of Mahomes' scrambling ability)
As fun as the scrambling plays from Mahomes are to watch it's imperative that he's able to win from the pocket in order to succeed in the NFL. When given time Mahomes has no problems working through his progressions, reading coverage and manipulating defenders with his eyes or a pump fake in order to create an opening in the defense.
(Use arrows to scroll through more gifs of Mahomes' throwing from the pocket)
Mahomes also doesn't have any issue with stepping up into a collapsing pocket and delivering a strike. In Big Ben fashion, there were multiple occasions in the games I watched where Mahomes was able to complete a pass while being wrapped up in his lower half.
(Use arrows to scroll through more gifs of Mahomes' managing pressure from the pocket)
By now you're aware that Mahomes is a pretty mobile dude. Mahomes is not a shifty runner by any means but has decent straight-line speed.
I was impressed with how situationally aware Mahomes was as a runner. On 3rd or 4th down, Mahomes always lowered a shoulder to pick up the 1st down when it was necessary otherwise he often got out of bounds or slide before he could take a blow from an oncoming defender. It's great to see Mahomes already knows when to make a "business decision" as a runner. His use of pump fakes is also exceptional.
One thing I didn't like with Mahomes running style is his ball security. You'll see in the GIF below he’s carrying the ball in his right (inside) hand like a sprinter holding a baton.
1. In the NFL, he's just asking to be stripped by a defender in pursuit.
2. Mahomes needs to work on his transition from passer to runner here. He needs to switch the ball over to his right hand so that a defender would need to go across or through him to get to the football and hold it high and tight.
(Use arrows to scroll through more gifs of Mahomes as a runner)
There are so many nuanced things Mahomes does that I couldn't pass up talking about.
On the play below Mahomes clearly looks like he plans on running to the outside, he's even has the ball tucked away and in the proper hand. At the last second though he winds up and throws a TD pass. If you're a football nut you may recall Russell Wilson (vs. GB) and Nick Marshall (vs. Bama) pulling off similar plays in recent years.
A flag was eventually thrown on this play but it's just another instance of Mahomes having full knowledge of whats going on around him. Mahomes is a quick-minded individual who just gets it.
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Play 1: (OKST - 2nd & 12) It appears Mahomes uses his legs to get a clearer passing window. I saw this a couple of times when viewing his tape and found it so unique.
Play 2 & 3: (ASU – 2nd & 2) – Mahomes gets a defender to jump offside so he immediately takes advantage of the free play and looks downfield.
Play 4: (ASU – 1st & 10) – With a little more than 1 minute left in the half Mahomes throws the ball out of bounds with his left hand while being taken to the ground in order to stop the clock.
Play 5: (BU – 2nd &1) – Mahomes sees the inside trips receiver is uncovered and immediately gets the ball out to him for a 1st down. Look at how quick that release is after the fake.
Play 6: (BU – 2nd & 8) Mahomes steps up in the pocket and squares his shoulders to the line of scrimmage as if he’s going to run. This gets the linebackers to honor the run and he dumps a pass over the two oncoming defenders.
Play 7: (BU – 2nd & 10) Just another creative dump off while breaking from the pocket. He’s always willing to let his skill position players make plays. He’s mobile but always looks to pass first.
Play 8: (OU – 2nd & 2) Mahomes is pressured out of the pocket and instead of going out of bounds for a 10-yard loss he throws the ball with his left hand.
Play 9: (OU – 3rd & 16) TTU is down by two scores with a few minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Considering his defense has already given up 44 and TTU needs to make up ground I like that Mahomes took the chance on 3rd & 16 and did a pseudo Hail Mary here. I’d like to think he saw the WR had leverage to get position on the DB’s too. Pat is always putting pressure on the defense, like I said earlier.
Believe it or not, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows with Mahomes. There were a handful of cringe-worthy throws each game. One thing you'll notice when watching Mahomes is that he has supreme confidence in his arm and there isn't a throwing window he is afraid of. Mahomes’ accuracy and touch can come and go at times, which is likely due to his wonky footwork and mechanics. Against more advantageous defenses and better players these tipped and underthrown passes will become interceptions. Mahomes is also human and can reach a coverage incorrectly.
(Use arrows to scroll through more gifs of bad Mahomes)
Mahomes' red zone decision-making also worried me at times. I'll walk through a couple of plays that stood out.
Play 1: (OSU – 3rd & Goal) – Down by two scores with 9 minutes left Mahomes needs to be smarter with the football here. Throw the ball away and live with the 3.
Play 2: (3rd & 3) – Here the result is actually good but the process is bad. Mahomes tries bailing out of a clean pocket too early and then throws a dangerous pass.
Play 3: (LSU – 4th & Goal) – Mahomes has the receiver that’s crossing the formation underneath wide open but passes it up and ends up throwing an incompletion in the back of the end zone
Part of what makes Mahomes so special is his ability to create something out of nothing so you need to be willing to accept the good and the bad. When you live on the edge too often you're bound to fall off the cliff. You also have to wonder in certain situations if he's forcing the issue because he knows he needs to score 50 points to win.
I mentioned ball security and passing up the easy completion earlier so here are a few more examples of that. Plays 1-3 reference Mahomes ball security issues. Surprisingly enough Mahomes' fumble rate was actually very good but I would still like to see him not hold the ball so loose from his body within the pocket and to hold it with two hands when necessary. On plays 4 & 5 Mahomes seemingly passes up an easy first read and ends up having to scramble.
Time will tell if he is the exception to the rule of Air-Raid Quarterbacks not transitioning to the NFL but I've seen enough to be sold on Mahomes. His combination of mobility, situational awareness, accuracy, anticipation, and touch as a passer are a lethal combination. Although he’ll be asked to conform to whatever offense the team that drafts him runs, it’s nice to know he has that ability to create on his own and put an offense on his shoulders. That skill itself can carry a team during the inevitable rough patch that each team encounters during the regular season. Look at what Aaron Rodgers did at times during the past two seasons.
The greatest challenge for Mahomes, like every other QB entering the NFL, will be adjusting to the speed and complexity of NFL defenses. Despite the big name programs within the Big 12, it's consistently full of disgraceful defenses these days.
Mahomes’ footwork and mechanics are bad enough at times to make the by-the-book perfectionist puke but I would just tinker with them to build more consistency on a play-to-play basis.
Mahomes is the first quarterback that I've studied in-depth this year and I would already put him above everyone from the 2016 class. He's a first-round talent.
NFL Player Comparison Spectrum: Brett Favre, (X), Derek Carr/Matthew Stafford, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel