Super Bowl Champion quarterback Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs has quite quickly become easily one of the top quarterbacks in the National Football League. However, coming out of Texas Tech, a lot of people didn’t have Mahomes on their radar before the NFL Draft. Mahomes was ranked 29th on PFF’s big board, while taking positional value strongly into account. He was ranked as the third best quarterback by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein at the time, only marginally ahead of Nathan Peterman. In this film breakdown, Pro Football Magazine takes a look at Mahomes’ college film and why he is so dominant in the NFL now.
Games watched (all 2016): Arizona State, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, West Virginia, Texas
Best game: Baylor
Worst game: Iowa State
Patrick Mahomes made at least one spectacular play in every game that I watched. Most of these plays came in third and long situations, which Texas Tech faced a lot due to Mahomes’ inconsistency and their lack of a run game. His playmaking ability was mostly due to his accuracy throwing off-platform and on the run, and his creativity.
One area where his creativity was evident was when he would move in the pocket in order to manipulate underneath zone defenders, rather than the traditional eye manipulation. The first couple of times I saw him do this, I thought it was accidental but after seeing him do it more and more, it was clear that it was a calculated attempt to open up throwing windows. Needless to say, I have never seen this before.
Mahomes was good enough at baseball to get drafted. This point gets brought up a lot, and for good reason, as it shows up in his game as he is able to put tremendous velocity on the ball. However, I don’t think Texas Tech’s offense utilized his arm strength enough as he didn’t throw timing routes (deep outs, comebacks, seams) much, and most of his deep shots were fade routes, which require precision more than velocity.
Accuracy on the run and off-platform
Unlike most quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes had the ability to throw accurately and powerfully in non-ideal scenarios. This is a key skill in the NFL as a lot of the time, you don’t have a clean pocket to throw from. However, the main reason Mahomes threw from awkward platforms a lot was because he created the awkward platforms with his inconsistent footwork and mechanics.
I think the fact that he was able to throw very well from awkward platforms is more important than why he threw from awkward platforms, as it’s a lot easier to teach him to avoid throwing from awkward platforms than it is to teach a normal quarterback to throw well from awkward platforms.
When throwing on the move he was not only able to throw on target consistently, but also able to consistently lead receivers. He had to throw on the move more than he should have, but again, it’s more important to have the ability to do it than why you do it.
Mahomes had a good feel for leverage and knew exactly what he was looking for when he was reading the defense. This led to him making a lot of quick decisions, allowing him to get the ball out on time in the quick passing game. This instinctiveness, however, did backfire sometimes, and will likely cause more problems in the NFL, as defenses will disguise their coverages and defenders will bait him into making throws that he shouldn’t.
There were some examples of him not recognizing cover-0 pre-snap, leading to mistakes post-snap. Cover-0 is simply when the defense brings one extra rusher than the offense is blocking, and doesn’t leave any deep zone defenders, leaving all of the receivers isolated.
Disguise is generally key as if the quarterback can recognize it pre-snap, he should be able to get the ball out quickly and take advantage of one of his one-on-one matchups. Sam Darnold’s infamous “I’m seeing ghosts” comment was likely because the New England Patriots kept sending cover-0 blitzes at him and he wasn’t able to pick them up. A similar thing could happen to Mahomes if he doesn’t get better recognizing pressure pre-snap and make the appropriate route and protection adjustments.
Being able to process things quickly is critical in the NFL (and at all levels of football) and Mahomes certainly has that ability. He will have to learn all of the different looks an NFL defense will throw at him, and get better at confirming what he sees pre-snap, post-snap. There will likely be a decent bit of mistakes early on in his career, but he has shown the ability to process accurately and quickly.
Understanding of ball placement
The best ball placement is always where it puts the receiver in the best position possible. If the receiver is open, then it’s best for the quarterback to throw a slight bit in front of the receiver and around his numbers, as this allows him to make the catch in stride, making it easier to add yards after the catch. If the defender is in trail technique and has his back to the quarterback, the best position is high and outside of the defender as this allows the receiver to separate at the catch point.
Mahomes showed this regularly, so must have a good understanding of it. This should and has served him well in the NFL.
As mentioned above, Mahomes has a great understanding of where to place the ball. However, he is very inconsistent when it comes to actually delivering the ball as intended. The main reason for his inconsistency is that his mechanics are very inconsistent and no two throws look the same.
His inaccurate throws mostly come on loft/touch throws rather than drive throws. As a result, a lot of his short throws were inaccurate. He was most accurate when throwing in the intermediate range, particularly in the middle of the field as these are usually tighter window throws, and thus require velocity rather than touch. He did throw some very nice deep balls, but did under throw them a bit too often. He had a similar problem to new Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love, as he would sometimes lift his back foot too far off the ground, causing him to be unbalanced.
Mahomes most certainly had a bias towards making plays outside of structure. This is likely because of his confidence in his arm talent and playmaking ability, which is most certainly justified, but led to him pushing the envelope too much and not taking into account the game situation.
This bias towards make explosive plays happen lead him to be surprisingly cautious when throwing in structure. This showed up a couple times on screen plays where he would simply decide not to settle on throwing the screen, and instead look for more. It also sometimes showed up as he would sometimes decide to throw on RPO’s when the read defender was clearly playing the pass. This led to him turning down a decent bit of easy opportunities, while also forcing him to hold on to the ball for longer.
One example of his lack of situational awareness came against Texas. With 16 seconds left in the game, Texas Tech had a third and ten from the Texas 20-yard line down by a touchdown. Mahomes could have thrown to his check down for an easy first down, and given that they still had a timeout, they would have had at least two attempts for a touchdown from inside the 10-yard line. The probability of scoring on either play would be a lot higher than the probability of Mahomes’ heave into double coverage had of being a touchdown.
The key for the coaching staff of the team that drafts him will be to eliminate the decisions that led to turnover-worthy throws, while still maintaining his ability to create explosive plays.
I think the key for him will be to throw the ball away when his receivers, and thus defenders, are static as this makes it easy for the defenders to intercept the throw. Attempting the throw in these types of situations was the cause of a lot of his terrible decisions. When the play is “fluid” and his receivers are in motion, I think it would be a good idea to attempt the aggressive throw as it’s easier for his receivers to get open. Most of his explosive plays came in these situations.
Most of the reads that NFL offenses use are what’s called “pure progression reads.” These are simply when the quarterback reads from receiver to receiver, and doesn’t have any options to adjust his progression based on the coverage. The key on pure progression reads is not to get stuck on one receiver as then you will be late on your other reads.
There were examples of Mahomes going through his progression smoothly, but more often than not, he would look to scramble if his first two reads weren’t there. This lead to him very rarely availing of his check down, which was open quite frequently as Texas Tech’s pass game usually stretched the defense vertically. This also lead to him creating unnecessary pressure.
In one play against Baylor, he slid up in the pocket nicely after he saw his first two reads covered, and then accurately threw it to his check down.
Scheme fit and projection
Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme was pretty simplistic at Texas Tech. They mostly ran Four Verticals, Smash, and Y-Cross. Given that he is an Air Raid coach, the terminology was also likely simplistic. Unlike most NFL scouts, and analysts such as Lance Zierlein, I don’t think coming from an Air Raid offense is a knock on Patrick Mahomes, and if anything, I think it’s a benefit as Air Raid quarterbacks generally are very responsible for their team’s success (which was certainly the case for Mahomes at Texas Tech), have to make their own play calls and adjustments (most of the time), and generally have a better feel for the game as their offense isn’t as structured as a “pro-style offense.”
That said, I think it will benefit him if the coaching staff of the team that drafts him limits the concepts that they use early on in his career and give him input into play selections. He will likely be uncomfortable executing more pro-style concepts early on in his career. Texas Tech averaged about 10 RPO’s a game, and even though Mahomes sometimes incorrectly threw the ball, he was still good at them, as they usually require tight windows and also sometimes throwing with awkward arm angles.
For Patrick Mahomes to be successful in the NFL, he will have to get better at playing within the confines of an offense, and only look to make plays off-script when the script doesn’t work. The main things he will have to improve in order to do this are his short accuracy, his footwork in the pocket, and getting through his reads smoothly. For the most part I think what’s missing from his game is composure as most of his problems stem from having erratic mechanics and decision making.
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)