With no consensus on the overall quality of the top draft-eligible quarterbacks, this is shaping up as the ultimate boom-or-bust class. And in an unpredictable group of would-be NFL passers, Patrick Mahomes might just be the most intriguing prospect of all.
The son of former major-league pitcher Pat Mahomes has the strongest arm among this year’s quarterbacks. He has been likened to a young version of Brett Favre, with a swagger and pizzazz reminiscent of the Packers’ Hall of Fame passer. But even Favre was perceived by many as a risky proposition when he was drafted by the Falcons out of Southern Mississippi in 1991. He lasted until the second round, in part because of his willingness to take too many chances and risk too many interceptions.
Well, Favre did wind up throwing more interceptions (336) than any other quarterback in NFL history, but he also threw the second-most touchdown passes (508) and produced a glorious career that included one Super Bowl championship and a place in football immortality.
NFL scouts don’t foresee that kind of prolific production for the 6-2, 225-pound Mahomes, but enough of them do see the potential for success under the right circumstances. That includes the Jets and Giants, both of whom are in the market for a quarterback in the draft and have carefully studied and met with Mahomes during the pre-draft process.
The biggest issue with Mahomes isn’t his raw talent, and it certainly isn’t his powerful arm; the concern is where he played. Texas Tech runs the “Air Raid” offense, which allows quarterbacks to put up gaudy numbers but doesn’t necessarily provide the requisite skill set for NFL success. It’s a high-octane attack in which the quarterback rarely, if ever, lines up under center and rarely, if ever, makes a serious read of opposing defenses.
This is mostly a one-step process in which the quarterback makes an immediate decision about throwing to his primary target or else taking off on his own. So when Air Raid quarterbacks get to the NFL and are asked to start plays from under center and make complicated reads based on what complicated defenses are trying to do, the outcome isn’t always good.
Among the quarterbacks from an Air Raid-type offense who have found the transition to the NFL difficult: Tim Couch, Johnny Manziel, Geno Smith, Bryce Petty, Jared Goff, Brandon Weeden and Robert Griffin III.
Mahomes is aware of the skepticism.
“I just show [teams] my knowledge of the game. That’s the only way I can prove it wrong,” he said of previous NFL flops who played in Air Raid-type offenses. “You look back at the system quarterback, a lot of guys didn’t work out. So for me, it’s just about proving those guys wrong, going out there and really showing my knowledge of the game and just competing. It’ll all show up when you get to the field.”
There’s no telling whether Mahomes can break the mold, but he certainly has the kind of work ethic and charisma that will convince some team to take him relatively early in the draft. He could go in the second half of the first round, no later than the second round. And if he goes to a team that doesn’t need an immediate starter — the Giants certainly are in that mold, with Eli Manning still the No. 1 quarterback despite last year’s struggles — he will be able to enjoy an apprenticeship period before being asked to start. The Jets have a more immediate need for a starter, but they at least have veteran Josh McCown to play in the short term.
Mahomes is ready for whatever comes his way, having been steeped in the world of professional sports since childhood. Pat Mahomes pitched 11 years in the majors, including two with the Mets (1999-2000), and LaTroy Hawkins, who pitched for 21 years, is the younger Mahomes’ godfather.
“It definitely helped me, just seeing professional athletes growing up,” said Patrick Mahomes, who threw a combined 77 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions in his final two seasons at Texas Tech. “You saw how hard they worked. When they got to the big leagues, how hard they worked to stay there. [Pat Mahomes and Hawkins] really have shown me the way to be a professional athlete, and that’s definitely something I feel like is an advantage for me.”
The ultimate lesson: “You’ve got to perfect your game every single day.”
Mahomes is willing to put in the time, and he’ll find out later this week where he’ll get his opportunity. The only remaining question is whether he can succeed in the NFL when other quarterbacks with his background failed.