Six Texas Tech quarterbacks have been drafted to play quarterback in the National Football League. Joe Barnes—1974 13th round, Tom Duniven—1977 6th round, Ron Reeves—1982 10th round, Billy Joe Tolliver—1989 2nd round, Kliff Kingsbury—2003 6th round, and B.J. Symons—2004 7th round. Only ol’ Billy Joe started a game in the NFL, 47 in fact, going 15-32 in those games. Only three Tech QBs ever attempted a pass in the NFL—Kingsbury threw 2, Barnes threw 9, and Billy Joe threw 1,707.
For Patrick Mahomes, even being drafted will swerve around a trend going back to the first ray of light that entered man’s eyes. If Mahomes has a successful NFL career, it will be the first time a high volume, spread offense running, gun slinging, Lubbock denizen ever has accomplished such a feat. Unlike soft tossing passers like Graham Harrell, Mahomes is talented. Mahomes is going to be drafted. But Mahomes is going to have to work and grow to become an actual quarterback for him to ever get to Billy Joe’s 59 touchdown passes.
Mahomes is in the NFL Draft headlines is because of the talent he’s flashed. Because of the occasional throws and plays that make a coach think, I can do something with that. Carnival passes. Eyes shut heaves with interlocked fingers that somehow work out. Lovely displays of touch, lowered shoulder runs, quick releases on screens, and Manzielian scrambles were the core components of Mahomes’ life at Tech. There were incredible plays to be sure. There were things to stitch together into some absurdist highlight videos, and a lot more to toss aside. Through two years and sixty plus tosses a game, there is a lot of sifting to be done to find plays that have a NFL context for Patrick Mahomes.
The difficult thing about forming an opinion on quarterbacks in these types of NCAA offenses is that there are hundreds of passes that don’t translate to the NFL game. Catch the snap and throw a quick screen. Manufactured, easy, open throws available because of a wide open field. Offensive linemen with enormous splits that give the quarterback more room to work. Easy throws that his skill players were able to YAC, YAC, and YAC some more. So you sit and wait, and wait, and wait, for a play, a semblance of something that has some sort of NFL context to end all the imagining of how it could possibly be replicated at the next level.
The offense is problematic for projection and maturation. The biggest problem for Mahomes isn’t the scheme, however. There are enough plays with proper context. It’s the pocket. Mahomes has no control of it. If the play isn’t open right away, he either fades backwards or rolls to the right or left to create space. He doesn’t want to deal with a rush. He wants to play backyard football without any Mississippis.
Here, TCU is rushing only three. The right tackle has the edge rush handled well. Yet Mahomes is freaking out. No one is open, and three seconds have passed. He is worried about the defensive end up the field. Rather than hang out and keep his eyes downfield, Mahomes pulls the ball down to run. By doing this, he removes his ability to throw if someone does break open, and he also almost runs into a sack. The other defensive end splits the double team, but falls before he can get to Mahomes. This is a threat Mahomes should maneuver around. Instead, he overreacts and almost runs into it. From there, he seeps left and tosses an unbalanced throw that screams over his receiver’s head.
Here against West Virginia, Mahomes takes the snap from the shotgun. He doesn’t really drop back from there. He aimlessly shuttles backwards, looking and searching. He’s facing a three-man rush. The left rushers are getting free off their blocks. Mahomes breaks right in their direction to the wide side of the field. By choosing to run this way, he pulls both defenders into chase mode and creates additional pressure for himself. Now he has to cut back across the field, which brings the now unblocked defensive linemen who was blocked into the play. He’s able to get back to the sideline and toss the ball away before he’s sacked. Still, Mahomes managed to turn a three-man rush into an apocalypse.
This is easily seen in the extreme. On simple dropbacks, this same problem takes a more subtle form. In this instance, Mahomes takes the snap from the shotgun. He doesn’t drop back. He just slides backwards like an escaped ice cube and bounces with anxiety. With zero pressure, Mahomes makes this throw nine yards behind the line of scrimmage. He added five yards to a sideline throw that the safety almost came over the top to pick off.
For all the great plays Mahomes makes in cRaZy ways, there are just as many putrid ones like this that are scrubbed away with the exultation that accompanies touchdowns. When it does work out, it is the result of Mahomes running around and finding someone wide open centuries after the ball is snapped. Teams can’t pass protect forever. Nor can defenses cover forever. Eventually someone gets open or free. Mahomes lives for those moments so he can run away, create chaos, and take advantage of the mess he made.
At Texas Tech, Mahomes played like a long series of stream of consciousness, with the occasional beautiful phrase, paragraph, or page boasting the ore that Henry Miller strove for, but most of it was incoherent rambling. Patrick Mahomes needs an editor. He needs some sort of structure in which to work inside, He needs boundaries. He needs limits. Right now, he is just a rambling mad man. These incessant roll-out-and-heaves need to be occasional when everything goes haywire. They can’t be the majority of a player’s game.
Additionally, most of these off-schedule throws came against three or four man rushes where Mahomes had plenty of time if he made one player miss (and he didn’t even need to do that all the time). All too frequently, Mahomes had swaths of space and time. By running, he creates chaos for the defense on the back end. They have to cover with one eye and watch him with the other. Yet when teams like West Virginia blitzed Mahomes, he stood no chance. When he was forced to audible and show some understanding of pass protection schemes to know where the free rusher was coming from, he wasn’t able to do it. He was smashed instantly. He couldn’t weasel his way out these situations.
Because Mahomes is reluctant to throw into tight coverage and wants his receivers to be wide open, he holds onto the ball for too long and gets eaten up by interior pressure. This leads to sacks and toss-ups that should be interceptions.
In the NFL, Mahomes won’t be able to outrun defensive linemen like he did in college. He probably won’t outmuscle linebackers and somehow stay upright. Quite simply, Patrick Mahomes is not going to be able to get away with the things he got away with in college. Whether it’s defensive linemen chasing him down or six man blitz schemes, Mahomes must learn how to deal with pressure in ways other than just running away and dipping out from tackles.
That’s the negative angle extrapolated into the world of professional football. In college, Mahomes was a blast. Cherish it. He made so many ludicrous plays that were impossible not to love. He made the pocket a madhouse. He did some remarkable and incredible things.
In the NFL, what do you do? How do you expect this to work there? Mahomes is a good athlete at 6’2” and 225 pounds, running a 4.8 40 and jumping well. He’s not a transcendent athlete, though. He’s not a slithery snake like Russell Wilson, or a jungle cat like Cam Newton, or a light speed phantom like Michael Vick was. He’s not even the athlete Johnny Manziel was. A lot of these plays you can’t expect for Mahomes to get away with in the pro game. The majority of these are going to end up with Mahomes on the ground, having failed to escape the grasp of defensive linemen bigger and stronger and faster than he is.
When he’s not running around, dipping, diving, and heaving, Mahomes threw a lot of quick screens, slants, and drags. He was good at making these throws. He has a great arm. The ball jumps out of his hand, often landing in the perfect spot, allowing his receivers to run forever. Mahomes has the arm to really stick throws.
Now, most of these throws are wide open. Nicely designed Xs and Os created easy throws. These were route combinations designed for one man to get open and for Mahomes to put the ball in the perfect spot so the receiver could take off.
When Mahomes has to throw into traffic, he’s hesitant and usually misses. At the next level, these throws are going to be even harder. Life isn’t going to be filled with snaps and throws to wide open players in a spread out field. He’ll have to get better at throwing into tighter coverage.
This almost-interception is the result of Mahomes throwing into coverage that is too good to challenge, and him placing the ball too far to the right.
This interception is the result of Mahomes not placing the ball far enough outside, which allows the safety to challenge and put his body into the receiver, stealing a potential touchdown.
It’s not all bad and sad. Mahomes has real traits. He has a great arm, throws with anticipation, and he does scramble well.
Against a single high safety look here, he stares left to pull the safety away. With the defender tricked, he looks back to the right sideline. He takes one step and lifts a fade. The ball hits the receiver’s back shoulder against a cornerback with inside placement. It does not get any better than this.
On this beautiful corner route, Mahomes sees but isn’t worried about the zone blitz. He correctly drops back. He then makes the throw at the end of his dropback, placing the ball exactly where it should be.
Here Mahomes takes advantage of the space the offensive line’s splits give him. Tech’s linemen have yardsticks in between them. This forces the defensive ends wider than they need to be. As they speed rush up field, there is too great of a distance for them be a real nuisance. Mahomes easily runs up the pocket and drops a lovely pass via a post route for a score.
Despite Mahomes’ great arm, he still hasn’t fully utilized it. Most of his passes are off his back foot. He’s constantly shooting fadeways like Michael Jordan did as a Wizard. This doesn’t allow his arm to reach its full potential. He works against his arm. This leads to inconsistent deep passes that he should hit.
Here, Mahomes’ weight is on his back foot. He’ll transfer this weight into his throw. But he’s too far back. His front foot is already in the ground. He’s working against himself.
When the ball comes out of his hand, he doesn’t finish his throw. His back foot comes to the center of his body. The pressure is on his arm. Mahomes doesn’t use his body and arm as a unified machine.
Aside from his arm, when he stays in the pocket, Mahomes’ biggest strength is anticipating the receiver being open and placing the ball in the correct spot. This fade route is a perfect example. Mahomes sees the cornerback come down on the flat. He reads Cover Two. He doesn’t think the safety can get there in time. As soon as the corner takes a step downhill, Mahomes starts his throwing motion. He places the ball to the sideline to ensure the safety has the longest path possible to travel, and the ball zips past the safety when he makes his break.
When scrambling, Mahomes is The Escapist. He’s able to jump back to create space as defenders run horizontally. Then he’ll take off back into open space. He’s strong and can stand up through tackles. As I wrote earlier, some of these scrambles are the result of him being anxious and running into defenders on his own. Yet when he scrambles only when he needs to, Mahomes can does some beautiful things.
Here West Virgina shows six and blitzes five. Tech slides their protection left. This leaves a free blitzer off the right edge, and the left rusher whips past a left tackle who didn’t get the memo. Mahomes runs away and works his magic. He leaps back and puts the corner on his belly. Scurrying to the sideline and running up field, he finds a crossing route and puts it on the receiver.
Mahomes is also strong. He weathers sacks. He delivers throws cloaked in defenders. He makes up for a lack of pocket awareness by being able to throw the ball away in the silliest of circumstances. On this 4th and 1 run, Mahomes plows through a linebacker and decimates his bones to pick up the first.
He doesn’t scramble to run either. He leaves the pocket to make throws by creating space and anarchy. When Mahomes is decisive and quickly chooses to run, he is a more than capable runner.
There are enough great throws here to see the potential and possibilities. Patrick Mahomes is a legitimate talent. He’s better than the past Texas Tech scheme thralls who basked in the glory of manufactured 60-52 shootouts. But you have to wade and sift through so much garbage and fluff to find the potential. I just don’t know how you justify spending a first or second round pick on a player who is a slightly above average athlete and has a great arm. There are a lot of failed quarterbacks who had those qualities.
For Mahomes to have success at the next level, he’s going to have to sit for a while. He’s going to have to learn how to run a professional offense, how to maneuver around the pocket subtly, how to stand tall in the face of pressure, and how to learn when to use a gamebreaker to pull off the absurd instead of attempting it every play. He has legitimate arm talent, anticipation, and scrambling ability. These type of traits need to be hammered into skills used to consistently complete passes. Even if all of that happens, there are still questions regarding his accuracy against tight coverage and his mechanics. Mahomes is a wildcard. He probably won’t make it, but he has traits that offer a glimmer of starting quarterback possibility.
Hey, at least he’s going to get drafted.