Alex Smith looked like Tom Brady at times during the 2017 season. In Patrick Mahomes’ first start in Week 17, he looked like most rookies do. But there’s no reason why Mahomes can’t help the Kansas City Chiefs offense function just as well as Smith did.
The offense will just look different. Eventually, it’ll look better.
In his lone start in Week 17 — a 27-24 win when most starters were on the bench — Mahomes looked like an eager youngster, who wanted to prove to his franchise that they should trade Smith.
Mission accomplished. The Chiefs are Mahomes’ team — and what an offense he’s inheriting.
Mahomes has the second-best tight end in the NFL in Travis Kelce. He’s got a burner in receiver Tyreek Hill and a possession receiver in Albert Wilson. Those who think Wilson stinks should know that he caught 10 catches on 11 targets for 147 yards in Mahomes’ debut. Even tight end Demetrius Harris got work with three receptions for 73 yards. Rookie sensation Kareem Hunt proved to be pretty darn good when they didn’t forget to use him last season. The Chiefs’ offensive line is solid with little (or no) turnover coming this offseason. And Mahomes has Andy Reid, who may be maligned for his in-game management but is one of the best preparatory and game-planning coaches in the NFL.
The one bit of adversity Mahomes faces is that he lost offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, whose play calling helped save the Chiefs from their midseason skid. Nagy’s replacement Eric Bieniemy will have to step up in the same way Nagy did (which earned him the Bears coaching job).
Mahomes has the physical tools to be a good NFL quarterback. But just as important, he’s got the right coach and teammates to highlight those tools.
There’s no way Mahomes can replicate Smith’s interception percentage, which has hovered around 1.5 percent for the last seven years and dropped to one percent, a career-low, in 2017. Mahomes probably won’t replicate Smith’s completion percentage at 67.5 percent. But Smith’s 4,042 passing yards and 26 touchdowns are certainly within reach for Mahomes.
The Chiefs teased what Mahomes could do in that debut.
His robot-lazer-cannon-deathstar arm was on full display. He snuck the balls into windows that shouldn’t exist. He was also elusive in the pocket. He had moments when he looked like Russell Wilson by whipping the ball downfield on rollout plays. He also had a moment when he looked like Ben Roethlisberger — Mahomes zipped the ball downfield for a completion on third down with a Broncos defender draped off his waste.
But I’ll take it easy on the comparison to the league’s elite quarterbacks. He also missed a few easy throws, one in particular because he tried to strong-arm the ball under pressure without setting his feet. Late in the game, he forced the ball downfield into dangerous coverage at an inadvisable moment. With a minute left, he threw to a double-covered Harris on a scrambling play. An interception would have given the Broncos the ball with a chance to win. Luckily, the ball fell incomplete, and Mahomes got the Chiefs into the field goal range on the following play.
The Chiefs devised a game plan in Week 17 that they can build upon — but probably not replicate — with Mahomes in 2018. The biggest issue for projecting Mahomes is that he didn’t play with the offense’s best players. Mahomes also didn’t have the reps during the season to develop chemistry with any of those players.
Mahomes’ season will include a few cringe-worthy interceptions and mistakes — but it will feature far more moments when Chiefs fans will jump out of their seats. Reid, Kelce, Hunt and Hill will make sure of that.