From now until the 2017 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to examine as many prospects as possible and showcase both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#5 Patrick Mahomes II / QB / Texas Tech: 6’3” 220lbs
– Extremely talented arm, effortlessly throws 60+ yards and is accurate from a variety of arm angles and body positions
– Excellent escapability and scrambling; extends plays while his receivers work to get open
– Keeps eyes downfield throughout the play
– Good accuracy when throwing on the run
– Composure: very relaxed playing style, regardless of the pass rush or game situation
– Confidence: exudes leadership and poise, regardless of the score or game situation
– Pro-Readiness: played in an Air-Raid offense that was primarily based on pre-snap match-ups, rather than sophisticated post-snap reads/progressions.
– Poor Mechanics: breaks almost every rule in the book
– Very rarely took snaps under-center
– Sometimes he needlessly improvised behind the LOS, rather than working through a full progression
– Occasionally held the ball too long, resulting in sacks
– Rarely had to throw in a small pocket or against heavy pressure
– Questionable decision making at times and would often just heave the ball up and hope his receiver would make a play
– Career Passing: 29 Starts (13 wins, 16 losses), 63.5% completion rate, 11,252 yards (388.0 avg.), 93 TD 29 INT.
– Career Rushing: 308 carries, 845 yards, 22 TD
– Threw for 734 yards on 88 attempts for 5 TD and 1 INT against Oklahoma in 2016
– Led the NCAA with 5,052 passing yards in 2016 and was tied for third in touchdown passes with 41.
– In each of his three seasons, Mahomes improved in completions, yards, completion rate, touchdowns, interceptions, and passer rating.
– Watching Patrick Mahomes is like watching a video game come to life. He can easily bomb it from 60+ yards, he has electrifying scrambles behind the line of scrimmage, and his swagger pops on film. While there is some uncertainty regarding how his style of play will translate to the NFL, I think that he may be the most naturally talented and high-upside prospect in this year’s draft.
Starting with the negatives, the central concern about Mahomes is his pro-readiness. Historically, quarterbacks coming from Air-Raid offenses have been unprepared for the complexities of the professional game and, as a result, have almost universally failed out of the league; (SBNation.com compiled a list of all the Air-Raid QBs to play in the NFL since 1997 and it is littered with infamous draft busts). Specifically regarding Mahomes, he often faced only a minimal pass-rush and his offensive system rarely required him to anticipate throws or manipulate the defenses with his eyes or body language. Instead, because Texas Tech was so good at creating mismatches all over the field, he benefited from clear pre-snap reads and wide-open receivers downfield. Obviously, it is much easier to be an accurate and productive passer under these circumstances.
The efficiency of the Red Raiders’ offense should not imply that it ran itself. Mahomes still deserves credit for consistently recognizing pre-snap mismatches and getting the ball to his playmakers. However, the main point is that his statistical production is not necessarily indicative of his true ability or of how well he understands defensive schemes. For example, because the offense was heavily predicated on creating favorable numerical advantages downfield, Mahomes could cut his progressions short and freelance behind the LOS while his receivers found the soft spots in defense. Although this strategy was highly entertaining and successful in college, it is unlikely to be repeatable in the NFL. To be fair; however, I think that the lack of pro-readiness is a problem that most rookie quarterbacks will encounter in some capacity, especially with the prevalence of the spread offense in modern college football.
Now getting to the film analysis, another possible issue with Mahomes’ game is that he can be a risky passer at times. Although he was statistically safe with the football (he had only 10 INTs on nearly 600 attempts in 2016), his gunslinger mentality and confidence in his arm would occasionally cause him to make poor decisions and throw very dangerous passes. For example, in this first play against West Virginia, he attempts a blind jump-throw into QUADRUPLE coverage from the far sideline to the opposite hash. To say that he was lucky not to have this pass intercepted is an understatement:
On the positive side, Mahomes’ best attribute is his supremely talented arm. He makes throws that very few quarterbacks in history have been able to make and he does so effortlessly. While he does have some obvious mechanical problems and his throwing motion is very inconsistent, these flaws rarely affected his accuracy, ball placement, or throwing power. It was actually quite shocking how precise his passes could be, despite breaking almost every fundamental technique. For example, check out this incredible throw on the run against Louisiana Tech. Mahomes is rolling to his left, his shoulders are not aimed downfield, and he doesn’t set his feet. Yet somehow, amazingly, he accurately flicks the ball 50+ yards in the air to his receiver in the end zone:
In this next clip against Oklahoma, Mahomes showcases his ability to pass effectively despite using challenging arm angles. Here he is able to throw a touchdown to his open-side, without setting his feet or fully squaring his shoulders, and while being flushed forward in the pocket. This is a subtle, yet difficult, maneuver that he makes look routine:
Here against West Virginia, Mahomes unloads a 60+ yarder with only a quick reset of his feet. No further explanation is required:
This final play illustrates some of the good and bad aspects of Mahomes game. As for the good: he is very calm despite an unblocked rusher, he showcases his excellent escapability by evading the pressure, he keeps his eyes downfield throughout his scramble, and he (again) demonstrates his talented arm by zipping an accurate pass to his receiver who is moving in the opposite direction. As for the bad: Mahomes is slow to snap his head towards the field following his play-fake, his ball security is very lax while he is scrambling (only one hand on the ball), and he decides to throw back across his body and across the middle of the field. In the end; however, the good outweighs the bad and he engineers another explosive play for Texas Tech:
– Overall, Patrick Mahomes is a very intriguing prospect, given his elite physical abilities and athleticism. As I said in the introduction, I think that he may be the most naturally talented quarterback in this year’s draft with arguably the highest NFL-ceiling. However, his lack of experience with pro-style concepts and the negative tendencies that accompany his gunslinger style are legitimate red flags. Consequently, there is very high variance in how his professional career could pan out. Having said all this, if the Steelers feel compelled to draft a QB, I think that Mahomes is the guy to target. He clearly requires several years to learn and adapt to the professional game and watching a player like Ben Roethlisberger, who has a similar playing style, could be very beneficial for his growth. This is not to say that the Steelers should or will take him; only that IF he is available in the right round, and IF they feel that QB is a position that must be addressed immediately, then Mahomes would be my recommendation.
Projection: Day 2
Games Watched: at Arizona State, vs Louisiana Tech, vs Kansas, vs West Virginia, vs Oklahoma, vs Baylor