Did you miss the coronation? It was easy to miss. It came between Cincinnati drafting a guy based on his 40 time and Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks stumbling and murmuring through KCs dramatic trade up. Hemming and hawing guesses that it must be for Hassan Reddick or Jarrad Davis because, after all, they really need a LB. Paid talking heads on the NFL’s very own network thought KC gave up a future first to move up for a LB. Shame. Thank god Gruden and leaked information was there to make ESPN sound educated. Behind the scenes: Doug Whaley was losing his job like a rock star. FU, FU, especially FU and I’m out. Sean McDermott patted himself on the back for a job well done after being played like a fiddle. KC’s war room was throwing an old man’s rave. Break out the glow sticks, sucking on pacifiers, forceful handshakes, missed high fives, fist bumps, man hugs and cheers. Go look back at that celebration. It was telling. A new king was born.
And you were told Mahomes arrived the first two weeks of the 2018 NFL season. A year and half later.
Mahomes is a top 11 lock. Mahomes is a future Hall of Famer. Besides Garrett no player in the 2017 draft rivals Mahomes. No QB in the hyped 2018 QB class rivals Mahomes. Mahomes is coveted by Payton, Arians, and Reid. If Reid can find a way to move up from 27 to get Mahomes, he will reinvent football as we know it. Reid and Mahomes will replace Brady and Belichick. Kiper, McShay, Brooks, Jeremiah, Cosell, Fahey? This was your take, correct? Not exactly? How about not even close. So enjoy the back-peddling. Enjoy pointing out why you couldn’t have seen it coming. Enjoy making up stories of Mahomes growth as a QB. Enjoy trying to save face. Lastly, enjoy jumping on the bandwagon as if you always knew. Gruden knew. My phone purred text notifications when KC traded in so maybe I knew something too.
We aren’t here to pat ourselves on the back though. We aren’t even here to gloat that you dinosaurs whiffed. We’re here to set the record straight so that no one buys the garbage you’ll spew to cover the scent.
First, let’s talk in language you so-called QB gurus understand. An air-raid QB with wandering mechanics and poor footwork is lighting the league on fire. How on earth is that possible? He must have fixed his footwork! Looks the same. He must have polished up his mechanics! He never needed to change them and he didn’t. Andy Reid must have coached him up and made him a pro-style QB! What exactly do you think pro-style means? Are you referring to the Bill Walsh version of the WCO? If so, you are a dinosaur and the league has passed you by.
Welcome to an evolutionary cradle. Andy Reid, Matt Nagy and Brad Childress. (Special shout out to Brad Childress because he won’t get the credit he’s due.) The Chiefs aren’t running what you would consider a pro-style offense. This offense has been a white board dream that pre-dates the 2016 season. A merger of air-raid spread grounded in WCO principles. LB-read RPOs, Smoke RPOs and Bunch stacks. Half field and one read Kubiak/Shanahan/Reid micro-progressions, mixed with college Meerkat ball. (Meerkat ball: If you watch college football you’ll see teams line up at the LOS and everyone but the interior OL will stand up and look over at the sidelines as the coach changes the play based on the defensive look. It’s painfully slow to watch yet hilarious because it looks like Meerkats standing at alert when they hear a predator.) It is a pre-snap read offense. It is insanely simple to navigate after you learn the pre-snap checks. This is the one thing Mahomes learned in the last season. The one thing that kept Alex Smith as the starter. The ability to operate Reid’s Meerkat checks on the field within 25 seconds. Mahomes deserves credit for learning this but any good student should be able to learn it. It isn’t as complex as learning how to read a defenses drops or run through full field progressions. (Poor Josh Allen) Mahomes didn’t strike anyone as dumb or lazy so this development is no surprise.
In 2016 the evolution started. Reid’s ultimate dream, to make the offensive line obsolete. The Greatest Show on Turf, without the drawback of getting your QB killed. The system was built to stretch a defense horizontally to its breaking point and open gaps for quick hitters and yac. The snap to release time for KC plummeted to the fastest in the league by a wide margin. It was a good start. It was something Alex Smith could do. However, there was an easy answer to this. 5 under 2 deep zone or 4 man under 2 deep with a spy on Smith. Defenses walked up because Maclin was decaying and Conley was mediocre. Tyreek Hill was a fledgling gimmick weapon and conservative Alex Smith didn’t like to pull the trigger on the deep middle or deep boundary throws. Without boundary threats, you could squeeze the deep middle to limit Kelce’s window. Pittsburgh and other pressure teams ate them alive but all in all it worked. They secured a bye and then Pittsburgh (their kryptonite) sent them home.
The KC brain trust was merely clearing their throat.
Success was gained by stretching teams horizontally but tendency led teams to open three key gaps on the field. Vertical boundaries and deep middle. KC goes into the 2017 offseason with one goal in mind. We need to expose those three weaknesses while keeping the horizontal stretch. They go shopping for two ingredients. We need a QB who can hit those weaknesses with ease. We need vertical speed to flood those gaps. Enter Mahomes, an Air-Raid QB with an arm well beyond plus. Alex Smith has a vertical attacking priority placed on his entire offseason. Tyreek Hill is moved out of his gadget role more often to be a vertical threat. For five weeks Kansas City lays siege on the NFL rattling off a 5-0 start scoring 32.8 points a game. Then the simplest domino fell and threw them into a tail spin. Hill Kelce and Conley were their three vertical options that made the full field spread successful. Despite the fact that Conley is only a marginal player, his deep speed moved the defense. Week 5 KC loses Conley for the year and then there were 2. S’s over the top could shade Tyreek and Kelce in bracket coverage and Pittsburgh came along and showed the entire league how to take them apart yet again. KC tail spins into a 1-7 stretch scoring under 20 points a game. They rally in their old ways to secure a playoff spot while their defense pays a price. Versus Tennessee that price leads to multiple players breaking down, their defense turning into a complete sieve and the loss of Kelce puts the nail in the coffin. That’s a great way to make us all forget the first five weeks.
However, the stage was set. Jacksonville had gutted Pittsburgh with a WR core that consisted of nothing but vertical speed. Philly gutted NE with a backup QB and the LB-read RPO. Kyle Shanahan and Haley had shown that you can dice up the man coverage heavy Jaguars. The main players in the AFC had been sized up.
At this time it should have been obvious to everyone in the league that there was one singular missing piece in KC. They needed a decoy. I say that with the upmost respect. Dez Bryant was used as a decoy and his presence in 2016 opened space for Beasley Witten and Elliot to help Dak thrive in the passing game. Julio Jones was used as a decoy by Shanahan and the space he created made the Falcons lethal offensively. NE traded in Brandon Cooks for this reason. They create fear in a defense. They force a safety to shade over the top. You can’t man cover them very long. KC needed that piece to accomplish the white board dream. Only that one piece.
On March 13 as the free agency period opened it was announced that KC had reached an agreement with Sammy Watkins on a 3 year 48 million dollar deal. A blogger contact of mine pings me this information and says, “That’s a lot of money for Sammy Watkins.” He received a simple response. The money doesn’t matter, this is checkmate.
With that addition you can no longer zone/man under two high against KC. Watkins Hill Kelce will get into the three weaknesses of that defense and tear you apart. The speed these three possess has safeties bailing out on the snap and adding that vertical stretch to the horizontal stretch pushes a defense well beyond its breaking point. It forces a defense to walk backwards as if they are in prevent. When you add in a QB with a quick release and a cannon arm to exploit those gaps it becomes nearly unstoppable. Mahomes’ rate of delivery alone creates YAC opportunities and at times defies the instincts of defenders. Yet, that’s still not why Mahomes is special.
Let’s talk about mechanics and why dinosaur draft gurus don’t seem to understand them. If you talk with any QB mechanics coach they will talk to you about the optimal. They teach the optimal because it’s optimal. QB gurus have done their research enough to know what optimal looks like so as soon as they see it they jump to conclusions. They see Josh Rosen and Josh Allen and they like robots. Yet, a mechanics coach will be the first one to say that there are 32 starting Qbs in this league who have 32 differing sets of mechanics. Mechanics, on a player by player basis, boil down to their personal biomechanics and where a QBs body is able to generate torque. One QB might generate a great deal of his power from how he’s grounded but lacks the ability to flip his hips or snap his wrist. Another might be gifted with incredible arm talent. Another might generate a great deal of his power from flexibility in his hips shoulder and wrist. There are countless ways that it can be put together that is functional and repeatable. That’s where the problem lies though. We talk about QBs as if they are pitchers in baseball. We talk about them as if they are standing on a mound, stationary, trying to throw at a stationary box. When ideal conditions are present, optimal works. In chaos, the ability to wander away from optimal while still generating positive results is necessary. There are proper mechanics but they don’t tell the whole story. There is a second way to look at mechanics. That is to quantify where the QB falls into a spectrum of rigid mechanics to ADAPTABLE mechanics. Have you heard of adaptable mechanics when it comes to QB performance? You haven’t? That’s a problem.
I had the honor of growing up a Packers fan and watching the Favre era change to the Rodgers era. Every Sunday a commentator would make a remark about how unorthodox of a throw Favre or Rodgers had just made. Even adding in lines like, “you don’t want to teach your kids to throw like that but it worked.” Rodgers throwing the ball without a foot on the ground, Favre throwing lasers off his back foot falling away from his arm angle. Absurd mechanics that most QBs simply can’t pull off. Torque generated in non-traditional ways. Things you simply are not supposed to attempt. Mechanics that are all wrong. Traits you don’t teach, because you can’t teach them. Despite this yielding positive results on Sunday, by Saturday people seem to forget that these traits make a QB special.
A QB can generate torque from how he’s grounded, his ability to shift his weight, how he’s able to open his hips, how he’s able to roll his shoulder, his arm and his ability to snap his wrist. Mahomes does them all. That’s rare and should have been seen by these so called QB gurus. It wasn’t, because Mahomes throws the ball differently nearly every single play. Not only can he generate torque in all those ways, but he can seamlessly omit portions of his delivery without losing the results. This fact coupled with the velocity he generates puts him in a class all his own. An arm as big as Favre’s, mechanical adaptability on the level with Rodgers and Favre, with the ability to bend a ball and display touch on par with Rodgers. A combination of both HOF QBs. Even QBs who defy “proper” mechanics on a weekly basis can not do what Mahomes naturally does. Watch the Pittsburgh game. Wheel route to Sammy Watkins out of a stack set, Mahomes rolls left, does a jump stop fade away throw to Watkins back shoulder. The ball travels 25 yards. All hips, arm, wrist. A jump stop fade away throw on target. That defies logic but he can do that. In college, he threw a dart on a slant with so much velocity that when the S and the CB jumped it, their angles were instantly wrong. They ended up tripping each other. Mahomes double pumped, didn’t fully load the ball or step into the throw. Why omit those aspects from his delivery? There wasn’t enough time, the window was about to close. It shreds the concept of release time, it amplifies his ability to throw with touch in any circumstance. This is an otherworldly degree of talent and it never needed to be fixed. It needed to be unleashed. Reid has done just that.
This is only the beginning. Mahomes still has the sloppy footwork that he showed on Texas Tech tape. The in-play reads he’s being asked to make are rudimentary. He’s still making throws unnecessarily difficult on himself and his accuracy is suffering. Mahomes is still raw. Does it matter? You were told it was supposed to matter and when those same people explain away their mistake by saying Mahomes has changed, know that he hasn’t. Expect to hear this same broken take about the 2019 QB class. You heard the same broken take about the 2018 QB class. Over and over rinse and repeat, missing the forest for the trees. Yet, footwork comes with repetition and Mahomes will improve over time. His ability to read a defense will improve as he gains experience. Improved discipline will come with maturity. There is still plenty of upside left to chase. There are flaws, but Mahomes is a QB with all the tools that you simply can not teach, who lacks the polish that is earned with time. Remember, Brett Favre started in his second year in the NFL and became a force in his fourth year. Rodgers didn’t start until his fourth year in the league. Mahomes just started year two.
That should be very concerning to the league. It should also be concerning that they just obliterated their scheme’s kryptonite in Pittsburgh. However, teams can not afford to be concerned. There is one way to beat the spread, you must attack it. Pittsburgh had done that well when covering Wilson Robinson Hill and Kelce. They didn’t dare with Watkins Kelce Hill and Conley and sagging their coverage got them run out of the building. You can’t zone this scheme because they spread you too thin horizontally. It creates windows that Mahomes’ plus arm can easily exploit. You can’t play man with two high because it will afford the WRs too much time to get open unless you can quickly do away with the KC OL. Pittsburgh and LAC tried one high sending five as the game wore on and while the results were better it still wasn’t fast enough because they sent their blitzer from a distance. The only way to combat this scheme is mutual suicide. You have to press the LOS, you have to send 5 from the LOS, leaving one high at the most. You have to dare them to beat you up the field faster than you can get to the QB. You have to speed up an offense that is incredibly fast. While Mahomes is raw and the KC OL is mediocre, that is the answer. When he improves his accuracy and timing, that answer is gone.
Reid, Nagy and Childress spent two years setting up their chess board. They knew Watkins was the checkmate piece. They knew what Mahomes meant. Go look back at that celebration on draft day. It was telling. A new king was born.