It’s still early in the 2018 NFL season, but many are excited about the flashes of brilliance we’ve seen from talented young players across the league, and rightfully so. But it’s important to remember that what we’ve seen thus far is a small sample size in the grand scheme of things. Phillip Lindsay looks like both a dynamic runner and receiver and will surely boost a Denver offense led by a mediocre and likely overpaid Case Keenum. But it’s too early to anoint Lindsay a dynasty RB1, as the odds are against the undrafted free agent running back becoming the next Darren Sproles. Keelan Cole made the most fantastic catch since the Odell Beckham catch, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Cole is going to be the next Beckham and a surefire elite dynasty WR1.
But make no mistake. Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback prospect since Aaron Rodgers and has the potential to surpass Rodgers, particularly in terms of fantasy production. Many have deemed this argument as ludicrous and based purely on recency bias, but there are plenty of merits to ranking Mahomes ahead of Rodgers in dynasty. Here are the reason why, broken out into two categories of talent and situation.
We all know that you can give a player all the opportunity in the world, but without innate talent, that player will inevitably disappoint. I’ve broken out Mahomes’s talent into three specific traits, and these traits are also arguably the most important ones for any quarterback.
We’ve all seen the Hail Mary plays that Rodgers has made in his career and remember some of the unreal downfield bombs made by Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson back in the day. The ability to make big plays and threaten defenses downfield is part of what separates quarterbacks like Keenum from quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger. We saw the extent of Mahomes’s arm strength on clear display on his 69-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill against the Falcons in the preseason. It’s been well-documented that this was the longest touchdown pass thrown since Rodgers’s Hail Mary against the Lions in 2014, which traveled 67 air yards.
While this is incredibly impressive, the scariest part is that Mahomes once threw a pass that traveled more than 80 air yards during his Pro Day last year. The sky is literally the limit here when it comes to Mahomes’s arm strength. Of course, we all know that arm strength can only take you so far, which is why we’re far more excited about Baker Mayfield than we are about Josh Allen. Accuracy is also crucial to quarterback success.
Often times, interceptions happen as a result of poor accuracy on a pass attempt. End zone fades require a ball to be placed just over a defender but low enough for the intended receiver to still catch and land in-bounds. Throws up the seam need to be perfectly lofted over the linebacker but also have enough zip to get to the intended receiver before the safety comes barreling down on him. Every pass attempt is an interception waiting to happen if not thrown to the exact right spot, but Mahomes hardly has that issue. While he will inevitably throw some errant passes, and it’s nearly impossible for him to finish the season with zero interceptions, Mahomes has been incredibly safe with the football and displays consistent accuracy for the most part, which was evident on many throws during the game at Pittsburgh in Week 2. Take for example this perfect throw to wide receiver Demarcus Robinson in the back of the end zone over Steelers safety Morgan Burnett (25:46 mark in the below video).
Mahomes has shown time and again that he knows where the ball needs to go, and that he has the ability to place it to that exact spot. That said, the final trait to being a successful NFL quarterback is having the aptitude to know where that exact spot is on any given play.
Quarterback aptitude covers a wide range of knowledge. It includes reading defenses pre-snap, reading coverages after the snap, and general awareness of what is happening in the pocket and downfield on every play. Mahomes seems to have learned quiet a bit sitting on the bench last year as a rookie, as he’s shown good understanding of what to expect pre-snap as well as good field awareness overall. For instance, in the below play, Mahomes saw the blitz and recognized that his receiver Sammy Watkins had a good one-on-one match-up in the slot against Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt. While his throw was incomplete, many young quarterbacks have been pressured by blitzes into throwing interceptions or taking sacks in those situations. This is just one of many examples where Mahomes keeps his cool and makes good reads (19:47 mark in the below video).
And finally, if and when a play breaks down, Mahomes can run. He keeps his eyes downfield very well and scrambles to buy time and make throws, but when necessary, Mahomes can run with the ball and take it to the house. We haven’t seen much of his rushing ability yet in the NFL, and while Mahomes may not be Cam Newton, he racked up 741 rushing yards and ran for 22 touchdowns during his two full college seasons at Texas Tech in 2015 and 2016. Here’s a great play showcasing Mahomes’s talent on the ground (1:08 mark in the below video).
The talent is off the charts for Mahomes. He has a cannon for an arm, can throw the ball to exactly where it needs to go, and knows where he needs to go on any given play. To top it all off, Mahomes has the legs to run for extra yards and scores when things fall apart. These traits alone bode well for a successful career in the league, but his current situation in Kansas City is what gives him tantalizing fantasy upside and makes him the dynasty QB1.
It’s tough to do it all by yourself and succeed, whether it’s in life or on the football field. Everyone needs help, and Mahomes has plenty of it. While Mahomes has the innate talent, he also has quite a few conducive factors in Kansas City that make him a prime candidate for elite fantasy production. Here are the three most important ones.
Football is a team game, and it’s hard to generate offense as a quarterback without good surrounding talent. Just ask Russell Wilson right now, who is undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but is struggling to score points for the Seahawks when facing constant pressure and has no run game and receivers who can’t separate. Mahomes doesn’t have this issue. He has a competent offensive line and a good running back who can create yards on the ground and through the air in Kareem Hunt. Hill is one of the fastest players in the league, if not the fastest, having run a blazing-fast 4.25 40-yard dash at his Pro Day in 2016. Watkins has disappointed in recent years, but he was also a dangerous deep threat with Tyrod Taylor during his Buffalo days. Both receivers are capable of stretching the field as well as creating yards after the catch on shorter routes.
In the event of an injury to either Hill or Watkins, the aforementioned Robinson, who caught the touchdown in the back of the end zone against the Steelers, is a developing big-bodied receiver who can fill in, and fellow backup receivers Chris Conley and DeAnthony Thomas both ranked in the 90th percentile in the 40-yard dash. And of course, Mahomes has Travis Kelce, one of the league’s best tight ends. Kelce has the size to win in the red zone and near the goal line as well as the speed and route-running agility to be a dangerous downfield target. Mahomes has a bevy of fast, talented offensive skill position players surrounding him, and Kansas City might just have the most lethal offense in the league with him at the helm.
Scheme / Coaching
Then again, all the talented players in the world can’t help you if the coaching staff is unable to utilize them properly. It’s painful to recall Todd Gurley languishing under the final years of Jeff Fisher’s reign with the Rams or David Johnson currently being wasted in an inept Arizona offense. Fortunately for Mahomes and company, that’s not a worry. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call Andy Reid a brilliant offensive mind. While he has his lapses as a play-caller (including a baffling decision in Week 2 to run out of an I formation at their own one-yard line) and routinely botches clock management situations, Reid knows how to scheme his players open and give them the opportunity to create yards after the catch.
His West Coast offenses over the years have rarely failed to be both innovative and effective. In fact, after Reid’s tutelage, his last two offensive coordinators, Matt Nagy and Doug Pederson, are each now head coaches in the league in Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively. Reid’s creativity on offense is already apparent through two weeks, notably on goal line plays like the misdirection shovel pass from Mahomes to Thomas in Week 1 at Los Angeles. Mahomes will have plenty of help from Reid in finding the weak spots in opposing defenses and crafting plays to exploit them.
State of the Defense
Finally, while this may not hold true after this year depending on what moves the Chiefs make in free agency in the coming offseason and how well they draft in 2019, Kansas City currently has one of the worst defenses in the league. Per Football Outsiders, the Chiefs were the third-worst defense in terms of defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) in 2017. This past offseason, Kansas City traded away star cornerback Marcus Peters to the Rams and released linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali as well as safety Ron Parker. Despite spending a number of draft picks on defense in April, the Chiefs’ defense remains borderline anemic. Per Football Outsiders, Kansas City was the third-worst defense in terms of DVOA through Week 1 of 2018. Through two weeks, the Chiefs’ defense leads the league in yards allowed (508) and have given up the fourth-most points to opposing teams (65).
The defense figures to improve slightly once Pro-Bowl safety Eric Berry recovers from a heel injury suffered in the preseason, but even when he returns, it’s uncertain how effective Berry will be after tearing his Achilles last September and missing most of the 2017 season. It’s likely that the Chiefs will have a lot of pass-heavy game flow projections based on the state of the defense, or lack thereof. With plenty of passing volume and potential shootouts every week, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Mahomes to lead the league in passing yards and touchdowns this season, though Ryan Fitzpatrick might give him a run for his money.
While Rodgers is still likely to be the safest fantasy quarterback in the near future, and while he and Mahomes have similar fantasy ceilings, Mahomes is over a decade younger. Scoring regression is also inevitable for Mahomes, but the perfect storm of talent and situation all but guarantees that he will finish as an elite fantasy quarterback in 2018 with the potential to finish as the top-scoring fantasy quarterback, or maybe even the highest-scoring fantasy player overall.
Given his performance thus far in his first year starting and just his second year in the league, Mahomes’s true potential is unknown. While there is obvious risk in crowning Mahomes the next elite quarterback, many also once doubted Rodgers at first during his meteoric rise. By the time we see enough evidence to confirm Mahomes’s greatness, it will be far too late to buy him in dynasty leagues. The time to buy is right now, even if you have to buy high.
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