Mahomes hopes to buck another trend

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Sports

August 16, 2018 - 10:32 AM

Patrick Mahomes is beginning his role as his franchise’s quarterback in a different way than many, and not because of his arm strength, hairstyle or love of his pit bull.
No, this involves other factors, like his scant time under center in the NFL, and suggests that lofty expectations for the second-year pro may be out of whack based on recent history.
But the idea in the short term, as the Chiefs prepare for a season in which a fourth-consecutive playoff appearance is the objective, is that his inexperience will be offset by advantages the Chiefs have created for him. And that those benefits will help Mahomes defy the odds of career success of quarterbacks selected in the first round.
How inexperienced is Mahomes?
When he was selected with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2017 draft, he became the 28th quarterback taken in the first round since 2007. The 29th went three picks later when Houston took Deshaun Watson.
Every one of those quarterbacks played more in his first year than Mahomes.
One, Jamarcus Russell, started only once as a rookie in 2007, the same as Mahomes last year, but he appeared in three other games. Another, Jake Locker in 2011, didn’t start as a rookie, but wound up taking more snaps for the season.
So much is expected from someone who has played so little, but that’s where we are with the 22-year-old Mahomes, the quarterback Kansas City can call its own and has waited decades to embrace.
“I get it,” said former Chiefs quarterback Trent Green. “This is a different situation from what the Chiefs have had.”
Green then hit the reverse-chronology button on Chiefs quarterbacks: Alex Smith, Matt Cassell, Damon Huard, Green, Elvis Grbac, Steve Bono, Joe Montana, Steve DeBerg …
The Chiefs’ era of importing quarterbacks began with DeBerg, who arrived in 1988. After that season, Marty Schottenheimer took over and every coach since then started the season with a plan centered around a quarterback who launched his NFL career elsewhere.
Before DeBerg, the previous decade had seen a run of Chiefs-drafted signal callers: Steve Fuller, Bill Kenney and Todd Blackledge. One might call that period the second era of homegrown Chiefs quarterbacks, with Len Dawson and Mike Livingston representing the first.
Mahomes begins the fourth era, and the fact that he and the team are standing at the doorstep of something new and fresh helps explain the fervor around him. It also helps that he’s embraced this popularity, endearing himself to fans in the offseason by attending Royals and Sporting KC games and various concerts … and showing up for a race this spring at Kansas Speedway wearing a pair of jorts.
He’s an original Kansas City quarterback, and the organization is banking on offsetting his inexperience with advantages.
Consider this: Many teams drafting quarterbacks in the first round are either filling an immediate need or creating a competitive situation. Also, in many cases, that team is in a state of flux or instability with its coaching staff or front office.
“Most of the first-round picks went to teams that weren’t very good at the time and maybe an unstable environment,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Then you look and see if it was an offensive (minded) head coach or a defensive coach.”
Teams that select a quarterback high in the draft must plot out how to handle the succession plan at the position. Taking a quarterback in the first round usually means drafting a future leader with the intent of replacing an incumbent. But young quarterbacks are often thrown into fire of competition too soon, costing those teams in the win-loss department.
That wasn’t the case for the Chiefs when they selected Mahomes. It was never the intent to have him battle Alex Smith in 2017, who was starting his 13th NFL season.
In that way, Mahomes was like Aaron Rodgers, who apprenticed three years behind Brett Favre before becoming the Packers’ starter. No first-round quarterback in this century has waited as long as Rodgers to make his starting debut.
In both cases, a young quarterback had the luxury of time through organizational patience. They joined winning teams with veteran quarterbacks, and although it wasn’t the job of Smith or Rodgers to groom his successor, the understudies got to observe how successful veterans went about their business.
“It was tremendous amount of value there, with Pat being able to observe Alex,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “Not just what he did on the field, which was a great deal, but in the classroom and just showing how to be a professional.”
The Chiefs are banking on their plan bucking another trend.
Stretching the timeline of quarterbacks selected in the first round to 2000, their batting average in terms of career success is well below .500.
From 2000 to 2017, 48 quarterbacks were selected in the first round. The list starts with Chad Pennington, taken by the Jets in 2000. He was the only quarterback chosen in the first round that year. Michael Vick was the only one the following year.
All of those quarterbacks since 2000 have started at least one game — Mahomes’ one game to date is the fewest — and only 19 have posted winning records. Twenty-seven have losing records, and two are even in terms of wins and losses, including Watson, who went 3-3 before last year’s season-ending injury with the Texans.
For every Ben Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers and Matt Ryan, there’s a Patrick Ramsey, Kyle Boller or EJ Manuel.
The Cleveland Browns have fared the worst of any franchise in this area. Starting with Tim Couch, the overall top pick in 1999, the Browns have drafted five quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield, taken first in April, is the latest.
The Browns’ picks that have played — Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel — have a combined record of 34-78 as starters.
Not even being the overall top pick guarantees success. Twelve quarterbacks have been taken first since 2000. Six have winning career records.
“I’ve wondered that before,” Reid said. “How many quarterbacks would have been (more successful) if they were in the right environment?”
The Chiefs believe they have created conditions that will put their young but promising quarterback in a position to succeed, not only with their patience but by surrounding him with players such as tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, running back Kareem Hunt — all Pro Bowlers — and a key newcomer, wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
“That kind of goes with the stability,” Reid said.
The Rams’ Jared Goff is an example of someone whose trajectory changed with the conditions. Things couldn’t have gone worse in the 2016 top draft pick’s rookie season. He lost all seven of his starts that year.
The Rams changed coaches, bringing in Washington offensive coordinator Sean McVay, and Goff’s production changed dramatically. He led his teams to 11 victories and a playoff spot while earning a Pro Bowl selection.
“There are a lot of factors that go into this,” Reid said. “You hope for Pat this is the right situation. Then he’s got to go out and play. That’s what it comes down to.”

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