By: Brady Gardner
In a league loaded with household names at the quarterback position, from first ballot hall-of-famers to rookie sensations, it can be difficult for an up-and-coming QB to make their mark. Draft picks, journeymen, and franchise players alike compete for one of the 32 spots available for starting NFL quarterbacks, and if you don’t have what it takes to lead a team and win, you’ll be weeded out pretty quickly.
The 10th overall pick in 2017, Patrick Mahomes didn’t have the luxury of being presenting the starting role on day one with the Kansas City Chiefs. They already had a serviceable quarterback in Alex Smith. Mahomes had to take his opportunities and find ways to impress if he wanted to overcome the veteran ahead of him.
A year into his professional career, Mahomes has been plenty impressive.
He may just be the best quarterback in the league through two weeks.
As the understudy of a perennially mediocre Smith, Mahomes remained under the radar for the majority of his rookie season before finally taking the reins in Kansas City’s regular season finale against the Denver Broncos. While the rookie’s debut was nothing to gawk at, posting a line that included two interceptions, one touchdown and a passer rating of 76.4, Mahomes demonstrated the athleticism and creativity indicative of a starting quarterback in the NFL. The Chiefs were sold, and Alex Smith was dealt to the Redskins, crowning Mahomes the starter for 2018.
In his first two weeks as the Chiefs’ new franchise QB, Mahomes has been setting the league on fire. No other quarterback has ever thrown for ten touchdown passes in the first two games of the season, let alone in the second and third starts of their career. Mahomes has been incredible, and has esteemed ESPN experts and Fantasy Football fanatics nationwide singing his praise.
But is it time to pump the brakes?
There is no denying the achievements of Mahomes in these first few games of his career, but we’ve seen this before. While others may have not experienced this early success to the extent that Mahomes has, it’s not uncommon for a young QB to come flying out of the gates, but cool down with time. Remember Robert Griffin III? How about Tim Tebow? Or Mark Sanchez? The list goes on.
As has been proven by QBs young and old, the kryptonite for quarterbacks is time. Always. And I’m not just referring to one’s natural aging, because in the NFL, time means a whole lot more than that.
Time is a chance for other teams to figure a quarterback out, to examine the film and devise a game plan for the next time they face that particular QB. Mahomes’ first few weeks have been amazing, but while us fans are celebrating how great he’s been, players and coaches across the league are coming up with ways to slow him down.
The most recent example has been San Francisco’s new franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. In his two regular season starts with the Patriots, Garoppolo posted passer ratings of 106.1 and 135.4 – impressive numbers for a player who had stood in Tom Brady’s shadow for the first two years of his career.
How does an inexperienced backup start a season 2-0, all the while gaining the interest of teams around the league? Because no one had any information on him. All opposing defenses had on Garoppolo was that day’s performance as it happened, and when you’re caught playing catch-up during the game, you’ve already lost.
As he transitioned to San Francisco halfway through the 2017 campaign, Garoppolo had just as much success as he did with the Patriots just over a year before. But there’s a reason for this: Garoppolo leaving New England forced opposing teams to scrap whatever they thought they knew about the quarterback, because it wouldn’t matter anymore. Now that he was in a new system with new weapons around him, Garoppolo was able to start fresh, with defensive coaches across the league rewriting their scouting reports of the 26-year old with each start he made as a member of the 49ers.
But here at the start of the 2018 season, something seems to have changed. In his first two starts, Garoppolo has only thrown for 15 and 18 completions, resulting in 261 and 206 yards. Underwhelming numbers for the man who finished 2018 with an average passer rating approaching 100, to the tune of five straight wins. Teams had an entire offseason to study Garoppolo, and it shows.
It would be ridiculous to claim that both Garoppolo and Mahomes have seen their finest days come and go. These are two young, elite talents that will likely become future faces of the NFL. But if Garoppolo’s 2018 season continues the way it has begun, his story will become yet another example of a quarterback who struck gold early, but came back to Earth as his career went on. While early success may be exciting, reality cannot be overlooked. Effective strategy will always defeat individual talent, and in time we will see if, or more realistically when, this becomes the case for Mahomes.
So, enjoy the Mahomes Magic while it lasts, football fans.
Because you never know how long it may last.