Comparing anything at OTAs to real football is a little like comparing a light drizzle on your commute to an actual car wash, but if you watch closely you can see the Patrick Mahomes scouting report in real life.
One snap, he rolls to his left and throws against his body, 30 yards or so downfield, the ball placed perfectly between the defender and the sideline in his receiver’s hands.
The next snap, he is off-target on a simple hitch route, enough that the cornerback intercepts without particularly good coverage.
The Chiefs plan on insulating their first-round pick as much as possible, tantalized enough by his ability to make the good throw that they’ll be patient with the rawness in the bad throw.
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Know this, though: Whatever turns out to be Mahomes’ worst day of practice with the Chiefs will be better than what general manager John Dorsey saw when he drove three hours north to watch Mahomes against Iowa State.
It was the second of two times Dorsey watched Mahomes in person and was, plainly, the worst game of his college career.
“Yep,” Dorsey said.
So bad that Dorsey is stumped when asked if he saw a good throw that day.
“I can’t remember,” Dorsey said. “No.”
All of that, and Dorsey still traded two first-round picks and a third for Mahomes.
“Guys like this,” Dorsey said, “I want to watch it up close.”
Dorsey does not like sitting in the press box. He often says he wants to “touch it, feel it, smell it,” when he’s scouting, and it’s hard to do that up high and behind the glass.
So he gets outside, though he’s coy when asked exactly where in the stadium he sets up to watch.
“To look at a player like this,” Dorsey said, “I’ll probably dress up as an Iowa State fan.”
It is hard to overstate how bad Mahomes was that day. Here are the numbers: 18 of 36 for 219 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and two rushes for negative-2 yards in a 66-10 loss to a team whose other wins came against San Jose State and Kansas. Those were his fewest completions and yards of the season, and his 99.2 passer rating that day was the worst of any game since he became Tech’s starter as a freshman.
But those are just numbers. If you go back and watch the game, in some ways, it’s even worse. Two plays in the second quarter represent the low point. On second and 10, he backpedals against pressure, and instead of taking the sack or trying to escape, lobs a prayer down the middle of the field. When the ball lands, the closest three players are all on defense.
The very next play, again he throws it soft down the middle of the field while backpedaling. This one is intended for a receiver with blanket coverage, and the pick-six is made by a second defender Mahomes should’ve known was coming.
Really, it was awful. You could not have watched that game and thought this was a top 10 pick. Or, at least, you could not have watched that game and thought this was a top 10 pick if that’s all you’d seen, and if those throws were all you were looking for.
This is how a respected and successful NFL GM saw the figurative carnage and still wanted to trade up 17 spots for his guy.
“By then I’d already seen all the throws,” Dorsey said. “So by then, I’m looking for the hidden intangibles I can’t see on film.”
In that way, this may have actually been the best game of the year for Dorsey to watch in person.
Mahomes played most of the season with a shoulder injury, which he originally suffered against Kansas in September. The shoulder pain came and went during the season, and against Iowa State he went to the locker room late in the first quarter.
At that moment, Tech trailed 7-3. Dorsey thought his guy was done. By the time Mahomes returned, the Red Raiders trailed 21-3. On the second play of his first series back, Mahomes’ running back lost a fumble. By the start of his next series, Tech trailed 28-3.
Tech’s offense was prolific, but by then the outcome was a formality.
“That kid goes back into that game,” Dorsey said. “That’s competitiveness, what he means to the team. There’s a lot of things you can’t see on film. How he talks to teammates in certain situations, how he carries himself, what does he do in down situations? That’s what you look for in live games: How competitive is he? How tough is he?
“He shouldn’t have re-entered the game. But he wanted his team to win so bad. He said, ‘I’m playing.’ I thought that was gutty on his part.”
Scouting Mahomes always required some imagination. Tech’s defense was terrible — 128th out of 128 FBS teams in points surrendered. He was constantly playing catch-up, which meant more opportunities to throw downfield, but also more opportunities for mistakes.
That’s essentially what Dorsey walked into that afternoon in Ames, with the added complication of the injury. The tape is not without moments of promise from Mahomes. There’s a nice rollout to his left where he finds his man downfield. A few strong throws his receivers should’ve caught.
With the injury, and the game situation, Dorsey viewed each of those bursts on a favorable curve. He remembered more of what he saw on the sidelines, with Mahomes keeping his body language and communication strong in spite of the embarrassing score.
“To me, I’m looking for his toughness and competitive grit,” Dorsey said. “That was on full display that game.”
When the Chiefs traded up in the first round this month, they could’ve taken Clemson’s Deshaun Watson — a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist who threw for 420 yards and beat Alabama for the national championship with a last-minute touchdown drive.
Watson’s toughness and competitiveness can never be questioned. He’s also bigger, and faster. Mahomes’ arm and aptitude may have pulled him even, physically, but he still needed to convince the Chiefs he should be taken above one of the most accomplished college quarterbacks in years.
Dorsey was convinced, and not despite watching Mahomes’ worst game in person — but because of it.