Releasing the depth chart is one of those things the NFL requires of its coaches, just like injury reports, and press conferences with room temperature sports drinks taped to the lectern.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has never talked about a preseason depth chart without downplaying its importance. He doesn’t talk openly about much, but talks openly about telling players not to pay attention to the depth chart and suggesting fans should do the same.
Uhhh ... yeah. No need to remind us on this one, coach. We won’t.
Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s most talented and interesting third-string quarterback, completed 7 of 9 passes for 49 yards, a pretty touchdown, and no interceptions.
Tyler Bray, the, ahem, No. 2 quarterback, completed 5 of 8 passes for no touchdowns and a very deserved interception.
If you care — and if you do, you should really stop gambling on preseason games — the Chiefs lost 27-17 to the 49ers at Arrowhead Stadium on Friday.
But, let’s be honest. What most of us cared about was the 21-year-old with the wizard’s arm and the raspy Texas drawl. Alex Smith is and should be the clear-cut starter, and Bray seems like a nice enough fella, but Mahomes’ talent is the most interesting thing to happen in a Chiefs preseason in years (low bar, yes).
First impression: pretty good.
“You’re living out a dream,” Mahomes said. “You’re doing something you’ve imagined in backyards when you were a little kid. So you’re definitely excited.”
He was, basically, what he’s been in the first part of training camp. Athletic, big arm, accurate, and raw.
He threw deep on his first snap, which was an appreciated touch, and actually under-threw receiver Demarcus Robinson, who beat his man by a few steps down the right sideline. The play came back anyway, because of a penalty, but these are the types of things you might remember from a preseason game.
The Chiefs gave him four series, and if you count the plays called back on penalties, gave him 11 passes. But it was a good variety: He threw on time, but also on the run. He threw deep, and he threw tunnel screens. He completed a few through tight windows, and missed on two open receivers.
Three throws stick out in a good way:
▪ The touchdown, because he scrambled to his right, and threw across his body to the left, not looking at Marcus Kemp until the release. The ball was perfectly placed, too high for the linebacker and directly into Kemp’s hands.
▪ A tight window completion to Gehrig Dieter, with his feet set, and enough velocity to squeeze it between two defenders for a 16-yard gain.
▪ A strong throw while drifting back away from a passrusher’s grasp, with the physical strength to avoid the sack and enough arm to get it downfield for a completion.
And two stick out in a (kind of but not really) bad way:
▪ The first incompletion could’ve been a touchdown. He was scrambling to his right, and Gavin Escobar was more than open enough in the back of the end zone, but the ball wobbled high and over the tight end’s head.
▪ Another scramble throw, and Dieter was wide open for a short gain. The receiver was leaning the wrong way, so some of that’s on him, but there was enough space that the ball should’ve been in the numbers.
And ... really, that’s it. Those two aren’t too bad, if we’re honest. Better to miss high on Escobar so that it’s not intercepted, and the short pass to Dieter probably wouldn’t have been a big gain anyway.
In other words: This is picking nits, enough that when asked afterward about any throws he’d like back, the self-critical Mahomes couldn’t think of any.
“I don’t know if I can specifically think of one right now,” he said. “Wish we could’ve completed some more, just to get some first downs, is the big thing. I felt like we got behind the chains.”
There’s more to like than the obvious, too. Maybe it would’ve been nice to see the Chiefs open it up for Mahomes a bit more. Each of the other quarterbacks taken in the first round threw 25 passes in their preseason debuts. Mitch Trubisky was particularly impressive — 18 of 25 for 166 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.
But those other quarterbacks are in different situations. Deshaun Watson has only Tom Savage in front of him on the depth chart of a Texans team that’s been held back by bad quarterbacks. Trubisky is also in an effective quarterback competition, his in Chicago with Mike Glennon.
The Chiefs have been clear and consistent about their desire for Mahomes to sit for at least one year, and they have a quarterback who’s helped them to three postseasons in the last four years. They can go slower with Mahomes than those other teams can with their quarterbacks.
But if you watch the touchdown again, you see a lot to like. He kept his eyes downfield while scrambling away from pressure, and had the foresight to point Kemp — his third read — to an open spot in the end zone.
“I was pointing to tell him to stay where he was at,” Mahomes said. “(Defenders) were trying to follow me, I saw the defense really flowing. We’ve built a good chemistry at camp, him figuring out what I wanted him to do, so he was already on that track. I just threw it up for him to go get it.”
Mahomes makes it look that way at times, too.
All the disclaimers about preseason and rookies and everything else apply here. If Mahomes plays this season, something went wrong. But this was the first time Chiefs fans have seen him in a game. And for one night, there was a lot to like.