At 10:49 Thursday evening, John Dorsey walked to the front of the room with a sly smile on his face. For a notorious draft pick-hound who had just surrendered his 2018 first-round choice to move up 17 selections in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the enthusiasm in the Chiefs’ general manager’s demeanor was palpable.
The reason was simple. He loved the man the Chiefs just selected, Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. So much so that Dorsey passed on another QB he liked, Clemson star Deshaun Watson, who had just last season won a national championship.
“Listen, Deshaun Watson is a great kid; he’s the senior who battled for the title, who won the title,” Dorsey said. “Those are things that are very special. But at the end of the day, we had Mahomes rated above Watson.”
This is significant, considering the Chiefs interviewed all the top quarterback prospects extensively. They brought them to Kansas City and tested their ability to learn and retain plays, a significant concern considering none had experience with the lengthy play-calls that are a fundamental component of Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s offense.
Afterward, Dorsey had the coaching staff rank the quarterbacks on their ability to learn and retain information.
“And (Mahomes) was No. 1,” said Dorsey, who also ranked Mahomes above North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, who ended up getting drafted second overall by Chicago on Thursday.
So about five days ago, Dorsey started working on five or six different trades, including one with Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley. They eventually came to an outline for a deal that would cost the Chiefs two first-round choices and the No. 91 overall choice this year for the No. 10 spot.
Dorsey felt comfortable with that compensation.
“I felt to get this player, I had to be at 10,” Dorsey said. “I know there were three teams that wanted this player very badly.”
Like the New Orleans Saints, who secretly coveted a long-term answer at quarterback; and the Arizona Cardinals, whose coach, Bruce Arians, was believed to also love Mahomes; and the Houston Texans, who traded up with Cleveland at No. 12 to draft Watson.
It was a gamble Dorsey said was worth taking.
“I can see this guy developing into a really good football player, so why not take a shot at it?” Dorsey said. “This is a quarterback-driven league … what you’re doing is building for the future of the organization. And from a compensation standpoint, I don’t think that’s a lot, because at the end of this thing, he’s going to be a really good player, he can sit back and learn.
“I couldn’t be more excited.”
Dorsey’s philosophy had already been established and vetted long ago by his mentor, former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf. Wolf stunned the NFL 25 years ago when he made a similar trade, sending a first-round choice in 1992 for a wild, reckless gunslinger with tremendous arm talent named Brett Favre.
Interestingly enough, many of those words have also been used to describe Mahomes. Dorsey, when asked what gives him confidence Mahomes can reel in the reckless throws, wasn’t afraid to evoke a veiled comparison to Favre, though he didn’t dare to mention the name.
“I saw a guy who used to flip it into coverage too, sometimes,” Dorsey said. “He made it into the Hall of Fame. I’m not comparing him, but I’m just saying. Those things happened.”
Mahomes is the son of a former major-league pitcher who was drafted by the Detroit Tigers out of high school.
“He’s a football junkie — he wants to do everything right, he wants to please the coach,” Dorsey said. “That’s a big deal. This guy just wants to play football.
“He is competitive, he is smart. He gets out of situations with his feet and arm talent in a way I haven’t seen in a long time.”
It’s a combination of skills that would lead some to think Mahomes’ 13-16 record as a starter at Texas Tech should have been better. Dorsey dismisses that.
“They were giving up 60 points a game — he had to try to score 65 points a game,” Dorsey explained.
Dorsey was exaggerating but wasn’t that far off. The Red Raiders surrendered 43 points a game, last out of 128 Division I FBS teams, another reason the Chiefs felt comfortable reaching a consensus on Mahomes, who they scouted heavily for the better part of a year behind Southwest scout (and former AFC Scout off the Year) Willie Davis.
“When you do a move like this, you have to do it with everybody,” Dorsey said. “All the way back when we evaluated him in September, the consensus was he has unbelievable talent and the skill-set to be an unbelievable player when you make an aggressive move like that.”
But as much as he loves Mahomes, Dorsey also reiterated what Reid said Thursday: that Alex Smith is the starter in 2017.
“He’s a true professional,” Dorsey said of Smith, who is 41-20 as the Chiefs’ starter the last four years. “He understands what it takes to accomplish levels of excellence.”
That means Mahomes will compete for the No. 2 spot with Tyler Bray, a strong-armed quarterback himself with a four-year head start on the playbook. The group also includes Joel Stave, who’s 6 feet 5 and 236 pounds with a strong arm and quick delivery, but needs to refine his pocket presence, decision-making and accuracy.
“I think this group right here is as good a group as we’ve had in a long time,” Dorsey said.
And with his news conference over and the game’s more important position settled, Dorsey walked away from the cameras and the microphones and back up to his office.
There was still work to do. The Chiefs still have at least one pick in every round, and have needs at inside linebacker, cornerback, defensive line and running back.
Dorsey, fresh off what he considered the scouting equivalent of a victory, was looking forward to it.
“Well, how many more picks do I have left? Eight?” Dorsey said with another wry smile before he left. “I think I could do some good with that.”
Chiefs remaining draft picks
Friday (6 p.m. on ESPN, NFL Network)
2nd round: No. 59
3rd round: No. 104
Saturday (11 a.m. on ESPN, NFL Network)
4th round: No. 132
5th round: No. 170 & 180
6th round: No. 216 & 218
7th round: No. 245