(Editor’s note: This story is part of The Star’s annual football preview, which will appear as a special section in the Sunday, Aug. 27 print edition and also on KansasCity.com and The Star’s Red Zone Extra app.)
The veteran and the rookie. Calm and steady vs. excitable and electric.
When it comes to NFL quarterbacks, there’s a lot to like in the varying styles of both Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes.
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#11 ALEX SMITH
Measurables: 6-4, 217, age 33, 13th season
2017 stats: Completed 328 of 489 passes (67 percent) for 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Also rushed 48 times for 134 yards and five touchdowns.
Strengths: Resilient veteran who has been through it all. Former No. 1 overall pick who overcame the early “bust” talk to carve out a nice NFL career. Very good athlete who can gain chunk-yards with his legs. Possesses an outstanding memory and has no problem reciting Andy Reid’s wordy playcalls. Is adept at reading defenses pre-snap and audibling out of bad plays. Has earned Reid’s trust and has been given more pre-snap responsibility than Reid is accustomed to. Protects his receivers by regularly placing balls in areas — specifically on short and intermediate routes — where they can go get it while avoiding big hits. Is also adept at protecting the ball; rarely makes big mistakes that get you beat. Is notoriously difficult to intercept and can frustrate aggressive defenses with his risk-averse nature. Showed improvement in 2016 by leading the Chiefs to several fourth-quarter comebacks, something he had not done before last season. Some teammates noted during training camp that he has become more vocal and ready to take charge, and he has appeared more decisive and aggressive on the field. Knows the offense front to back and could be primed for a big year if he stays healthy and simply takes more chances.
Weaknesses: Arm strength is generally regarded as good enough for Reid’s offense, but not elite. Is a locked-front-leg thrower, which sometimes affects his ball placement, particularly on downfield throws. Sometimes misses open shots downfield due to his risk-averse nature, which was highlighted several times during the Chiefs’ divisional-round loss to Pittsburgh in January. Stopped running so much last season — his rushing yards dropped from 498 in 2015 to 134 in 2016, and his yards per carry dropped from 5.9 to 2.8, which took away an essential playmaking element to his game. Suffered two “head traumas” against Indianapolis last October and needs to remember to protect himself when scrambling.
#15 PATRICK MAHOMES
Measurables: 6-3, 230, age 21, rookie
2017 stats (at Texas Tech): Completed 388 of 591 passes (65.7 percent) for 5,052 yards, 41 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Rushed 131 times for 285 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Strengths: Possesses outstanding arm talent; has the loose delivery and RPMs to drive the ball downfield. His ability to retain and memorize information has been praised by coaches and teammates, alike. Has a natural creativity and keeps plays alive, and is at his best when things break down. Showed a flair for the dramatic during training camp, leading the third-teamers to scores in two-minute situations. Good athlete who is mobile in the pocket and can hurt opponents as a runner ... but would much rather throw than run. Is adept at throwing on the move to either side of the field, and has upside as a boot or play-action quarterback. Regularly makes absurd throws across his body while on the move and generally completes them. Consistently threatens the deep-to-intermediate depths of the field and makes opposing teams defend it all, which could potentially open up the Chiefs’ playcalling. Throws a very catchable ball, especially vertically. Appears to be liked by his teammates, and early indications are that he fits well in the locker room. Has good body language and can regularly be seen encouraging teammates after drives.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t turn 22 until mid-September and is still a pup in the league. Is in the process of learning the Chiefs’ complex verbiage — he never had to spit out long playcalls at Texas Tech. Is also learning how to properly read NFL defenses, which could require reps and time. Made a number of “wow” throws in camp but some of them weren’t the correct reads. Is still learning how much he can trust his arm at this level; the windows are smaller than he’s used to and they close quicker than they did for him in college, which will lead to some interceptions, at least for a while. Has a “gunslinger” mentality that he must learn to harness for the appropriate moments. Has also had some interceptions in camp in which he appeared to miss a lurking/squatting defender short and over the middle. Needs to continue to refine his touch; the ball occasionally sails on him on sideline throws.