The Chiefs have been here before, with a first-round drafted quarterback projected as the future of the franchise.
Todd Blackledge, like Patrick Mahomes, played sparingly as a rookie. After arriving with new coach John Mackovic, Blackledge appeared in four games in 1983. The the idea was to eventually design an offense around the former Penn State star.
So it is with Mahomes, who is off to a blazing start. He owns a 4-0 record, including his lone start last year at Denver, where the Chiefs play on Monday. He also owns an NFL-record 13 touchdown passes in a season’s first three games.
Blackledge’s NFL career fell short of expectations. He started 24 of the 40 games in which he appeared for the Chiefs and finished with more career interceptions than touchdowns.
“I wish it could have gone better,” Blackledge said. “I would have loved to have been a great quarterback there, had success in the postseason, go to the playoffs multiple times.
“It didn’t happen, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I was proud to have been selected by the Chiefs, and I’m very happy for the success they’re having now.”
Blackledge has experienced success of his own since his NFL career ended with the Steelers in 1989. He became a national broadcaster and since 1994 has been a college football voice for ABC, CBS and ESPN.
He is considered one of the game’s most knowledge analysts and this week signed a contract extension with ESPN.
“I still enjoy it, still love going to work on the weekends,” Blackledge said. “It hasn’t lost anything for me over the years.”
Blackledge has called games each year in the College Football Playoff, most memorably the 2014 contest between Ohio State and Alabama. Those Buckeyes pulled off an upset went on to capture the first CFP title. Blackledge will work the Syracuse-at-Clemson game on Saturday.
Buoyed by an outstanding college career — he led the Nittany Lions to the program’s first national championship in 1982 and won the Davey O’Brien Trophy as the nation’s top quarterback — Blackledge was considered a first-round talent coming out of school.
The Chiefs didn’t appear to be in the market for a quarterback. Bill Kenney and Steve Fuller had been battling for the starting spot over the previous three seasons. But in the great quarterback draft class of 1983, the Chiefs couldn’t resist, selecting Blackledge seventh overall.
John Elway went first. After Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien and Dan Marino were taken in the only draft that has produced six quarterbacks in the first round.
Fuller was traded before the 1983 season, and Kenney went on to post his biggest year: 4,348 passing yards and a Pro Bowl selection. When Kenney broke his thumb during the 1984 preseason, Blackledge became the starter and the Chiefs went 4-3.
A year later, Blackledge was inserted late in the season and helped the Chiefs end a seven-game losing streak. In 1986, the Chiefs went 5-3 in his starts but lost the franchise’s first playoff game in 15 years.
He opened the 1987 season as the starter, beat the Chargers, and soon joined his teammates on strike. Kenney finished the season and Blackledge, with a 13-11 record as a Chiefs starter, was traded.
That victory over San Diego was the last by a quarterback drafted by the Chiefs until Mahomes won at Denver last year.
In the 34 years between the nights Blackledge and Mahomes became Chiefs, Kansas City was a quarterback draft desert. Going mostly with other teams’ quarterbacks, the Chiefs selected 12 in that span, none higher than the second round, and those players — Mike Elkins in 1989 and Matt Blundin in 1992 — made a combined three appearances and no starts for Kansas City.
Little did he know Blackledge was looking at the franchise’s future while preparing for a 2015 broadcast. As he studied tape of Mahomes as a Texas Tech sophomore, Blackledge knew immediately he was viewing something different.
“I remember thinking that he not only had a special arm talent, but he didn’t look like a system quarterback that had come through Texas Tech,” Blackledge said. “He was beyond that. He had different skills.”
Blackledge hasn’t watched an entire Chiefs game this season, and the sample size is small, but Blackledge recognizes exceptional qualities in Mahomes.
“A tremendous football IQ and acumen for the game,” he said. “Kansas City is a great football town with a great fan base. I know they’re enjoying this.”