Sam Mellinger

The ascent of Patrick Mahomes: From competing for high school starts to top 10 NFL pick

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes on starting to understand the offense

Kansas City Chiefs rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes spoke after mandatory minicamp practice on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, about his progress over the last month in learning the complex Andy Reid offensive playbook.
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Kansas City Chiefs rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes spoke after mandatory minicamp practice on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, about his progress over the last month in learning the complex Andy Reid offensive playbook.

These words will be about Patrick Mahomes through the eyes of some who’ve spent more time around him the last three years than anyone else, but before we get to that let’s squash the notion that drafting the Chiefs’ quarterback of the future was part of the organization’s bizarre front office breakup.

This comes from Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, unintentionally, in a hallway off the side at Big 12 football media days this week.

It’s at the end of a conversation about Mahomes, who went from a quarterback competition his junior year of high school to one Power Five scholarship offer to the 10th pick in the NFL draft in less than four years.

Kingsbury is asked if he was surprised by “the Dorsey thing.”

“Umm ... which thing? What?”

John Dorsey. He got fired.

“I didn’t know he got fired. When was that? Really?”

Yeah, about a month ago.

“I hadn’t heard that. I didn’t have any dealings with him. I dealt with coach (Andy) Reid. I didn’t know that, but that’s surprising.”

Wait. You never talked with the GM?

“Maybe on draft day or something, but I don’t think so.”

Can we all agree that it’s extremely unlikely that Reid was in any way surprised or upset at picking a quarterback for which he served as the primary contact with the college coach?


Now, more about Mahomes, whom Chiefs fans will be able to see throwing for their team for the first time as training camp begins Monday.

The first time John Dorsey talked about Mahomes publicly after the draft he mentioned this play against Louisiana Tech. It’s an absurd play, really. Mahomes escapes the pocket to his left and as he’s running parallel to the line of scrimmage shoots the ball sidearm, across his body, some 50 or more yards down the field for a perfect strike touchdown.

“Freakiest play he made,” Kingsbury said. “He was just showing off, yeah.”

Would you believe that wasn’t the first time Mahomes made that play?

Actually, it wasn’t even the second time.

Mahomes started less than two full seasons at quarterback at Whitehouse High, but left behind a wild highlight tape that includes one play his longtime friend Dylan Cantrell says is just as, if not more, impressive than the throw against Louisiana Tech.

This was Mahomes’ junior year, on the final play of the first half in the opening round of the playoffs. They snapped from around midfield, and Mahomes scrambled to his right, then dipped back to his left — momentarily some 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage — before heaving it downfield.

Cantrell caught it, then leaned into the end zone. As it happened, Jah’Shawn Johnson was the man beat in coverage. Johnson and Cantrell each ended up playing with Mahomes at Texas Tech.

“From then on, I said, yeah, that’s a special guy,” Johnson said.

“Scramble, scramble, scramble, roll out, roll back around, probably ran across the field three times and just chucked it deep,” Cantrell said.

The very next week, Mahomes made the same play, again, right before halftime. Video of this was not readily available.

Mahomes’ rise has been rapid, even in a world where the highest draft picks are at most five years removed from their senior prom.

He has always been raw as a quarterback. He played more baseball than football growing up, his summers spent throwing mid-90s fastballs rather than at the quarterback camps filled with the guys he’d end up competing against.

Mahomes wasn’t Whitehouse’s full-time quarterback until midway through his junior season. The Chiefs talk a lot now about refining his mechanics, and that’s an issue, but if you saw the progress he’s made from then to now you’d bet on him being able to close the gap.

His only offers out of high school were Texas Tech, Houston and Rice, according to Rivals. He won the job at Tech his freshman year.

“Crazy to see,” Cantrell said. “He was in a quarterback competition his junior year in high school, then he’s the 10th pick in the draft.”

The talent is remarkable, so it’s hard to know why so many coaches missed, other than Mahomes not taking the traditional path through camps like most top prospects.

Kingsbury says Mahomes’ mechanics were “funky” back then, his drop backs more like foot slides and the ball swinging wildly in his hands before throws.

“But if you go back and watch his highlights,” Kingsbury said, “you will think, ‘How was nobody else in on this guy?’ He was unbelievable. He dominated.”

The Kansas City Star's A-Team of Terez Paylor, Blair Kerkhoff, Sam Mellinger and Vahe Gregorian offered praise and critique of Chiefs new quarterback Patrick Mahomes II while watching game film from his days at Texas Tech during a Facebook Live br

Patrick Mahomes is the reigning Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the year. That surprises people sometimes. He was a marketing major, and a regular on the President’s and Dean’s lists.

“Maybe it’s his style of play or improvisational skills, but people assume he’s not a cerebral cat,” Kingsbury said. “I’m telling you, the way he picks things up off the board, or off the film, it’s as good as anyone I’ve ever been around.”

The two most prevalent criticisms of Mahomes are inconsistent mechanics and occasionally missing on his risk-reward calculations.

But both can be contextualized, if not fully forgotten. Because there are times that the chaos of NFL games requires a quarterback to make throws from spontaneous arm angles or body positions, so in those moments Mahomes’ proven ability to do that is a strength.

There are some scouts who believe quarterbacks who rely too much on clean mechanics and timing are the ones who fail in the NFL because they can’t make profit in the inevitable moments where things go off script.

As for the carelessness, Mahomes threw 10 interceptions in 591 attempts. His 1.7 interception percentage is comparable to No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky (1.3) and significantly better than Deshaun Watson (4.4). It’s also lower than either of the quarterbacks taken with the first two picks of last year’s draft.

Also, at least a few of Mahomes’ interceptions were the type his coaches accepted and in some ways encouraged by their style. Tech gave up more points than any other FBS school and needed Mahomes to ride the edge to stay in some games and comeback in others.

“We weren’t great up front, and we needed to score a bunch of points, so we knew there would be times he tried to do too much, but we would live with it,” Kingsbury said. “A lot of the interceptions you saw, we were down big and he had to force some things.

“That was part of the deal: ‘If you don’t do it, nobody’s going to do it.’ So he had to cut loose and throw into tight windows because that’s what we were asking.”

The Chiefs have made clear they want Mahomes to sit, for at least a year. That would give Mahomes time to learn, and the team can save $17 million of cap space by cutting Alex Smith next offseason.

Kingsbury wants that for Mahomes, too. But even as Mahomes is still just 21 years old, Kingsbury is convinced he and the Chiefs could make it work if circumstances changed.

“I just know the kid, and he’s so competitive he would have some success,” Kingsbury said. “But coach Reid could script some things to keep him comfortable. I want him to sit, but if he gets thrown out there, he’ll do some things to make you say, ‘Wow.’”

The Kansas City Chiefs traded up to select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick in Thursday's NFL Draft.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger