I’m going to tie together two newsworthy items that’ve happened within the last week:
1) NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport has reported some NFL teams have big-armed Texas Tech quarterback Pat Mahomes as their top QB option in the draft.
2) Kyle Shanahan went on the record saying arm talent is the best way to win in the NFL at the quarterback position.
“There’s a very natural ability in the throwing and if you don’t have that, it’s very hard to succeed in this league,” Shanahan told beat writers after last Thursday’s press conference. “You are always looking for one of those seven throwers on the planet, whatever that number is. I’m guessing there’s only around seven.”
There’s only one consensus elite arm talent in the 2017 NFL Draft, and that’s Mahomes. The strapping 6-foot-3, 220 pounder has a rocket launcher attached to his right arm. I’m not going to pretend like I’ve watched hours of film on him, so here’s NFL.com’s scouting report on him.
Possesses NFL body type for work inside and out of the pocket. Has an undeniable swagger and confidence to his game. Accuracy has improved in each season since his freshman year. Naturally accurate in his every day throws. Comfortable challenging defenders in space. Has arm strength and fearlessness to attack the cover-2 voids down the sideline. Can make deep, field side throws. Cranks up velocity to fit passes into tight windows. Former pitcher who propels hips through his release with aggressive torque and never gets cheated on his follow-through. Can deliver strikes from a variety of arm angles.
It’s actually Mahomes’ baseball background that could fascinate Shanahan the most. Last season was the first-ever year Mahomes focused solely on football and the jump in his game — leading the nation in touchdowns (53) and passing yards (5,052) all while throwing just 10 interceptions and completing 65.7 percent of his passes — was astronomical.
In the era of the Elite 11 quarterback camps and parents who start training their kid to become an NFL quarterback at 12 years old, Mahomes is a breath of fresh air. Baseball was always his biggest focus growing up. He was a relief pitcher for the Red Raiders his first two years in Lubbock. He’s really a piece of clay ready to be properly molded.
“He could’ve gotten drafted in baseball very high had he decided to go that route. His dad was a major league pitcher for 11 years,” Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury told KNBR 1050 on Wednesday. “So he never grew up with the quarterback gurus, or quarterback coaches, or even going to quarterback camps. And his development in the three years I had him is just through the roof.”
If Mahomes’ arm is so special, why isn’t he a clearcut prospect such as Andrew Luck or Jameis Winston? Well he had a bad habit of turning games into street ball and in needing to score points to win in the Big 12, Kingsbury was okay with letting him develop bad habits. Mahomes often looks to force a big play down the field than hit the wide open receiver underneath and he can flea the pocket just to try and make something happen. He’ll obviously have to adjust to taking snaps under center. Are those major road blocks or are those minor aspects Shanahan can correct?
And you obviously have to mention Texas Tech has an immense history of quarterbacks who stockpile statistics. Kingsbury was one of them, Graham Harrell was another, so was B.J. Symons. The trio of Red Raiders made a few waves in NFL Europe and the CFL, but couldn’t hack it on Sunday’s in the NFL. Pigeonholing Mahomes into the category is very unwise, but if he is a colossal bust, the proof will be in the pudding of Texas Tech’s Air-Rad offense.
Shanahan won’t be able to solely tell from the tape if he can coach this kid into a franchise quarterback. Breaking bad habits and the willingness to take hard coaching takes certain attributes from a quarterback. He and John Lynch are going to have to have lengthy sit downs with Mahomes at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. He’ll be poked and prodded; quizzed on offensive concepts and defensive schemes. Lynch and Shanahan need to know there’s a mind behind the arm.
I remember hearing this in my time in Cleveland: Shanahan demanded quarterbacks play within his system. Chief among the many reasons Johnny Manziel wasn’t able to see the field much his rookie year, was that he had a penchant for leaning on unscripted plays. This could be a total turnoff from Shanahan and Mahomes could be crossed off the list sooner than some realize.
Or Shanahan can pull up the tape and be reminded of Jay Cutler, a common comparison of Mahomes’ ceiling.
What is apparent now is that Mahomes is no longer a sleeper. There’s talk of the Chicago Bears stunning the world and taking him No. 3 overall, but more and more mock drafts have him appearing in the first round. CBS Sports has the Cleveland Browns taking him with their second first-round pick at No. 12 overall.
The 49ers are developing a reputation for rolling the dice. Lynch was an outside-the-box hire. Expected defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was another example of taking a chance on an important position.
Is Mahomes next?