Patrick Mahomes had outrageous college stats. What will he be in the NFL?

Patrick Mahomes had outrageous college stats. What will he be in the NFL?
Patrick Mahomes had outrageous college stats. What will he be in the NFL?

Patrick Mahomes played in 32 games during a three-year quarterbacking career at Texas Tech. In 22 of those games, he threw for more than 300 yards. In a game last year against Oklahoma, he threw for 734 — part of an 819-yard day of individual total offense, the most ever by a player in an FBS game. He prefers his yards in bulk.

What Mahomes will be in the NFL isn’t yet clear. He’s testing this weekend at the league’s scouting combine in Indianapolis, where he’ll try to convince 32 teams that his massive numbers in Lubbock have more to do with him than the system he worked under. That’s the air raid, a spread-to-pass scheme not regularly seen in the NFL, that led Mahomes to throw an average of 49 times per game last season.

“I just show them my knowledge for the game. That’s the only way I can prove it wrong,” Mahomes told reporters this week. “You look back at the system quarterback, a lot of guys didn’t work out.

“So for me, it’s just going to be about proving those guys wrong, going out there and really showing my knowledge of the game and just competing. It’ll all show up when you get to the field.”

That the air raid inflated Mahomes’s numbers isn’t in question

More passing attempts to more receivers running routes down the field means more yardage for quarterbacks. The air raid encourages those things, and teams that run it usually rack up lots of passing yards. Mahomes’ numbers in two full seasons as a starter: 9,705 yards, 77 touchdowns, and 25 interceptions.

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One of the air raid’s godfathers, Mike Leach, coached at Texas Tech a few years before the current coach, Kliff Kingsbury. Under Leach, Graham Harrell threw for more than 15,000 yards during three seasons as a starter between 2006 and 2008. Before Harrell, Kingsbury himself was a Leach air raid QB.

Then Kingsbury became an air raid coach himself, and now Tech’s all-time leading passers are Harrell, Kingsbury, and Mahomes.

Texas Tech has been playing football since 1925. The forward pass didn’t come into style until decades later, but it’s notable that each of the school’s 10 most prolific individual passing seasons has come since 2002 — eight under Kingsbury and Leach.

Leach now coaches at Washington State. The player whose single-game yardage record Mahomes broke last season is Connor Halliday, who previously set it for WSU under Leach in 2014.

That Mahomes has talent also isn’t in question.

His total passing yardage last season (5,052) was the most in the country. Mahomes wasn’t the best quarterback in college football, but he wasn’t just a volume shooter, either. His average yards per attempt was 8.5, 16th-best among qualifiers in the 128-team Football Bowl Subdivision. His 157 efficiency rating was No. 12.

In Indianapolis, Mahomes measured in at 232 pounds, he said. He’s a big man, and he’s not especially fast. But he’s somewhat quick in short areas, and he can improvise. He isn’t consigned to the pocket, and he’s demonstrated good vision, even when it’s required him to throw in that across-your-body, Ben Roethlisberger kind of way.

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Mahomes took 27 sacks and fumbled five times last season, so it’s wrong to suggest his mobility isn’t a concern at all. But he’s not a statue whose only ability is to take three-step drops and fire. His athleticism makes him more than that.

In general, he’s a little different than your standard Tech air raid QB:

Mahomes adds three dimensions to their offense that your typical Lubbock Air Raid QB doesn’t always bring to the table. The first is an ability to hit windows downfield and outside the hash marks which reduce the effectiveness of quarters coverage bracket techniques since modern coverages usually leave at least one cornerback on an island. NFL arm strength in a spread QB is typically pretty lethal.

The second is his running ability, his first few steps are really quick and at 230 pounds he’s a pretty fearless and physical runner. Finally, there’s the way he combines his mobility and arm strength with poise to create off-schedule opportunities for their offense with the scramble. When the QB can beat the blitz with his legs and then throw over your head or to the opposite hash, there’s not a ton you can do.

“He’s a guy that the film is pretty special,” 49ers GM John Lynch said at the Combine. “He’s a fun guy to watch. We’re excited to watch more and learn more about him.”

Still, Mahomes needs to buck a trend to actually succeed.

Air raid quarterbacks haven’t cut it in the NFL. Recent ones to try include Tim Couch, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel, Geno Smith, Kevin Kolb, Nick Foles, Jason White, and those two big-time Texas Tech QBs before Mahomes: Harrell and Kingsbury.

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Here’s an accounting of how air raid QBs have done, put together before last season:

air raid

The Rams made Jared Goff the first overall pick last year, after Goff spent his college career in Sonny Dykes’s air raid at Cal. The jury’s decidedly still out on Goff. Davis Webb, a Texas Tech transfer who landed at Cal under Dykes last season, is also in this year’s class.

The next air raider to prove himself worthy of a top pick will be the first in a long, long while — really, since the air raid became a thing a few decades ago.

Mahomes has a big arm and big college numbers behind him, just like most of the air raid quarterbacks who took this journey before him. Let’s hope he does better than they have.

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