ADVERTISEMENT

Greatness Only, No Fatigue: Why Patrick Mahomes Is Having an MVP Season

ADVERTISEMENT

I’m afraid we’ve entered the megalomaniacal part of Patrick Mahomes’ career.

ADVERTISEMENT

There’s a little piece of social media that’s two or three years old, the gist of which is, “If Patrick Mahomes had done this, the NFL media would go crazy.” (The first time I remember seeing it was with Matthew Stafford’s no-look pass in 2020, but I think that The sheer number From People those who have chirp severely the The same Likely indicating that it was a widely held sentiment even earlier.) The point is, the NFL linebackers are so fond of their signature touchdown king that they praise Mahomes’ plays while ignoring the special passes made by every other quarterback.

But at this point, I think we have the equation backwards. My Twitter feed these days is filled with lasers and catapults that Trevor Lawrence and Justin Herberts have unleashed out of the world — great players, to be clear. But any individual Mahomes miracle – such This is an impromptu weird lob, which moved Jerrick McKinnon to the perfect spot to make it down the field for a 56-yard touchdown against Denver earlier this month — it doesn’t really move the needle much. And when Mahomes led a two-minute drill to beat the Chargers, well, that was kind of expected. That’s what he does.

Trust me – I’m in the media! Who wants to read about a great player who is still great when they can read about new players who have a chance to become great or former greats who suddenly turn bad? This is the 16th week, and this is the first Mahomes piece we’ve been running ringer Since the beginning of the season.

It’s been five seasons since Mahomes burst onto the scene in 2018, throwing 50 touchdowns and running away with being voted NFL MVP in his first year as a Chiefs starter. He never stopped innovating, nor did he drop even a little bit. His team has won the AFC West title in every season and has competed in the AFC Championship match four times. (The Chiefs were 2-2 in those games, with both losses coming in overtime.) Perhaps his “worst” statistical year was the 2019 campaign, when he posted career lows in touchdowns, yardage, and touchdown percentage; That year, he finished fourth in the NFL in yards per attempt and won the Super Bowl. However, from 2019 to 2021, Mahomes received only 2 out of a possible 150 MVP votes (there are 50 per season), finishing third to Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen in 2020 and out of the balloting in 2019 and 2021.

The truth is, if any other quarterback did what Mahomes is doing now, the media would be crazy. Mahomes currently leads the NFL in touchdowns and passing yards and is third in yards per attempt and touchdown percentage. The Chiefs rank first in points scored and yards per game, and are tied for the best record in the AFC. Mahomes is responsible for an expected 65 more points added on recoveries compared to the no. 2nd-ranked quarterback, Josh Allen; That’s as big as the gap between third and twenty-first place. At his current pace of 321 yards per game, Mahomes could come close to breaking Peyton Manning’s record for passing yards in a season (though he’ll take advantage of Game 17 to do so). In personal rankings, he is the #1 ranked QB on ESPN’s QBR and Pro Football Focus, as well as ringerQB ratings. Mahomes has been the betting favorite for the MVP at times this season, but has fallen behind Jalen Hurts of late and been pushed back by the Eagles quarterback after Hurts suffered a shoulder injury.

Grandiosity fatigue is somewhat understandable. People will get bored of superheroes too after the first 100 times they see them fly. But it’s time we all get on the same page about what Mahomes is doing this season. He’s the best QB in the NFL, but we already knew that. What we didn’t realize was that he was probably playing the best football of his career.


The 2022 season was supposed to be a test for Mahomes with the departure of superstar wide receiver Terek Hill. Some felt the Chiefs’ offense would decrease — and that group obviously included Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, who praised Hill and said the trade would “shame some people”. Or perhaps Mahomes’ supreme talent allowed Hale to flourish.

As the season winds down, neither of them has been proven right. Hill has been amazingly good for the Dolphins and is currently second in receiving yards, having already hit a single-season high with three games remaining. The Dolphins have jumped from 22nd to 9th in scoring since his arrival (along with new head coach Mike McDaniel) and are on course to make the playoffs for only the third time in the past 20 years. In the few categories in which Mahomes ranks second or third in the NFL, such as touchdown rate or yards per attempt, Hill’s freshman QB, Tua Tagovailoa, is usually first.

However, the Chiefs somehow got better without Hill. They finished fourth in scoring last year and are first now. 173 EPA per offensive snap, the best rating of any NFL team since… the 2018 Chiefs. The Eagles are a close second, with an EPA rating of 0.95 per moment, about half as good as Kansas City. And it’s almost all Mahomes: The Chiefs get a negative EPA from their running game, about -017-EPA per non-QB rush. Mahomes-era chiefs have always relied heavily on Mahomes’ magic, but in 2022, they’re going head over heels for that. In the overtime win against the Titans, for example, Mahomes made 68 pass attempts while also leading the team in rushing with 63 yards. (Nobody else on the team had more than 5 rushing yards in that game.) If the 68 passes passed, six carries, and four sacks taken together, Mahomes has been involved in 78 plays, Second most in any regular season game in NFL history.

One possible explanation for this is that the loss of Hill may have helped make Mahomes a required strategic shift due to the changing way defenses play against him. Again in 2018, Mahomes and Hill were topping the line defenses week after week after week. That year, Mahomes had seven passing touchdowns of 50 yards or more, four of which went to Hill. And that season, he passed 15.2% of Mahomes’ attempts over 20 air yards, fourth highest. He was the perfect combination of one of the fastest receivers and one of the biggest weapons in the game.

In response, the defenses did everything they could to take the biggest plays away from Mahomes and other players like him. NFL defenses have shifted dramatically from man coverage—the kind in which a defender may not be able to keep up with a player at Hill’s speed—towards a more conservative zone appearance. In 2019, teams played 60.6% of the passes played; That jumped to 70 percent in 2022. (No data available for 2018, Mahomes’ first year as a start.)

As a result, the chiefs’ offense form changed dramatically. In 2019, 24.7 percent of the Chiefs’ runs were either going runs or serve runs, both of which primarily end with a receiving line heading into the end zone to catch a deep ball. Hill missed four games that year, but in 2020 he ranks second in runs with 165 — more than 10 runs per game. Now in 2022, the Chiefs’ first season without Hill, the go-and-kick knocks account for 15.4 percent of their offense. With 14 games in the books, no one on the team has run 100 runs, and only 8.3 percent of Mahomes’ passes have gone at least 20 yards in the air—about half of what it was in his first year as the Chiefs’ QB.

But attacking bosses is better than ever, even without Hill. Tight end Travis Kelce is tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns, JuJu Smith-Schuster has a career renaissance and ranks 21st in receiving yardage, and 58-yard Marquez Valdes-Scantling sets a career high in yardage after spending four years playing with back-to-back MVP Aaron Rodgers. McKinnon ranks fourth among running backs in receiving yardage, with 182 receiving yards in just the past two weeks.

Maybe we’re bored with Mahomes because he’s a little more boring than he used to be. Gone are the repeating 60-yard bombs, the 55-yard bombs, the 50-yard bombs, and even the 45-yard bombs. High completion percentage throws are present. Can you get excited about connecting and crossing paths? But the shift allowed Mahomes to largely stay ahead of the defensive adjustments that have pushed the league to its lowest point since becoming the NFL’s starting quarterback.

Mahomes is clearly the most valuable player this year. He endured the loss of his best receiver, got smarter and craftier, and reinvented himself as a different kind of passer to become the main cog in the best offense in the NFL. And every year, we must reinvent our opinion: If our eyes and the statistical statement tell us Mahomes is the best player, we shouldn’t be firing him for failing to peak in 2018 or awarding prizes to other players for heresy. Mahomes had not yet developed the fatigue of greatness, which is why he was able to figure out a new way to dominate the league. We shouldn’t feel that tired yet either.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
%d bloggers like this: