Ethan Hewett | July 2nd, 2019
With training camp upon us in a few weeks, and just over two months until kickoff, what better time to start looking at candidates for the 2019 Most Valuable Player. Throughout the series, we will look at 20 players who currently have the best odds of winning MVP next season. Of course, to start us off, we need to look at the reigning MVP of 2018, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
Current 2019 MVP odds: +400
All odds are according to mybookie.ag
Mahomes has had quite the journey in just his first two years in the league. From some analysts calling him one of the worst picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, when the Kansas City Chiefs traded up to select him at 10th overall, to being the League’s Most Valuable Player in 2018. How did he beat the odds, overcome adversity, and quickly become one of the biggest names in football?
Many people weren’t super high on Mahomes coming into the 2017 Draft, mainly due to messy footwork and often times questionable throwing mechanics (more on this later). However, it is impossible to deny the pure arm talent that Mahomes possesses, and his ability to make plays that left defenses confused and helpless as he led the Chiefs all the way to the AFC Championship Game last season. He also was able to grab a nomination for the Pro Bowl along with a 1st Team All-Pro selection. But how did he do it? We dove into the film on Mahomes and looked at how Mahomes was able to wield one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.
The first thing that really jumps off the screen, is Mahomes’ ability and accuracy when he is off-platform. The highlight reel was endless, whether it be rolling left and throwing back across his body into the open arms of Travis Kelce, or throwing a 50-yard dime down the field off of his back foot. His ability to separate his upper body from his lower body is the kind of talent that allowed him to complete 16 of his 50 touchdowns while on the move. He is also a playmaker, according to Pro Football Focus, Mahomes led the league with 49 big-time throws in 2018. Including completing 41 of his passes of 20 yards or more.
While Mahomes excelled outside of the pocket, he also saw a lot of success inside the tackles. Mahomes’ quarterback rating when given a clean pocket was an astonishing 134.2! His presence, pocket mobility, and poise gave him a huge advantage. A stat that I like to keep track of when watching film is multiple-read throws (when a quarterback looks to multiple receivers.) This is something that young quarterbacks can sometimes struggle with and yet Mahomes averaged between 12-13 multiple-read passes a game during the regular season in 2018, which is a respectable number, especially for a first-year starting quarterback. This maturity and calmness in the pocket are exactly what you need from your pro-caliber quarterback.
Another key part to a great quarterback is being great in situations such as third down, and no quarterback was better on third down than Mahomes in 2018. Two really fun and great stats from Football Outsiders are Conversion Rate and Air Less Expected (ALEX). Conversion rate is what you would think, the percentage of plays that the team converts when the quarterback throws the ball on third down. ALEX is a stat that gauges where a quarterback throws the ball in relation to the first down markers. If he were to throw one yard behind the yard markers it is -1, if he throws one yard in front then it is 1. Mahomes led the league in both of these categories with a conversion rate of 52.4% and an ALEX of 4.5 which indicates that Mahomes frequently was making plays on third down that didn’t require yards after the catch to make a first down.
Of course, you have to give some credit to the incredible offense that Andy Reid has created in Kansas City. Reid’s system has found its happy place somewhere in between college and NFL philosophies which to me at least, has really benefited Mahomes. For example, the Chiefs ran around 63% of their plays from the shotgun (more college-oriented). Let’s also keep in mind that his offense last season was loaded with weapons with arguably the best tight end in football Travis Kelce, top 5 running back at the time Kareem Hunt, and probably the fastest man in the league, Tyreek Hill. Sammy Watkins was also a reliable fourth target for Mahomes in 2018. The Chiefs ability to get their players in open space on screen passes and short outside looks created a lot of positive yards, especially with a player like Hill.
Now it is time to see what Mahomes could do to impress us even more in 2019. Wait, you’re telling me the MVP struggled? Believe it or not, in some areas he did. While the upside to Mahomes is incredible, there are going to be some parts of his game that could always use improvement. For example, his footwork and occasional decision making. While it is nice to have a quarterback who can throw the ball 80 yards in the air, this will sometimes cause him to be over-confident in his abilities to make a throw downfield. While it wasn’t frequent, there are a couple of plays in particular that jump off the screen where you just wish he would’ve taken the underneath route instead of pushing it downfield.
In week 11 against the Los Angeles Rams, where the Chiefs would eventually lose 54-51, in a record-setting game, a costly incomplete pass late in the third quarter led to them going into the final quarter down 10 points. It was 3rd and 9 from their own 25, as the play progressed it was clear the Rams were playing zone, and Hill had taken three out of four deep defenders downfield with him on a fly route and left Chris Conley wide open underneath for the first down and more and also with a chance to get out of bounds and stop the clock. However, Mahomes went for the deep ball and it wound up short and incomplete. While this is only one play, the greatest quarterbacks take what a defense gives them. So if that means they throw to the slant 20 times a game, then they keep doing it until the defense stops it.
Mahomes is also aware of these improvements that he can make, as he told reporters after practice back in May, “I learned there’s a ton I can still improve on. There really is. I made a lot of plays happen off-script this year, but there were times I tried to make those plays happen instead of just taking the easy completion for a first down. So I have to keep finding that line of whenever I want to try and make that big play happen and when I want to just take the easy completion, move the chains, keep the offense on the field, keep rolling down the field, and that’s stuff I have to keep working on every single year.”
Above everything physical about the game, what really makes a quarterback win is his mental toughness and a drive for perfection and it’s clear that Mahomes has that work ethic and drive to keep improving every year. While another season of 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards in 2019 is not likely, the fact that Mahomes could improve in other areas should terrify opposing defenses in 2019.
Most of what we mentioned for Mahomes to improve upon will simply come with time. The more types of coverage that Mahomes sees, the better he will be at deciphering them and the more decisions he has to make, the better he will get at decision making. At this point, the sky is the limit for Mahomes and a repeat for the MVP and a trip to Super Bowl 54 could easily be within grasp in 2019.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images