TAMPA — Patrick Mahomes is the new face of the NFL. He has a very expressive mug, at that. The Chiefs quarterback wears his emotions on his lips, which are generally curled upward in an impish grin.
Mahomes is only 25 and a little half past his third year as the Chiefs’ starter but already has won a Super Bowl and been named the league and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.
This season, his Chiefs are 9-1 and appear headed back to at least the AFC Championship game. On Sunday, Mahomes will stop at Raymond James Stadium to play the Bucs and renew his rivalry with Tom Brady.
“He’s a terrific player, obviously, being league MVP a couple years ago, 50 touchdowns,” said Brady, who knows a little something about being the league’s best quarterback. “It’s pretty hard to do. There’s not many guys who have done that. And then to continue that last year with the Super Bowl championship and playing at an extremely high level this year. He’s just getting more and more comfortable. So much about playing quarterback is having experience, learning from year to year, improving your routine and he’s just doing a tremendous job.”
When Chiefs coach Andy Reid sits in the film room, watching Mahomes make one ridiculous throw on the run after another with his powerful right arm, he tells assistant coaches not to think anything they’re watching is normal.
“I just tell them, ‘Don’t take it for granted,’” Reid said. “You have a bunch of different ages on your staff so you can look at those things and say, ‘Well, that’s Patrick.’ No, it’s very special. So you don’t ever take that lightly that way.
“When you do (watch him), you sure feel fortunate. Bruce (Arians) and I have been blessed with some good quarterbacks so I’m excited to work with Patrick. He’s a really good quality kid and makes the game fun. I think I would say the same thing that Bruce would, you don’t come across those guys very often.”
Brady owns a 2-1 lead in his series with Mahomes, including a 37-31 overtime win in the AFC title game to cap the 2018 season.
At 43, Brady is signed to play at least one more season with the Bucs. But the six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback — and a handful of some of the game’s greatest pocket passers — soon will be retired.
The quarterbacks who will replace them are entering the league in all shapes and sizes. The prototypical pocket passer is being phased out like kickoff returns.
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From the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson to the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson to the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray to the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa, the position is all about mobility, different launch platforms and athleticism.
What began with all the 7-on-7 passing tournaments in high school, migrated to the college game and now into the NFL.
Jackson, 23, led his team in rushing as well as passing and was the NFL’s MVP last season. Wilson, 31, is the favorite for the award this year and one of the most accurate passers on the run. Murray, 23, has a second baseman’s release but a strong and accurate arm while using his legs effectively.
“I think it’s great,” Reid said. “These kids start throwing the ball in Pop Warner League and by the time they get to us, they know how to throw a ball and see the field. And then you just have to get them going in the direction you want to go in your offense. So I think it’s great for football. It’s exciting. The kids and the influx of kids in all different sizes and shapes. It doesn’t matter. It’s exciting football.”
Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, the seventh overall pick of the Jaguars in 2003 at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, was joking with Brady recently about how willing NFL teams are to adapt their entire offenses to fit their quarterbacks instead of the other way around.
“I think guys are getting more athletic, guys are doing more things with the football,” Leftwich said. “There’s very few Pat Mahomes, though. Let’s just get that out there. There’s a lot of guys that can move around, but there’s very few guys like him, right? He’s a special, unique guy. He’s always played that way since college. You see his college tape, he was always like that. He used to put up godly numbers in college and he’s come to this league and done the same thing.
“It’s what’s happening with the position. I think it may have a lot to do with college football and the style of play they play. And coaches are just saying, ‘Hey, when they come in, we’re just going to do what they did in college.’ As opposed to — me and Tom were just talking about this — it didn’t matter. You had to just play in any system. If they were in the wing-T, you had to run then wing-T.”
Arians admits that Mahomes blew him away when he worked him out for the Cardinals prior to the NFL draft in 2017.
“He probably had the best workout of any kid I went and worked out personally — he and Andrew Luck were the two by far on the board,” Arians said. “(They had) unbelievable ability. (Mahomes) has great weapons around him, and I think keeping those guys around him and keeping that offense intact — especially next year with the cap — it’s going to be harder and harder. He’s a great, great player — I knew he would be great. He’s so smart and so talented.”
Of course, Mahomes has a lot of winning left to do to catch Brady. No one has ever attempted to play quarterback at this level into their mid 40s.
But there’s a whole slew of quarterbacks just in front and behind Mahomes who are breaking all the old biases about size, arm strength and how to win in the pocket.
In a couple years, the game will say goodbye to quarterbacks such as Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers. So make way for the kids, in all sizes, with the ability to make plays with their feet and not just their arm.
“Right now, Pat is young in this,” Reid said. “He’s got a bunch of years to go to do his thing and Tom is a little bit older. But he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, so you’ll remember him forever. And that’s what Pat is striving to be — great. ...
“Both are so great for the game, the way they handle themselves and everything else. That to me is so important. I just think that’s what makes this league so great.”
Joe Burrow, Bengals, 23 (6-foot-4, 221 pounds): The No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft out of LSU was having a remarkable rookie season with 2,688 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions in eight games. But a devastating knee injury (torn ACL, MCL) ended his year. Burrow has a lot of swag, and while he has some mobility, gets most of his work done from the pocket.
Justin Herbert, Chargers, 22 (6-6, 236): The sixth overall pick out of Oregon of the Chargers was thrust into a starting role when Tyrod Taylor had difficulties stemming from a punctured lung just before kickoff in Week 2. Herbert didn’t blink. Big, athletic and with a powerful arm, he’s a Rookie of the Year candidate with 2,699 yards passing, 22 TDs and six interceptions.
Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins, 22 (6-0, 220): The fifth overall pick of the Dolphins supplanted Ryan Fitzpatrick as starter a few weeks ago. Past hip and ankle injuries are a concern, but the only lefty in the league won a ton of games at Alabama running the spread option. He just needs reps.
Kyler Murray, Cardinals, 23 (5-10, 207): The first overall pick of the 2019 draft and Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma has wowed NFL fans with his arm talent and mobility. In his second year, he has the Cardinals just a game behind the Seahawks and Rams for first in the NFC West. The Hail Murray in the win over the Bills already is an iconic play from the 2020 season.
Daniel Jones, Giants, 23 (6-5, 220): The sixth overall pick in 2019 plays well against the Bucs but not many other teams. Incredibly athletic for his size, Danny Dimes has only eight touchdown passes and nine interceptions this season.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens, 23 (6-2, 212): The last pick in the first round of 2018, Jackson already has an NFL MVP season to his credit and guided the Ravens to the AFC Championship game last season. Jackson has thrown 57 touchdown passes and rushed for 3,100 yards and 39 TDs in the past two years.
DeShaun Watson, Texans, 25 (6-2, 215): Watson can do it all. He’s the passing yards leader with 3,201, and has 25 touchdowns and four interceptions. The Texans are a mess, though, and will have a new coach in 2021.
Josh Allen, Bills, 24 (6-5, 237): The seventh pick in 2018 has the Bills atop the AFC East. He’s eighth in passing yards but also has plenty of wheels to make plays with his feet.
Jared Goff, Rams, 26 (6-4, 222): Only Tom Brady has more wins than Goff over the past four seasons. He carved up the Bucs with bootlegs, waggles and short passes as his team is tied with Seattle in the NFC West.
Baker Mayfield, Browns, 25 (6-1, 215): The first pick of 2018 is looking to pilot the Browns to their first winning season since 2007. Mayfield, who has suffered from a lack of continuity on the coaching staff, is an extremely mobile, throw-on-the-run passer.
Carson Wentz, Eagles, 27 (6-5, 237): One miserable year with the Eagles does not a career make.
In their prime
Russell Wilson, Seahawks, 31 (5-11, 215): Wilson was considered too short entering the draft out of Wisconsin and slipped to the third round. Oops. Look who has been to two Super Bowls, won one and is the favorite to win the NFL’s MVP award. No one throws a better deep ball on the run.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers, 36 (6-2, 226): Rodgers is the best pure passer in the NFL and currently directs a Packers team that is the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Rodgers’ mobility allows the Packers to incorporate some spread-option concepts. Could he get his second Lombardi Trophy this year?
Ryan Tannehill, Titans, 32 (6-4, 217): Tannehill rejuvenated his career thanks to the trade from the Dolphins. He reached the AFC title game last season.
Derek Carr, Raiders, 29 (6-3, 210): Carr has won over Jon Gruden and has the Raiders poised to make the playoffs.
Tom Brady, Bucs, 43 (6-4, 225): Still the GOAT, Brady has the Bucs in position to reach the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. Seven of his nine interceptions have come against the Saints and Rams, but he has played lights out against most other teams this season.
Drew Brees, Saints, 41 (6-0, 209): Brees is a tough cuss. It took 11 broken ribs to get him out of the lineup, but Taysom Hill should keep his seat warm to take over the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, 38 (6-5, 240) Big Ben has the Steelers 10-0 for the first time ever and despite his elbow injuries from a year ago, he is slinging it like a Super Bowl quarterback.
Philip Rivers, Colts, 38 (6-5, 228): Old Man Rivers upset the Packers and has his new Colts team in position to make the playoffs.
Matt Ryan, Falcons, 35 (6-4, 217): Matty Ice had Brady on the ropes in the Super Bowl a few years ago. There is still some tread left, but the team is headed for a new coach/GM change.
Matthew Stafford, Lions, 32 (6-3, 220): Stafford’s only curse is to have played his entire career for the Lions.
Cam Newton, Patriots, 31 (6-5, 235): Newton has struggled with the Patriots and doesn’t have the mobility he once did. No one ever feared his arm.