Kansas City Chiefs  

 

Chiefs can wait for Patrick Mahomes to become an NFL-ready QB

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The bold move was made, the fans erupted and, today, the Kansas City Chiefs can do no wrong. For the first time in 34 years, they used a first-round selection on a quarterback, turning former Texas Tech star Patrick Mahomes II into the most popular man in town. The next question surrounding this decision involves whether Mahomes really can deliver on all the high expectations that now surround him. It says here that he won't have a tough time exciting Chiefs fans down the road.

General manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid moved up 17 spots to select Mahomes 10th overall because they saw a rare talent with a skill set that reminded them of Brett Favre. They also gave up two picks (a first-rounder next April and a third-rounder last Friday) because they believe in the environment they are plopping him into for the next couple of years. Dorsey and Reid understand that talent isn't the only thing that makes quarterbacks succeed in the NFL. The right fit has plenty to do with that happening, as well.

This is why we've heard so much about Dorsey being a part of the Green Bay front office when the Packers selected Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 draft, despite having Favre still in his prime. It's why Reid's well-documented history of developing quarterbacks is so noteworthy, as is the way current starter Alex Smith goes about his business. Yes, Mahomes has the type of cannon that is best described as a gift from the heavens. More importantly, he has three men around him who understand that arm strength won't be the biggest reason why he becomes an effective signal-caller at the next level.

In fact, when a reporter asked Reid -- who also served as Favre's position coach with the Packers in 1997 and '98 -- for a reasonable timetable for Mahomes to become a starter, the coach said, "I don't know. We'll get in and see how it goes. The one nice thing is, we have a good quarterback here. You look at what Dorsey went through with Aaron Rodgers. It took time. (Rodgers spent three seasons sitting behind Favre.) We're OK. I'm just glad we got him. It's kind of a neat deal. It's a positive thing. It gives an opportunity for Kansas City to have that position in pretty good hands for a long period of time."

It's critical for Reid to soften expectations as to when Mahomes will play, because he knows the outcry will come quickly. The first time Smith endures a bad game -- or even throws one too many check-downs -- the fans in that town will be clamoring for the rookie who was videotaped throwing a football 80 yards in the air. The future can't come soon enough for those who support the Chiefs. The reality is that Mahomes will require delicate care and ample time to become the player the Chiefs envision.

For all of Mahomes' upside, there are plenty of analysts who have criticized his noticeable flaws: the penchant for taking too many chances with the football, the raw footwork, the lack of time under center and the fact that he didn't have to call plays in the huddle for a college team that won just 13 of the 29 games he started. It's no secret that quarterbacks who come from spread offenses in college have to learn plenty about playing quarterback in the NFL. It's also well-known that signal-callers who thrive in the "air raid" system that spawned Mahomes have an even tougher mountain to climb.

The good news for him is that Reid once took an athletic quarterback from an option-style system in college and turned him into an NFL star. Donovan McNabb had more running ability than Mahomes, but he blossomed into an effective passer under Reid's tutelage in Philadelphia. Smith also came from a gimmicky offense in college, the same system that made Tim Tebow a household name (both quarterbacks were stars under Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, who had Smith at Utah and Tebow at Florida). It took Smith five years (and three coaches) before he came into his own.

The point here is that patience matters more than anything with a prospect like Mahomes. The Chiefs just happen to be in a position where they can afford to have it. They're coming off a season where they went 12-4, won the AFC West and reached the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This is still a team that is talented enough to compete for a championship. Even though Smith's overly conservative style has generated plenty of critics, he's still the best option to lead K.C. to such hallowed ground.

The irony is that Mahomes -- who impressed the Chiefs with his intelligence and the control he had in the Texas Tech offense -- will be best served by learning to temper the gunslinger in his own game while adding some of the practicality that has made Smith successful. "That is just going to come with maturity and hard work and preparation," Mahomes said. "Taking those reckless parts of my game out of it and still keep the playmaking ability. So it's really going to be about me working hard every single day at practice and in the film room. Whatever I can do to make myself better."

The most underrated factor in the question of what it will take for Mahomes to succeed is his family history. His father, Patrick, spent 11 seasons as an MLB pitcher, so the son had the chance to learn plenty about what it takes to be a true professional. Young Patrick had ample opportunity to be around his father at work. He vividly remembers watching Alex Rodriguez during his days with the Texas Rangers, when A-Rod would commit to hours of hitting a baseball off a tee to improve his stroke.

Those memories are critical because Mahomes is entering the NFL at a time when young quarterbacks need to know how to do work on their own. The league's rules seriously limit the amount of time players can spend around coaches in the offseason. Where Rodgers and McNabb could devote hours each day in the spring and summer to learning their craft, Mahomes will have to do more with less. He'll also be likelier to avoid the types of distractions that led to the demise of Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III, both of whom let celebrity consume them.

If you spend enough time around Mahomes, it doesn't take long to see that he's determined to deliver on his potential. "He is a football junkie," Dorsey said. "He wants to do everything right. He wants to please the coach. I think that's a big deal. This guy just wants to play football. I used to know a guy [who] used to flip it into coverage, too, sometimes (Favre). He made it [to] the Hall of Fame one day. I'm not comparing him, but I am just saying those things happen."

It's important to note that Favre's success came after the Atlanta Falcons -- who originally drafted him in 1991 -- gave up on him, when the starter in front of him in Green Bay (Don Majkowski) sustained an injury and Packers head coach Mike Holmgren was in the early stages of rebuilding the Packers. If just one of those turning points plays out differently, the career narrative of one of the best quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL changes completely. The point is that luck often factors into the development of great players at that position. If you question that, just ask Bill Belichick what he thought about Tom Brady's future when the former sixth-round pick was a rookie.

The best thing we can say about Mahomes as he enters his own first year in the NFL is that he has everything a young player could want. The talent is there, but so is a structure that can grow the best parts of his game while minimizing the worst. In many ways, it was easier for the Chiefs to make the pick because they could imagine everything Mahomes could become. With ample time and necessary patience, there's little reason to think he won't make good on that promise.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @jeffrichadiha.

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