"Mahomes will be one of the most polarizing quarterbacks of the 2018 fantasy preseason, because there are analysts like me who believe he will be an elite quarterback long-term and see enough flashes of those skills to expect a strong debut as a first-year starter... Expect Mahomes to generate bigger plays, greater red zone production in the passing game, and more diversity of production among receivers."
-- Matt Waldman, in our Value Plays series on quarterbacks.
If a film grinder like Matt is on board with what he has seen so far, eyebrows should raise. Mahomes has a cannon arm, above-average mobility, and is oozing confidence.
But the fantasy outlook of Patrick Mahomes II II isn't based only on his own ability. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Coaching, surrounding talent, and Mahomes' own tools will lead to a top-six quarterback in fantasy football this season.
Andy Reid's offensive accomplishments speak for themselves. He has made teams less talented than the 2018 Chiefs into top-tier offenses.
Reid has been an NFL head coach for 19 seasons. Below are the average finishes for his teams in various offensive categories:
- Point Differential: 9.7
- Yard Differential: 13.8
- Total Yards Rank: 14.1
- Total Points Rank: 11.1
- Passing Yards Rank: 15.5
- Passing Touchdowns Rank: 13.4
Reid's teams, on average, finish in the top half of the NFL in every quarterback-centric team metric. Those averages include a season with Doug Pederson and then-rookie Donovan McNabb. They also include the Michael Vick/Nick Foles 2012 season and the first couple seasons in Kansas City. In those early Kansas City years, Reid handled Alex Smith with kid gloves and leaned on the running game.
That said, there are some negative things fantasy owners are saying about Mahomes. This one is courtesy of the Footballguys Shark Pool, where I started a thread on Mahomes last week. User travdogg had this to say:
I don't think he'll be anywhere near as good as Alex Smith was last year. Smith was on fire last year, with incredible rate stats. He still didn't have very many attempts, and the Chiefs scored a higher percentage of TD's passing than they normally have. Mahomes will also likely have double (or more) turnovers than Smith had, as Smith has always been great at avoiding mistakes, which has been a big reason his teams usually make the playoffs.
Smith was conservative, but even when Reid's Philadelphia teams turned the ball over at higher rates, they still performed well. Below are percentile finishes, which helps us adjust for the more pass-happy nature of today's NFL vs. Reid's early years.
An argument against Mahomes is that he might turn the ball over more. But an argument for him is that his talent and risk-taking might allow Reid to open up the offense more. Last season, we got a glimpse of a wide-open offense with multi-dimensional weapons such as Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, and Tyreek Hill, which brings us to the next reason for optimism around Mahomes.
The talent around Mahomes is among the best skill groups in the NFL. Kansas City's weapons and Reid's schemes will provide frequent mismatches for Mahomes to exploit.
Combining the prior section and this one, let's look at Kansas City's success in 2017.
- Alex Smith was the overall QB4 and had eight QB1 weeks
- Kareem Hunt had ten RB2-or-better weeks, with eight of those being RB1 performances
- The "boom-or-bust" Tyreek Hill was a weekly WR2 seven times
- Travis Kelce had ten TE1 weeks
A look at the depth chart from last season to this season provides an easy-to-grasp comparison.
|QB||Alex Smith||Patrick Mahomes|
|RB||Kareem Hunt||Kareem Hunt|
|WR||Tyreek Hill||Tyreek Hill|
|WR||Chris Conley||Sammy Watkins|
|WR||Albert Wilson||Chris Conley|
|TE||Travis Kelce||Travis Kelce|
Another Shark Pool veteran, Mookie, succinctly combined the "scheme" and "team" points above:
Forget his immense talent and just consider his coaching staff and supporting cast. Reid produces fantasy studs and he could have the best supporting cast in the league. He has been given the keys to a Ferrari and even with growing pains, he should easily be a top 10 QB.
Veteran cornerback Aqib Talib had this to say about Mahomes after facing him in Week 17 last season:
Talib also said that Mahomes "has an AK-47 for an arm." But if you're skeptical of unproven passers, consider that Mahomes is a capable athlete that offers rushing upside. Mahomes scored 22 rushing touchdowns in his final two collegiate seasons. Plenty of mediocre-to-bad passers have been valuable fantasy assets with their ground production. And like Mahomes, many of these players were not expected to be QB1s at draft time.
Let's look at players who had similar preseason outlooks and rushing skill sets as Mahomes does entering this season. The criteria used are below:
- Years 2010-2017
- Started at least eight games
- Rushed for at least 25 yards per game
- Had a positional ADP of 13-24
This search yielded nine individual seasons. Those include Cam Newton's rookie season, Russell Wilson's rookie season, Robert Griffin III's rookie season, Tyrod Taylor's first season as a full-time starter, and Smith's first season in Kansas City. Let's take a look at the forecast vs. results of this cohort:
- Average Positional ADP: 17.9
- Average Positional Finish (Fantasy Points per Game): 9.7
While it is a small sample, a pattern seems to have developed. Unproven quarterbacks with rushing ability tend to outperform expectations. After the elite quarterbacks, fantasy owners overvalue passing ability compared to rushing ability. Mahomes also has a better offensive mind at the helm and better skill position weapons than any other quarterback in that sample. By assuming he'll add a few fantasy points per game with his legs, one can tell a story that Mahomes will crush his draft position. And that doesn't even assume an above-average passing season.
The upside of a top-six season is realistic if Mahomes excels at reading coverages, exploiting mismatches, etc. Reid took extra measures to give Mahomes plenty of blitz looks in OTAs, and Mahomes was impressive in diagnosing and beating them.
Below is what our world-class projectors think of Mahomes' prospects this season.
We tend to include quotes and tidbits from fantasy analysts here, but let's start with something a teammate said. Chris Conley had three years with Smith and is still with the team as they enter the Mahomes era.
Yesterday I talked to Chiefs WR Chris Conley about how Patrick Mahomes II has been operating Andy Reid's offense.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) June 14, 2018
"He's running it pretty close to textbook of how the playbook says to run it. But he's got his little flavor on it." pic.twitter.com/GqFE8TlDlc
Since teammates tend to speak glowingly regardless of circumstances, let's take a more neutral look. ProFootballFocus' George Kritikos concurs that Mahomes will be a top-six fantasy quarterback.
Smith ultimately finished as the QB4 overall and was one of five quarterbacks to surpass 300 fantasy points. Mahomes should equal or surpass Smith's 355 rushing yards and certainly is capable of 4-6 touchdown runs to supplement his passing. As for that arm, Mahomes will be taking plenty of fruitful downfield chances to Hill and Kelce.
There is not a quarterback in the NFL who enters 2018 with a more complete set of weaponry. Mahomes himself has a cannon of an arm with a variety of releases and just enough mobility to avoid pressure. Images of Mahomes scrambling and launching balls 50 yards downfield to a wide-open Tyreek Hill should be dancing in your head
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