I’m not going to say I told you so because, quite frankly, I had no clue Patrick Mahomes was going to blossom into an NFL Most Valuable Player and Super Bowl champion just three years into his pro career. Heck, I wonder if even Andy Reid could have envisioned the 24-year-old quarterback becoming this great, this fast. The Kansas City Chiefs coach obviously saw something special in the young man, which is why Reid agreed to trade two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder to the Buffalo Bills in order to move up to the 10th spot in the 2017 NFL draft. That’s how highly he and Chiefs general manager Brett Veach valued Mahomes. Many NFL talent evaluators were of a different mind. They thought Kansas City overspent.
Before that deal was consummated, I opined Buffalo should use its pick on the Texas Tech quarterback who was fleet of foot and mind, and strong of arm. My opinion was based on two factors: I was excited about what I had seen from Mahomes in the few college games I watched him play, and I didn’t believe Tyrod Taylor was the Bills’ long-term solution at quarterback.
Hindsight, of course, is 20-20 and we sportswriters and fans love to play “what-if” games. Many members of Bills Mafia were wrestling with “what-ifs” Sunday night following Mahomes’ stirring comeback that lifted the Chiefs to the Super Bowl championship. The Bills clearly made out well with the picks they received from Kansas City, parlaying them over two different drafts to select All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White, Pro Bowl linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and left tackle Dion Dawkins. Three quality starters at three important positions. That’s a pretty good haul.
And, in fairness, Sean McDermott had been hired as Buffalo’s new head coach just three months before that 2017 draft. The Bills didn’t have time to hire a new general manager, so McDermott was reliant on outgoing GM Doug Whaley and a bunch of scouts about to be jettisoned. Even if current general manager Brandon Beane had been in charge, who’s to say he and his defensive-minded head coach would have pulled the trigger on a quarterback — especially one whom many draftniks believed would struggle adjusting from a spread, college offense to a pro-style one. Besides, the Bills had so many other holes to plug, which is why a deal providing extra picks was so appealing.
I suppose you could argue that Mahomes’ success wouldn’t have come as quickly in Buffalo, playing for a conservative coach on a team in massive makeover mode. I would hope that McDermott and his staff would have recognized early on that Mahomes had skills unlike any other quarterback we’ve ever seen and adjusted accordingly, but you never know. Long-time students of Bills lore will remember how John Rauch — in one of the dumbest coaching moves of all-time — attempted to use running back O.J. Simpson often as a decoy. Thank heavens coach Lou Saban came along and built the Electric Company offensive line and turned loose the Juice.
In retrospect, Mahomes walked into one of the best situations a young quarterback has ever walked into. Not only would he be tutored by a head coach regarded as one of the most creative offensive minds in NFL history, but he also was going to be protected by a veteran offensive line and have a surfeit of speedy receivers and versatile running backs at his disposal. It also helped that Mahomes wouldn’t be thrown to the wolves as a rookie. He had the luxury of watching from the sidelines that first year as veteran Alex Smith quarterbacked the Chiefs. Smith was a competent signalcaller and a great mentor. Mahomes observed and absorbed, and when he was named starter in 2018, he took the league by storm, becoming only the second quarterback in NFL history with 50 touchdown passes and 5,000 passing yards in the same season.
This year’s road was much bumpier, as Mahomes missed several games with a knee injury that initially appeared like it might sack him for the season. Fortunately, it was not as bad as feared, and he rebounded with a vengeance, adding to his legend by guiding the Chiefs to three comebacks from double-digit deficits during the postseason. His grace under pressure was never more evident than it was Sunday, when he helped Kansas City wipe out a 10-point deficit with under seven minutes to go and beat a San Francisco 49ers team that had battered and bruised him much of the night. Reid told him to keep flinging it. And he did. And when it was over, there was this mature beyond his years quarterback bear-hugging his coach and holding aloft the silver Lombardi Trophy amid a confetti blizzard in Miami.
With a laser arm that enables him to make throws no one else can make and a brain that processes information at warp speed, Mahomes is reinventing the position of quarterback. Happily, despite his exploding celebrity status, his ego remains in check. During last April’s visit for the Rochester Press-Radio Club Children’s Charities Day of Champions dinner, I had a chance to spend some time with him, and was impressed with his humility. His new-found celebrity hadn’t swelled his head. He seemed incredibly grounded. And I think that will continue to serve him well.
He has become the new face of the NFL, and there’s already talk of him eventually supplanting Tom Brady as GOAT and the Chiefs becoming the league’s next dynasty. That’s a lot of pressure to thrust upon a 24-year-old’s shoulder pads, but I don’t believe he’ll buckle under those weighty expectations. It’s going to be fun watching his story unfold. For Western New Yorkers, it would have been even more fun to see him do it as a Buffalo Bill.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.