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NFL Open Thread: Air Raid Edition

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LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 08: Head coach Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams talks with Jared Goff #16 during the fourth quarter in at 16-10 Seattle Seahawks win at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 8, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

In the latest Jamboroo, Magary asks how Mahomes could have fallen as far as he did in the draft:

You know, there are a lot of emotions you can feel when you’re watching Patrick Mahomes play football: joy, excitement, mild horniness, perhaps a touch of wistfulness that he’s not YOUR quarterback, and such and such. But the overriding sensation I’ve gotten while watching Mahomes and the Chiefs barnstorm through the first half of the league schedule has been bafflement, as in: How in the fuck did THIS man last until 10th in the draft? How did nine teams whiff this badly on what appears to be the most important new talent the NFL has seen in over a decade?

Because Mahomes’s strengths were already evident well before he was drafted. He’s 6-foot-3. He can throw the ball out of the stadium, and he can do it on the move. He ran a 4.8 40 at the combine. He has a photographic memory when it comes to learning an offense. He’s the progeny of a Major League pitcher and has none of those pesky “character issues” in college that NFL scouts abhor so fervently. It was all there. Even pudding-headed simpletons like Mel Kiper and Jon Gruden talked up Mahomes’s incredible potential prior to the Draft.

So why were the Chiefs able to trade up and snatch him away at the 10-spot? Well, I think it’s time to dig around and do a little bit of retroactive scout-shaming, shall we? Here’s what NFL.com said about Mahomes:

[A bunch of touts saying he was very talented but raw]

You get the idea. A Google search for “Patrick Mahomes raw” turns up 106,000 results. Swap out “raw” for “project” and the tally goes up to 199,000. Even though Mahomes’s mythical draft “stock” was already on the upswing prior to the draft, that still wasn’t enough to catapult him to the top spot, even though that’s clearly where he’d be drafted if teams agreed to hold the 2017 draft all over again.

You can see a pattern to the grievances with Mahomes. It’s like some agent telling you your screenplay was brilliant but not quite the right fit for whatever some dumbfuck studio needs at the moment. Every single knock on Mahomes presumed that he would have to conform to the NFL’s notion of quarterback play, rather than the other way around. Scouts and analysts also presumed that the Air Raid system Mahomes played in at Texas Tech had no fundamental utility when it came to operating an NFL offense.

And so perhaps the greatest gift Mahomes has given football fans, even beyond his dazzling playmaking ability, has been proving those notions outdated and idiotic. You said that Mahomes needs to learn to work under center? The Chiefs play nearly 80 percent of their plays in shotgun, second highest in the league. They don’t seem to be suffering for it. You thought Mahomes needs to learn to set his feet before he throws? I understand the need to preach good mechanics, but how many NFL quarterbacks routinely operate out of a pristine pocket? It’s obvious now that letting Mahomes throw the way he needs to is what makes him virtually impossible to defend. You said that quick throws and screens don’t translate to the NFL? What the fuck kind of offense do you think the Patriots have used to dominate the league over the past two decades?

Too many football knowers still cling to outdated ideas of what a quarterback is and what he needs in order to flourish. They also believe NFL offenses are monolithic, which is insane because coaches abandon their families for months at a time to make sure that their offenses are NOT homogeneous. And too many football people are spooked by the ghosts of draft busts past, projecting the failures of past “projects” onto future “raw” talents even though the two players have nothing to do with one another. Drafting a QB is always a gamble; and yet some NFL teams were too chickenshit to gamble on a man this freakishly talented, all because they were overly worried about the idea of him needing seasoning. Calling a player “raw” connotes that coaches will have to put extra work into that player to make them fit; work that perhaps isn’t required at all.

It is utterly terrifying to think about what Mahomes would be right now if he hadn’t landed with Andy Reid in Kansas City. What if he had been drafted by Jacksonville, a team that still believes it’s 1988 when it comes to offense? What if he had been drafted by the Browns, who don’t seem to have any sort of offensive playbook whatsoever? WHAT IF JEFF FISHER?! I shudder at the fact that Mahomes needed a good amount of luck just to land with a team that knew what the fuck to do with him.

What’s particularly interesting about Mahomes is that he had both the obvious physical attributes scouts like and was also by far the QB prospect who projected the best statistically in 2017. And yet, there was a reason for skepticism that both scouts and analysts could point to: the general failure of Air Raid QBs. The interesting question now is why Air Raid QBs had such a bad track record. In some cases, QBs in that system might have put up inflated numbers, and of course there are going to be false positives in involved in any system. But one has to suspect, as Rodger Sherman observed in an excellent article earlier this year, that there were Air Raid prospects who failed not because they lacked the ability to be NFL QBs but because they played for coaching staffs who insisted on pounding them into their systems rather than designing systems to fit their abilities. In a sense, then, the key inflection point here may not even by Mahomes — who’s so talented he would probably be OK under most contexts — but Jared Goff, and Air Raid QB who played like Ryan Leaf for the ultimate “you will play my 1968 Texas high school offense and eat your gruel and like it” coach in late period Jeff Fisher, and is now having his second straight outstanding season under Sean McVay. That’s an extreme differential in coaching ability, granted, but I suspect the (somewhat justifiable) prejudice against Air Raid QBs is now obsolete. And good coaches find out ways to have players do what they do best rather than making them conform to systems the coach has an a priori commitment to.

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