The Kansas City Chiefs’ philosophy of how they build around Patrick Mahomes runs counter to the rest of the NFL and more, in this week’s Between the Hash Marks.
There’s something magical happening in Kansas City, that extends even beyond quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Dating back to Week 9 last season, the Chiefs have lost only twice — once on the road in a three-point defeat to the Tennessee Titans in Week 10 last season, and once at home to the Las Vegas Raiders back in Week 5.
Kansas City’s consistency is a byproduct of Mahomes’ gifts combined with an organizational strategy that runs counter to what most teams believe to be common sense.
“Most top drafted quarterbacks fail,” a former AFC personnel executive tells FanSided. “Because teams don’t enhance the quarterback’s skills by having the right system or putting enough playmakers around them immediately.
“Everyone wants to build an offensive line around a QB, but if a quarterback doesn’t have elite receivers who can separate, there isn’t a line on the planet that can block that long.”
The Chiefs certainly have done everything in their power to set Mahomes up to succeed.
Sunday’s victory might have been the most impressive of this run, with the exception, of course, of hoisting the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy since Hank Stram implored Len Dawson to matriculate the ball down the field in Super Bowl IV.
On the road in a cavernous and empty Mercedes Benz Superdome, Mahomes put the Chiefs on his back in the second half, passing for 133 yards and a touchdown while leading Kansas City back to a 32-29 win that all but secures the top seed in the AFC Playoffs.
However, Sunday’s win wasn’t just another showcase of Patrick Mahomes’ wizardry, such as his two-handed chest pass touchdown to Travis Kelce, but it underscored the dividends of the organization’s philosophy for how they have gone about building around the most gifted quarterback walking the planet.
If it seems like the Chiefs’ skill players get better each season, it’s because they do.
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach drafted running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round of April’s NFL Draft, and when many viewed the LSU alum as a luxury item, Edwards-Helaire responded by rushing for 803 yards and four touchdowns while adding 36 catches for 297 yards and a score as a rookie. But, Veach’s commitment to fortifying depth across the roster didn’t stop with his first-round pick, the Chiefs aggressively acted to sign running back Le’Veon Bell as soon as the Jets released him. Now, after Edwards-Helaire suffered a hip and ankle injury Sunday, Bell is the next man up.
Quite the luxury to have.
Veach deployed the same strategy goes at receiver. The Chiefs sent a pair of draft picks to the Los Angeles Rams move up and select Mecole Hardman in 2019. Hardman’s only contribution has been to become a vital cog in the Chiefs’ offensive machine, catching 62 passes for 1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first 30 games. Not a bad complement to Tyreek Hill, signed through 2022.
While Travis Kelce was already four years into his career before Mahomes made his first career start, he’s yet another piece of the Chiefs’ embarrassment of skill position riches. Kelce, at age 31, is in the midst of arguably the greatest season ever by a tight end, with 98 receptions for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns with two games remaining.
Mirroring the philosophies of Scott Pioli’s tenure with the Indianapolis Colts, Veach and the Chiefs seem committed to surrounding Mahomes with blue-chip playmakers at all cost, even if that means figuring out the offensive line later.
The Chiefs are enamored by third-round rookie tackle Lucas Niang. He just might be the heir apparent to Mitchell Schwartz who has been on injured reserve with a back injury since Week 7 and might have played his final game in a Chiefs uniform.
If Kansas City is going to stick to its blueprint this offseason and try to prolong their Super Bowl window even longer by adding another dynamic receiver to Mahomes’ arsenal, this might be the perfect year to do it.
One high-ranking NFC personnel executive tells FanSided that wide receiver is easily the deepest position group in this year’s class.
Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl cosigned with the receiver class’s potential, with 15 receivers committed to the game already and hopes of adding six or seven more by the time prospects gather in Mobile at the end of next month.
Nagy believes the Chiefs could once again dip their toe into the receiver pool to buttress Mahomes’ supporting class.
“Kadarius Toney is a fundamentally sound and dynamic wide receiver who has been at the top of our board for two years,” Nagy told FanSided. Then there’s Tylan Wallace, who plays bigger than he is and runs great routes. Someone like Dee Eskridge, who is a guy that could fit the Chiefs’ system reall well.”
Mahomes is the reason the Chiefs are the runaway favorites to win back-to-back Super Bowls this season, but it is Veach’s long-term vision and commitment to ensuring his quarterback has explosive players at each skill position that gives Kansas City the chance to be a decade-long dynasty.
What Jets lost by winning Sunday over Rams
The Jets are like the Grinch who stole Christmas.
By virtue of their unexpected upset over the Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday, New York snatched away much hope of landing a generational quarterback prospect and the decade of optimism that comes from security at that position.
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is the consensus No. 1 quarterback in this year’s class, and many around the league believe he’d be the top pick in several recent drafts. Following the Jets’ 23-20 win over the Rams, Lawrence will likely be getting fitted in teal and black rather than Kelly green.
Head coach Adam Gase will be long gone by the time the Jets either write “Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State” on their draft card as the No. 2 overall pick next spring, or trade the selection to bandage together a misguided rebuild around Sam Darnold. But, losing out on Lawrence will have longstanding consequences in the Big Apple.
“There’s such a big difference between Lawrence and Fields,” a former NFL scouting director tells FanSided. “Lawrence is a definitive franchise quarterback who can make other players around him better. He’s a pocket passer and runner, will come into the league developed just like Burrow did. But, Fields is a top athlete but pocket passing skills need work. He has potential to get better, but he’s’ not a fully developed player.”
When was the last time the Jets fully developed any player into a superstar, let alone a quarterback?
Lawrence has dazzled, completing 70.1 percent of his passes for 2,753 yards with 22 touchdowns to four interceptions this season, reinforcing his status as the top pick, Fields at times has struggled reading defenses and when things break down around him as been prone to mistakes as illustrated by his 15 touchdowns and five interceptions as a junior.
As the Jacksonville Jaguars are now in command of the “race” for the No. 1 overall pick with their two remaining games coming at Chicago against the surging Bears and home against the Indianapolis Colts, the Jets must hope for a Christmas miracle that Doug Marrone’s team pulls off an upset of their own before the new year.
So, what exactly did the Jets lose out on by winning? FanSided spoke to several current and former executives, and scouts to get a sense of the differences between Lawrence, Fields, and their respective ceilings.
Here’s what they had to say:
NFC Personnel executive:
“The gap between these two is huge. Fields bothers me in that he’s mechanical, but doesn’t always process what he’s seeing quickly enough and needs to have a clean pocket to be effective. He has a great supporting cast, which makes him look better than he is.”
AFC Personnel director
“The gap between these two is the Grand Canyon, it’s just not close. Lawrence has everything on and off the field, while Fields is over-hyped and too deliberate with his eyes, his arm, and getting off his first read.”
Former AFC scout:
“Fields would be at his best with speed and talent around him, like they were able to give him at Ohio State.”
Austin Hooper’s comeback could take Browns to next level
Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper authored one of the more admirable comeback stories we’ve seen this season.
In the second quarter of Sunday night’s Browns win over the Giants at MetLife Stadium, Hooper found the soft spot deep in the middle of the Giants’ defense in the back of the end zone, easily hauling in a two-yard touchdown to give the Browns a 7-3 lead on the way to an effortless 20-16 win.
What wasn’t so effortless, was the last few months of Hooper’s life.
Back in October, after Hooper led the Browns in targets in Weeks 5 and 6, he underwent an emergency appendectomy on Oct. 23rd forcing him to miss two games. Then, Hooper suffered a neck injury that held him out of Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens.
In his return to action Sunday night, Hooper looked no worse for the wear, catching five of his six targets for 41 yards and the first-half touchdown.
The Browns are for real, and coming on like a runaway freight train in the AFC, averaging 30.4 points over their last five games having won four of them to pull within one game of the division lead. Adding a fully healthy and dominant Hooper to quarterback Baker Mayfield’s repertoire makes Cleveland, already one of the league’s more physical and explosive teams, all the more dangerous down the stretch.
“This hat’s fine and dandy. This hat and shirt’s fine and dandy. I want the one that says, f—ing Super Bowl Champion!”
— Bills quarterback Josh Allen, following Saturday night’s 48-19 blowout victory to clinch Buffalo’s first AFC East championship since 1995.
Allen just might get that t-shirt and hat sometime in February, and his mesmerizing third season is the driving force behind the Bills circling the wagons and putting the rest of the league on notice.
Saturday night, Allen passed for 359 yards and a pair of touchdowns while adding three rushing attempts for 33 yards and two more scores, in the kind of performance that has typified his season.
It really is a shame that BillsMafia won’t be able to attend the Bills’ home game, because their patience, heartbreak, and pain are being rewarded by a young quarterback and supporting cast that makes it possible to think they could be on the cusp of a similar run of divisional dominance to what we just witnessed come to an end over the past 20 years by the New England Patriots.
Allen is that good.
Given his skill-set, the future might never have been brighter in western New York.
What I’ll be watchingIndianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers better be really careful.
It seems like a season ago that the Steelers were 11-0. After three disastrous losses capped by Mike Tomlin’s team sleepwalking through the night like a child struggling to stay awake hoping to catch Santa on Christmas Eve in a 27-17 loss to Ryan Finley (RYAN FINLEY!) and the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh is suddenly 11-3 and in danger of not winning another game this season.
The saving grace for the Steelers, if they have any intent on trying to secure the AFC North championship and a home playoff game, is that they’re hosting this game and the long-range forecast calls for 37 degrees and 10-15 mph winds against Philip Rivers and the Colts.
In the two games Rivers played in elements this season, at the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears in consecutive weeks, Rivers completed just 37 of 62 passes for 433 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Colts are just 2-2 in games played outdoors this season but need a win to keep pace with the Tennessee Titans atop the division.
We’re likely to learn more about the Steelers, and just how much — or little — they care about competing this season than we are the Colts. But, this game has the chance to really reshuffle the AFC Playoff picture.
Tom Brady must own a minority stake in the Atlanta Falcons.
Having already cashed in a 28-3 deficit in the Super Bowl en route to his fifth ring with the New England Patriots, Brady rallied his new teammates and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from trailing 24-7 with 7:39 remaining in the third quarter in Atlanta on Sunday to stay within one game of the New Orleans Saints in the division standings.
Just how dominant has Brady been against the Falcons in his career?
Brady is 6-0 against the Falcons, one of four teams he’s never lost to, completing 68.29 percent of his passes for 1,832 yards with 13 touchdowns and just one interception and a career-best 115.3 passer rating.
The Falcons have been eliminated from postseason contention for two weeks, but in the ultimate cruel twist of irony, it just might be Atlanta who delivers Brady and the Buccaneers to the postseason in Week 17 and they might possibly be the opponent that wins Tampa the NFC South.
One has to wonder how prominently getting the chance to play the Falcons twice each year figured in Brady’s decision to bolt from the New England Patriots and sign with the Buccaneers this spring.
Matt Lombardo is the site expert for GMenHQ, and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday for FanSided. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL.