The NFL Network has proclaimed that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is going to be the league’s No. 1 breakout star of 2018.
For Chiefs fans, let’s hope it’s right.
The future of the Chiefs’ success rides on the cannon arm of Mahomes, who started the final game of the 2017 season and directed Kansas City to a comeback win at Denver. He threw for nearly 300 yards, often making spectacular plays but also throwing near-interceptions that are customary for a first-year player.
The Chiefs had traded up to get Mahomes in the 2017 draft, bypassing Clemson's Deshaun Watson, who was well on his way to Rookie of the Year honors with the Houston Texans before wrecking his knee.
Mahomes patiently learned his craft under the veteran Alex Smith, who had been solid in his five years with the team, guiding it to four playoff appearances. Mahomes is the polar opposite of Smith, who has had the label of "game manager" throughout his career because he always took the safe play and seldom turned it over.
If the Chiefs would have brought Smith back, it would have come at a hefty price tag. He wound up being sent to Washington, with defensive back Kendall Fuller coming to Kansas City to bolster the sagging secondary. Fuller is highly regarded as the Chiefs try to rebuild one of the NFL's worst defenses.
The Chiefs apparently saw enough of Mahomes to trade away Smith, who I felt was always overly maligned by Kansas City fans. While he won only one playoff game, the Chiefs’ failures were more on the defense than the offense. Smith led them to a comfortable halftime lead last year in the playoff game with Tennessee, then the defense collapsed.
Mahomes is intriguing. He’s big, strong, fast and has an arm like few in the NFL. I hope Chiefs fans will be patient, though, as he takes a lot of chances because of his belief that he can make a big play due to his athleticism. He can also make plays with his legs, though his somewhat reckless style leaves him subject to injury.
Kansas City did sign the veteran Chad Henne in the offseason for insurance and still have Tyler Bray, who somehow stays on the roster despite never showing much during the exhibition season. He has a big arm, but is injury prone.
The Chiefs certainly are athletic on offense. Rookie Kareem Hunt was a surprise at running back and Spencer Ware returns after missing all but one game. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are big-time receiving targets. The offensive line is spotty, but serviceable. There are certainly enough toys for Mahomes to play with.
The Chiefs, going for their third straight division title, must rebuild quickly on defense. There’s been a massive turnover, especially at linebacker where longtime staples Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali are gone. The return of Eric Berry is huge, but even he is getting long in the tooth.
Given the strength and parity of the AFC West, the Chiefs could as easily finish first as they could last.