Fortune favors the bold: Chiefs didn’t need a QB when they drafted Patrick Mahomes
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — From the moment they first laid eyes on quarterback Patrick Mahomes playing football, the Kansas City Chiefs knew they had to have him. He was gifted physically with a strong and accurate arm and possessed a flair for playing quarterback like few others.
And that feeling only increased as the Chiefs got to know Mahomes better.
The thing is, when Mahomes declared in 2017 he would leave Texas Tech to enter his name in the NFL draft, the Chiefs didn’t have a particular need for a quarterback. They had a trusted veteran in Alex Smith, who helped the Chiefs to the playoffs in four of five seasons, twice as AFC West champions. Smith played in the Pro Bowl just months before the team drafted Mahomes (and again following Mahomes’ rookie season).
Smith threw for a respectable 3,502 yards and completed 67% of his passes during the 2016 season ahead of the 2017 draft.
But the Chiefs saw an opportunity to do something great by drafting Mahomes, and they weren’t going to let the stability of Smith stand in the way. They traded up from the 27th spot in the first round to 10th in order to make the move every other NFL team now wishes it had made.
“These players, they don’t come by too often,” then-Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said the night Mahomes was drafted. “So you have to take a shot at it and that’s kind of what we did.”
Fortune has favored their bold move. The Chiefs are in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year. On Sunday, they will face the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS) for the right to advance to Super Bowl LIV.
The irony is for most of their history, the Chiefs weren’t bold when it came to acquiring their quarterbacks. The boldest move they had ever made came in 1993, when they traded for four-time Super Bowl winner Joe Montana. But he was 37 by the time he started his first season with Kansas City and lasted two years before he retired.
Otherwise, the Chiefs just sort of took what came their way, mostly career backups and discards from other teams. Even the best quarterback in team history, eventual Hall of Famer Len Dawson, joined the Chiefs after flopping with two other teams.
Before Mahomes, the Chiefs took a first-round swing at a quarterback only in 1964 (Pete Beathard), 1979 (Steve Fuller) and 1983 (Todd Blackledge).
By the time they drafted Mahomes in 2017, only the New Orleans Saints had gone longer than the Chiefs’ 34 years without picking a quarterback in the first round.
But Mahomes was a favorite of not only Dorsey and coach Andy Reid, but their scouts, including personnel director Brett Veach. He would replace Dorsey as general manager two months after the draft.
“Everybody liked this guy,” Reid said of Mahomes. “We couldn’t find anybody that didn’t like him.
“We got to know the kid before we got to know the kid. Everybody kind of just fell in love with the kid and what he was all about and how he went about his business and how he played. That doesn’t happen every year. I’m saying it like it’s easy. That’s not something that happens every year.”
One of the reasons Veach was promoted after the draft to replace Dorsey was that he was all-in on Mahomes.
“I thought he was the best quarterback in the draft,” Veach said shortly after he was promoted. The 2017 draft included among others quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson. “There was no doubt in my mind that was the right decision.”
Mahomes arrived to the Chiefs crude in terms of the pro game. Playing in the spread offense at Texas Tech, he had never taken a snap from under center or called a play in a huddle. So he needed time to develop but that was always part of the plan.
Smith was the starter during the 2017 season and Mahomes was the backup, just as the Chiefs planned on the night they drafted Mahomes.
“Right now, Patrick is not absolutely ready to play,” Reid said that night. “He’s got some work to do.
“He gets an opportunity to learn from Alex Smith, which will be a phenomenal experience for him and learn the offense. So we have to be patient with him. Definitely, not a finished product right now, but he has tremendous upside. We think he’ll fit into this offense very well. He’s a good person. He’s intelligent. He’s got great skill, and I just think he’ll be a great Kansas City Chiefs player when it’s all said and done.”
That’s easy to see in hindsight. But perhaps only the Chiefs saw it then.