Patrick Mahomes could be the greatest football thrower in the history of football throwers. That goes beyond sheer arm strength and accuracy. For decades, quarterbacks showed up to play with just a driver and a putter. Mahomes has a whole damn bag of clubs.
Mahomes has the deepest arsenal of throw types of any quarterback we’ve ever seen—and the intelligence to assess a situation and know exactly which type to use. When Mahomes plays quarterback, there’s more to the position than simply identifying targets and hitting them. He deceives and astounds defenders, luring them into spots where they should be able to make a play before delivering passes to his targets in creative, unpredictable, and utterly dumbfounding ways. There’s a reason we prefer watching Mahomes to watching a JUGS machine. The machine can’t suddenly realize that it needs to uncork a no-look pass around a defender.
It’s no gimmick. In Mahomes’s first season as an NFL starting quarterback, he threw 50 touchdowns and won league MVP. In his second season, he’s a game away from winning the Super Bowl. His career arc is already scraping the ceiling, but he keeps inventing new ways to go higher.
Last January, my Ringer colleague Kevin Clark wrote about how Mahomes assembled his bag of throws. This January, I’m going to unpack the distinct categories of throws in that bag. Some are unique to Mahomes; others he’s just mastered. This is the Glossary of Patrick Mahomes, the man who discovered there is more than one way to throw a football.
The Air Mahomes
Football fans are familiar with the jump pass. It’s a goal-line play in which an offensive player sprints toward the line of scrimmage before introducing an element of surprise: Instead of hurling himself into the pile, he’ll elevate at the last possible moment and throw to a receiver in the end zone. Tim Tebow made this play famous, and Derrick Henry perfectly executed it for a touchdown in the playoffs. It’s a play designed for runners, not throwers. The throw itself is generally a floater that reaches its wide-open target only because the defense has collapsed to defend the run.
Mahomes is the only player I’ve ever seen jump and throw a ball 20 yards:
In a Week 10 game against the Titans, Mahomes runs forward, realizes he’s about to bump into a gaggle of linemen, and elevates to avoid crashing into the pack of massive bodies. Jameis Winston tried something similar earlier this season, and the video shows why quarterbacks don’t generally jump while they’re throwing. It’s hard to get power behind a throw in midair, and irregular footwork makes jump passes unlikely to be consistent.
But Mahomes’s throw is totally fine. The ball lacks the zip of a typical Mahomes pass, and the spiral isn’t perfect. But it travels 20 yards and goes precisely where it needs to. When Mahomes jumps, wide receiver Mecole Hardman is running right while being tightly guarded by Titans cornerback Logan Ryan. Mahomes anticipates Hardman’s break and leads him away from his defender and into open space.
In a clean pocket, Mahomes would step into a throw, leading with his left foot. But on this play he has no room. He completed another version of the Air Mahomes on a Week 7 touchdown to Hardman—it’s almost as if he uses the jump in lieu of a step-in when he doesn’t have much room to operate.
The Running Fastball
It’s been reported that Mahomes threw a 94 mph fastball during his baseball-playing days. I think he could’ve touched 100 if he was allowed to sprint from second base to the mound before firing toward home plate.
Because he has the greatest arm in NFL history, Mahomes isn’t often talked about as a runner. (At least, he wasn’t before that touchdown against the Titans.) Yet on some throws, Mahomes uses his speed to enhance his passes. Take this touchdown to Byron Pringle from Week 5:
This ball travels at least 30 yards in the air. If Mahomes was standing still when he threw it, it would have needed a high arc to travel 30 yards, thereby giving Colts defenders time to close in on the ball. But Mahomes uses the momentum from his scramble to throw a rope. According to the NFL’s NextGenStats Twitter account, Mahomes was running 15.61 miles per hour when he threw the ball, the second-fastest quarterback speed at the moment of a touchdown pass this season.
Mahomes isn’t the only quarterback who can pass while running, but his combination of speed and throwing power enables him to rip passes to his receivers in ways his peers can’t. It’s like strapping a howitzer to the front of a train.
The Freakin’ Bomb
There’s a part of pregame warm-ups when quarterbacks loosen up their arms by throwing progressively deeper and deeper. Last season I covered a Week 11 game between the Chiefs and Rams, and beforehand I stood about 20 feet from Mahomes as he went through this part of his routine. I didn’t even need to watch the game afterward. I’ve seen other quarterbacks warm up in the past, but watching Mahomes launch footballs into the sky with the trebuchet attached to his torso was more entertaining than most games.
Luckily, the teams did play a game after that. And Mahomes did this:
I’m sure someone will tell me this pass isn’t impressive. After all, Tyreek Hill was wide open after a Rams defender fell at about the 50-yard line. If Mahomes had thrown this from virtually anywhere on the far side of the field, it would have produced the same result. And plenty of other quarterbacks can chuck the ball 60 yards. Even Ryan Tannehill can do it.
But there’s just something different about how Mahomes does it. If you don’t believe me, I hope you also get to stand next to Mahomes as he warms up one day. You’ll understand.
The Lefty Shot Put
It says something about Mahomes that one of the worst throws of his career is also one of the most impressive. In the fourth quarter of a 2018 game in Denver, he converted a third-and-5 by completing a left-handed pass.
You can tell from the clip that Mahomes isn’t ambidextrous. He’s much worse at throwing with his left hand than his right. The throw is slow and lacks a spiral. He kinda just shovels the ball to his target, like a spheroid shot put. Even when Mahomes practices throwing lefty—and, yes, he does practice it—his passes aren’t particularly powerful. Mahomes is presumably better at throwing with his non-dominant hand than most, but not by a ton.
What’s amazing, of course, is not the throw itself, but the presence of mind to make the throw. Mahomes was running to his left, which would’ve made throwing with his right hand difficult. He knew that Von Miller wasn’t far behind him, and that Miller—who is very good at forcing fumbles—could’ve potentially forced a fumble if he cocked the ball back in his right arm. And he knew that he didn’t need a perfect throw to get the ball to Hill, who was less than 10 yards from him and unguarded.
Lots of quarterbacks could have made this left-handed throw. Only Mahomes actually thought to do it.
The No-Look Wonder
Quarterbacks have looked off defenders before throwing for decades, but they tend to look at their receiver when they’re actually releasing a pass. Mahomes has taken looking off defenders to a new level. He’s the first QB to routinely throw passes to players he isn’t even looking at.
You might think no-look passes are just a matter of knowing where a receiver is and being confident enough to trust in a throw. But it’s also mechanically difficult. When throwing a no-look pass, Mahomes doesn’t just look at a decoy target—he points his entire body in the direction of that player before throwing across his body to someone else.
Mahomes began practicing the no-look pass at Texas Tech, where head coach Kliff Kingsbury considered it to be a legitimate strategy. As a rookie Chiefs backup to Alex Smith, Mahomes infuriated veteran defensive end Justin Houston by throwing no-look passes in practice. But Mahomes’s most famous no-look throw came in 2018 against the Ravens. He generally prefers to throw the no-look on slant-flat route combinations—when he can look at a receiver in the flat and know exactly where the slant is going—but this play against Baltimore is different. He throws to a tightly guarded receiver on a crossing route while dancing in the pocket. He couldn’t have practiced for this moment because he didn’t even know where he would be, let alone the receiver. Even for someone who practices no-look passes, the degree of difficulty is off the charts.
Mahomes is no longer the only no-look pass expert—incoming Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei recently threw one in a high school all-star game. But that was a high school all-star game. Mahomes throws no-look passes, somewhat regularly, during live NFL action. (Although there has been at least one high-profile miss.)
The Madden 2004 Glitch
Michael Vick was absolutely unstoppable in Madden 2004, because he was an accurate passer and also the fastest player in the game. This allowed teams with Vick to ruin opponents: Gamers could run Vick toward the line of scrimmage before throwing to wide-open receivers any time an opponent decided to defend Vick’s scramble. So in Madden 06, programmers tried to eliminate what effectively acted as a cheat code by limiting quarterbacks’ abilities to throw to only the areas they could “see.” EA Sports rolled out a new (and incredibly unpopular) feature called the “vision cone.” If a Madden player ran a quarterback toward the line of scrimmage, that player’s vision cone would shrink, making it impossible to throw to anyone except the receivers directly in the running path.
Mahomes’s vision cone never shrinks. He can run to the right and throw bombs across his body to the left:
He can also run to the left and fling the ball across his body to the right:
The NFL NextGenStats definition of a throw “on the run” is a pass delivered while traveling at a speed of at least 8 mph. Mahomes has 22 such touchdown throws since 2018; no other quarterback has more than 15. The league’s player tracking data reveals that QB completion percentage drops precipitously for throws on the run. Mahomes is an anomaly.
Patrick Mahomes has thrown “On the Run” (8+ MPH at pass forward) on 22.2% of attempts this season, the highest rate among quarterbacks this season.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 12, 2018
Mahomes’ completion pct remains stable when on the run while the league average drops considerably.#NextGenStats #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/JSZT6RoOvP
When normal quarterbacks roll out, a defense can cut the field in half and worry exclusively about defending the space from the sideline to the hash marks. With Mahomes, every receiver remains a viable option at all times. He can move the defense with his feet and throw to the space it abandons.
The Sidearm Sling
Mahomes threw 484 passes this season. Only six were knocked down at or behind the line of scrimmage. That’s because Mahomes throws the ball around oncoming defenders by using an array of sidearm release angles:
Pass rushers have been trained to knock down passes by lifting their arms for their entire football lives. Then this dude comes along and just slips balls through the slots where their arms would be if they didn’t raise them?
In the above clip, it looks like Mahomes throws a sidearm curveball, but that’s just an optical illusion. Or so I think. We’ll keep you updated if Mahomes ever does add a breaking ball to his remarkable bag of tricks.