There hasn’t been a better matchup all season than Sunday’s AFC championship between the Chiefs and Bills, a game that features the conference’s two most entertaining quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen are both astoundingly versatile. Both can make throws from unusual arm angles; both routinely attempt no-look passes; both can hit receivers while on the move; both are effective rushing threats; and both can squeeze the ball into ridiculously tight windows. Both are inventive and creative, trying things that other quarterbacks have never tried.
Above all else, one thing binds these two superstars: Both can throw the ball really damn far. Like, really far.
Mahomes is the son of an MLB pitcher, and worked on his arm strength from a young age with dreams of playing pro baseball. That work turned him into a transcendent quarterback. In college, he showed off his absurd throwing power by chucking the football 65 yards … from his knees. Allen’s arm strength has never been in doubt—it was his issues combining that power with accuracy that led to questions about whether he could succeed in the NFL. (Questions from whom? Don’t ask!) Now that he’s figured it out, he seems unstoppable. While there are lots of skills required to be a top-tier quarterback, the prerequisite for most of them is elite arm strength. Allen and Mahomes have the two strongest arms in the NFL.
But who has the strongest arm? That remains unclear. The Olympics has throwing competitions for the discus, javelin, hammer, and shot put—yet there has never been an organized global competition to determine who can throw a football the farthest. (There’s also no Olympic punting event, which is a real travesty.) If the Olympics did have a football-throwing event, I feel confident Mahomes and Allen would win the gold and silver medals.
The two have coyly joked about getting together to settle the question of who has the strongest arm. In July, Mahomes said he would be game for a throw-off; in August, Allen told NFL Network that there had been plans to have one this offseason, but that those were scrapped because of the pandemic. In October, Allen said he would try to make a throw-off happen this coming offseason.
So let’s just do it now. Give the linemen a break; have the Chiefs and Bills defenders take the week off. Let’s just put Mahomes and Allen on the field and let them throw the ball as far as they possibly can. The stakes are simple: Whoever wins has his team advance to the Super Bowl.
What Would Be the Rules?
The NFL has had a throwing competition before. It was part of the NFL Quarterback Challenge, a televised offseason event that tested QBs in mobility, accuracy, and distance. The NFL has uploaded some of the full events to YouTube, but here’s the long throw portion if you don’t have a half-hour. The distance record in this competition was 80 yards, set by Vinny Testaverde in 1988.
I like the format—each quarterback is given two chances to throw the ball as deep as they can into a grid downfield, with each attempt’s distance marked by a referee at the yard line at which it lands. This is different from the format of Olympic throwing events, which measure distance from the throwing spot with no regard for accuracy. Here, if a quarterback throws the ball off-line, he inherently wastes air distance and limits his success.
Since I’m proposing that we have this event replace the AFC title game, we would want to give Mahomes and Allen more than two throws apiece. Let’s put the number at 25, to make this last a while. And let’s install rules that prevent the quarterbacks from taking a running start—a crow-hop is OK, but that’s it.
Does Mahomes or Allen Throw the Ball Harder?
Our most official measurement here comes from the NFL combine, where scouts (in most years) test quarterback arm strength. Mahomes tied the combine record in 2017 by throwing the ball 60 miles per hour. (He matched the mark set by Logan Thomas, now a tight end for Washington, and Bryan Bennett, now in the CFL.) Allen snapped Mahomes’s record in 2018, throwing the ball 62 miles per hour. Allen reportedly threw a ball 66 miles per hour at a 2018 Senior Bowl practice, which is so off the charts that I have to wonder whether something screwy happened.
But we’re not looking to find out who can throw the ball hardest. We are big dummies who are only impressed by the things we can see. We care about who can throw the ball the farthest. Who has the edge there?
Who Has Made the Longest Throw in His Career?
Allen has made the longest throw of the two in an NFL game—in 2018, he uncorked a pass to Zay Jones that traveled 63.9 air yards. Mahomes’s in-game career high is 60.9.
But Mahomes threw a pass to Tyreek Hill in the 2018 preseason that traveled 68.6 air yards—the longest that’s ever been measured.
Of course, these throws were made during games—both quarterbacks were trying to hit a target. These tosses don’t reveal much about Mahomes or Allen’s max distance. How far could they chuck it if they weren’t paying attention to where the ball wound up?
Who Has Thrown the Farthest in the Past?
Both quarterbacks’ longest throws happened in taped workouts from their college days. Scouts set up Mahomes with a Hail Mary to close his pro day in an attempt to get a glimpse of his max throwing distance. He fired the ball from the 27-yard line on one side of the field to a few yards deep in the end zone on the other side. Eyeballing it, I’d say the ball traveled about 77 yards in the air. (Scouts reportedly applauded after the throw, which they are not supposed to do.)
Mahomes has also thrown a football out of the bowl of Arrowhead Stadium in a feat captured by news helicopters, although that has more to do with height than distance.
People have credited Mahomes with making end-zone-to-end-zone throws in pregame warm-ups, but such claims are tough to confirm. In the clips, it’s tough to see where the ball comes down, given the poor camera angle.
Allen, for his part, also threw the ball somewhere between 75 and 80 yards at his pro day, in a drill that doesn’t actually seem like it was designed to test his max arm strength. In a filmed segment for ESPN, he attempted a max distance throw—saying he was putting “both cheeks into this one”—and launched it 77 yards.
It should be noted that Allen’s throws came at altitude; we all know that there are often long home runs and field goals at stadiums in Denver, by virtue of its thin mile-high air. Allen made these throws in Laramie, Wyoming, with an elevation of 7,165 feet. That had to add a yard or two to his throws.
Who Does Madden Think Has the Strongest Arm?
As we all know, the official determinant of which football player is the fastest or strongest is the guy who sits in a cubicle and tabulates player attribute ratings for Madden. In Madden NFL 21, Allen has the strongest arm with a maxed-out 99 rating; Mahomes is in second place with a 97.
How Far Does Each Quarterback Say He Can Throw the Ball?
Oddly, both quarterbacks have settled on exactly the same number: 83 yards. “The farthest I’ve ever thrown is 83,” Allen told the Buffalo News in October. (Bills running back Zack Moss says Allen can throw it 100 yards, but I think he just picked a round number.) Mahomes says he would hit “anywhere from 80-83 yards” in a throw-off. The fact that both guys are so precise makes me think they know what they’re talking about.
So, Who Would Be the Favorite?
Honestly, this is neck and neck. Because Allen came out on top in the only official arm strength measurement we have, I have to give him the slight edge. But all highlights and statements from both players suggest that this would come down to a yard or two. Entering this weekend, this is clearly the most important question in the football world. There’s only one way for us to get the answer.