After showing touch, accuracy (sometimes without even looking) and serious arm strength in his one NFL start, the 22-year-old son of a big league pitcher will now apply all that he has learned as the new face of the Chiefs
LAST APRIL, when the Chiefs traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes No. 10 out of Texas Tech, he became their quarterback-in-waiting. After Kansas City agreed to trade three-time Pro Bowl QB Alex Smith to Washington in January, the wait was over. Mahomes learned what it takes to be a pro from an early age, when he was toted to ballparks by his dad, Pat, who pitched in the majors for 11 seasons. The younger Mahomes was also a righthander—and an MLB draft pick by the Tigers—but he will use his powerful arm to get TDs instead of K's. SI asked the 22-year-old Mahomes about the lessons he learned over the last year, and throughout his life.
PLAYING THE scout-team quarterback in practice really helped develop my game. When we were playing the Jets, with Josh McCown, I'd have to throw a lot of deep balls. Tyrod Taylor with the Bills, I'd have to scramble around a lot. With Tom Brady, it was about dissecting the defense. I had to do stuff I wasn't comfortable with, and see what I liked and what I didn't like.
YOU DREAM of your first NFL start when you're a little kid, playing football in the backyard, but until you get there, you never know what to expect. The Week 17 game against the Broncos [in which Mahomes completed 22 of 35 passes for 284 yards] is something that will help me moving forward—to have gotten a full start in, to really go deep into the game plan with Coach [Andy] Reid and assistant [Mike] Kafka. There are things that, being a backup, you try to do, but you can't get the full comprehension of what it takes.
I REMEMBER my first NFL interception vividly. On the second drive of the game, receiver De'Anthony Thomas was open and I overthrew him. I remember going to the bench and just sitting there thinking, Well, you got that out of the way. I had been feeling jumpy and jittery and really excited when the game started, and after that interception, it's almost like it settled me down and helped me get back into the mind-set of not trying to do too much.
I LEARNED a lot from running a two-minute drive in the 27--24 win at Denver. I almost threw an interception; it's about knowing when to take chances. You're going to make mistakes, but at the same time, having those successful finishes and those wins makes it so much sweeter.
I WAS in major league clubhouses for pretty much my whole childhood. You saw All-Stars working as hard as guys who just got there. I remember Alex Rodriguez being at the stadium three or four hours before practice started, hitting off a tee. Then you see Derek Jeter taking ground balls all day, and you're like, These guys, they don't have to be doing this. They're the best at their profession, but at the same time, they want to be better. You understand that you have to work that hard, no matter what level you are.
LATROY HAWKINS—my dad's former teammate and my godfather—is a great role model. He's a professional in every aspect. He was always trying to do whatever he could to make the team better, to get his body in the best shape, so that whenever he got his opportunities, he took full advantage of them. That's why he ended up having a 21-year career as a pitcher. This being my first professional offseason, I have spent time with my family, enjoyed life, but at the same time I'm working every day to make sure I'm ready for when OTAs, minicamp, training camp and the season comes.
I DIDN'T start playing football a lot until I was at [Whitehouse (Texas) High]. But as a junior, I fell in love with the game. The challenges you have every single play, how you have to read the defense and decide what to do. So when the MLB draft came around, I knew I didn't want to give up football. I wanted to see where it took me, so I decided I wanted to go to college. My dad didn't get to go to college; my mom didn't get to go. So that also played a part. Coach Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech helped get me to where I am today.
I STARTED throwing no-look passes as a joke with [fellow Red Raiders QB] Nic Shimonek. We did it in the practice drills with Coach Kingsbury, and then I did it a couple of times in games. There was one time in the Broncos game where we did a little play-action and I stepped up in the pocket and was getting ready to roll. A defender was kind of closing on me. I saw receiver Albert Wilson out of the corner of my eye, and I knew if I kept looking downfield, the defender would come off his zone coverage enough for me to make the throw. So I looked him off and threw the ball to Albert, and he grabbed it. It's not like I mean to throw no-look passes. I think it kind of happens out of instinct. As I do it, I'm like, Dang, I didn't even mean to do that.
WHEN ALEX SMITH was traded, I thanked him for everything that he had done for me. He's an awesome guy and a true pro. People forget, Alex was the No. 1 pick in the draft, and he had to go through some growing pains and learn things kind of on his own. So he knew what he could help me with, like my stance under center. I played all shotgun in college, so it was different being under center as much as we are. But he helped me adjust my stance to eliminate the bucket step I had when I first got here, so I could be back further and able to throw the ball more on time.
ALEX SHOWED me how to make the reads easier so I can process faster and play faster. In the Denver game he was helping me every time I went to the sideline. We'd get on that tablet and we'd look at the plays, and he would help me identify how they were blitzing by how they were lining up with their fronts, and who was coming, and if this guy came, where I was supposed to put the ball.
THE BIGGEST thing I told the quarterbacks who are in the draft this year is that once the draft happens—no matter where you get taken—it all starts over. Go in every single day working, and everything else everything else will handle itself.