How Alex Smith helped Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes develop in rookie season

How Alex Smith helped Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes develop in rookie season

MIAMI, Fla. -- Patrick Mahomes has it all. The Chiefs star can flick the ball 70 yards without issue. He's thrown passes left-handed, with his eyes closed and with both feet hovering off the ground. 

In only three seasons in the NFL, and two as the Chiefs' starting quarterback, Mahomes has shown the propensity to do the amazing. He transformed himself from risky NFL draft pick to superstar seemingly on the flight from Lubbock, Texas to Kansas City, and now he has the Chiefs on the precipice of a Super Bowl title if they can conquer the 49ers and the NFL's best defense Sunday in Super Bowl LIV. 

For all his otherworldly talent, Mahomes didn't become last year's league MVP and the new face of the NFL on his own. He rode the bench in his first season, holding the clipboard for someone who once was the future of the franchise he faces Sunday: Alex Smith. 

After playing seven seasons with the 49ers, Smith was traded to the Chiefs in 2013. He had four productive seasons in KC, including a career year in 2017 where he threw for 4,042 yards, 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also spent that season mentoring the man who eventually would take his job and the league by storm. 

"He was extremely important," Mahomes said of Smith's impact on his development. "The way he went about his business and being a pro's pro, a great quarterback and also a great human being. He taught me a ton of just the process and how to blueprint your week and how to game plan. And then, how to read coverages by the little things. Maybe how the defensive line lines up and I think it helped me out a lot in the early part of my career, even still to this day of being able to get those invaluable lessons from him."

From the moment Mahomes started his first game in Week 17 of his rookie season, it was clear he was the Chiefs' future. 

Life as the up-and-coming quarterback isn't always easy in the NFL. Brett Favre famously wanted nothing to do with mentoring Aaron Rodgers. While Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo are friends, there were whispers that Brady's fear of losing his job to Jimmy G was one of the reasons the New England Patriots traded the young quarterback to the 49ers. 

Mahomes was lucky to have a guy like Smith to see the writing on the wall and still take him under his wing, giving him crucial advice to weather any adversity that came his way. 

"Alex Smith was phenomenal," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said Tuesday. "He wasn't asked to do this, but he let Patrick into his world. Patrick handled it the right way. He was humbled around Alex. He didn't try to overstep his bounds with Alex when he competed. With that, Alex let him kind of tag along on the field and off the field, showed him how to be a pro. How to study, your diet, your workout plan, family, how you work your family into the National Football League to be a great player in the National Football League.

"I joke about it, but it's true. Patrick couldn't pay Alex enough for what he gave him with the experience."

Mahomes took over last season as the Chiefs' starting quarterback and Smith was traded to Washington where he later suffered a gruesome leg injury that has kept him sidelined since. 

During his first year at the helm of the Chiefs' offense, Mahomes took the league by storm, throwing for 50 touchdowns and 5,097 yards. He joined Peyton Manning and Brady as the only three quarterbacks in NFL history to throw 50 touchdowns passes in a single season. His improvisation allowed him to paint with all the grace and beauty of Leonardo Da Vinci. 

Instead of the Mona Lisa, Mahomes was crafting masterpieces rarely seen before in the NFL. 

[RELATED: Sherman identifies what makes 49ers' defense so tough to beat]

His talent popped immediately. His bazooka for a right arm has made jaw-dropping throw after throw as he's ascended to the top of the NFL quarterback hierarchy. He excels under pressure whether that's a defensive end bearing down on him or the Chiefs falling into a deep hole as they did in their AFC divisional-round win over the Houston Texans. 

Down 24-0 in the blink of an eye, Mahomes, icy cool, could be seen rallying his teammates on the sideline. He spoke. They listened intently and believed in their leader's words. Then, the flood gates opened as the Chiefs outscored the Texans 51-7 for the rest of the game, putting an aura of invincibility around someone destined to be an all-time great.

It's rare for young quarterbacks, no matter how talented, to command the attention of their team. Normally that takes time, a learning process filled with bruises and failures. But Mahomes was given a gift not afforded to most about-to-blossom stars: A veteran to show them how to succeed in the NFL before graciously handing them the keys. 

Mahomes came to the NFL with all the tools to ascend to the pantheon of all-time greats. Alex Smith's lessons gave him the road map to accelerate his rise. 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

49ers' Kendrick Bourne implores Matt Breida to re-sign for 2020 season

49ers' Kendrick Bourne implores Matt Breida to re-sign for 2020 season

Kendrick Bourne wants Matt Breida to follow in his footsteps.

The 49ers wide receiver signed his one-year tender Monday, ensuring he would return for the 2020 season. San Francisco placed second-round tenders on Bourne and Breida last month, and Bourne encouraged Breida to sign his, too.

Bourne and Breida joined the 49ers as undrafted free agents in 2017. The 24-year-old receiver scored a career-high five touchdowns in the 2019 regular season and caught 30 passes for 358 yards.

[RELATED: Why Jeudy could be just what 49ers want in 2020 NFL Draft]

Breida, meanwhile, largely lost his role in the 49ers offense by the end of the 2019 season. He ran a career-high 153 times for 814 yards in 2018, but Breida ran for nearly 200 fewer yards in 2019 as the running back ended the season behind Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman on the 49ers’ depth chart. Jerick McKinnon’s return could further crowd Breida out.

Bourne has been with Breida every step of their NFL careers, however, and he wants the running back to once again be his teammate this season.

2020 NFL Draft profile: Why Alabama's Jerry Jeudy is what 49ers need

2020 NFL Draft profile: Why Alabama's Jerry Jeudy is what 49ers need

Editor's Note: NBC Sports Bay Area will preview the NFL Draft with a look at the 49ers’ top needs, profiles of prospects that might be good fits, along with some hidden gems in the later rounds. In this installment, we profile Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy.

Top NFL draft prospect Jerry Jeudy could be exactly what 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has been looking for. 

Shanahan has remained steadfast in his belief that you don’t have to be the biggest or fastest wide receiver to be the most effective and productive. There are several other qualities that remain higher on Shanahan’s list, and it appears that Jeudy checks most, if not all, of those boxes. 

Michael Locksley, Jeudy’s coach and offensive coordinator during the receiver's first two seasons with the Alabama Crimson Tide, spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area about the receiver’s unique talents.

[RELATED: Latest Mock: 49ers don't get Jeudy]

“Can’t say enough about his ability as a route-runner,” Locksley said. “I think with Jerry, it’s his ability and suddenness he has to get in and out of a break, whether it’s working back toward the ball which is the toughest breaks that receivers make, when they’re working back toward the quarterback.

“He has the ability to be full speed and drop his weight – or, as we say, sink his hips -- to stop on a dime, and he always gives the illusion of speed always at the top of the route but is able, without taking the little small steps you see people normally have to take to put his foot in the ground and change direction.”

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Leigh Steinberg of Steinberg Sports and Entertainment, who represents Jeudy, was equally impressed by his client’s route running. 

“He might be the best route runner that I’ve ever seen in college in my 40 years,” Steinberg told NBC Sport Bay Area. “He runs the most precise routes. He’s also very smart.” 

With precise route running and the ability to change direction on a dime, Jeudy is able to get separation, which Shanahan has repeatedly said is one of the most important aspects to being a receiver. 

Another trait that Shanahan looks for was exemplified by All-Pro tight end George Kittle and receiver Deebo Samuel throughout 2019: Gaining yards after the catch. 

“Tremendous run-after catch ability,” Locksley said of the Alabama receiver. “He is such a loose-limbed, loose-body guy. You watch him and his ability to make people miss is as good as I’ve ever seen.”

Steinberg noted that Jeudy has impressed him off the field as well, most notably when the Alabama star met Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice while in Miami for Super Bowl LIV. 

“The most impressive thing I’ve seen from him was how he interacted with Hall of Fame receivers while in Miami for the Super Bowl,” Steinberg said. “He asked Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin and Cris Carter what their secrets to longevity were. He’s bright enough to use his time with the best, to enhance his own performance.”

[RELATED: Simms: Jeudy not loved by all teams]

Jeudy was extremely productive in his three seasons at Alabama, catching 159 passes for 2,742 yards, 26 touchdowns and an average of 17.2 yards per catch. It is inevitable that he is a player that will have an impact on a team's offense. What the 49ers will do with the No. 13 overall selection in the draft, however, is much less certain.

NFL draft profile: Jerry Jeudy

Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 193 pounds
College: Alabama
Career stats: 159 catches for 2,742 yards and 26 touchdowns

Combine measurables
40-yard dash: 4.45 seconds (11th among wide receiver class)
Vertical jump: 35.0 inches
Broad jump: 120.0 inches
20-yard shuttle: 4.53 seconds

What experts are saying
Mel Kiper, ESPN: “Jerry Jeudy is a precise kid, running routes, first out of his break. Reminds me a lot of Marvin Harrison.”
Todd McShay, ESPN: “I think he’s one of the best five players in the entire draft.”
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Media: "Bama WR Jerry Jeudy = smooth operator. He’s such an easy mover. Reminds me a little of Robert Woods coming out of USC. Same frame, same understanding/instincts."
Josh Norris, NBC Sports: "I know it’s easy to compare players from the same school, but it’s easy to see Calvin Ridley in Jerry Jeudy’s game."

Projected round: First (top 15 overall)