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Is Patrick Mahomes worthy of a QB1 selection?

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: June 2, 2020, 11:22 am ET

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

All Patrick Mahomes has done since being drafted with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2017 draft is emerge as arguably the most-talented player the QB position has ever seen.

Seriously. The man went for 5,097 yards and 50 scores through the air in 2018, ultimately coming one ill-timed Dee Ford offsides penalty away from matching up with Jared Goff and the Rams in the Super Bowl. Then Mahomes managed to play through a nasty ankle injury and lead the Chiefs all the way to the big dance in 2020, where he engineered numerous clutch fourth-quarter drives to lead the team back to championship glory.

The entertaining manner in which Mahomes has accomplished all of this has only added to the legend.

The expected face of the league for many years to come is just 24 years old and not expected to slow down anytime soon. What follows is a breakdown on just how absurd Mahomes’ start to his career has been as well as a look at what we should expect from him in 2020.

Mahomes has truly been balling since day one

Alex Smith’s MVP-level performance in 2017 was the only reason why Mahomes wasn’t unleashed on the league a season sooner. Obviously the team was well aware who the better QB was after shipping Smith off to Washington the following offseason, but it might’ve been Mahomes’ performance in Week 17 alongside the offense’s backups that confirmed his future QB1 outlook.

You know what happened in 2018 and 2019. Through 31 regular season starts Mahomes is truly on pace to be the greatest QB the game has ever seen:

  • Completion rate: 65.9% (No. 6 among all QBs to ever start at least 16 games in the Super Bowl era)
  • TD rate: 6.9% (No. 3)
  • INT rate: 1.6 (No. 5)
  • QB rating: 108.9 (No. 1)
  • Yards per attempt: 8.6 (No. 1)
  • Adjusted yards per attempt: 9.2 (No. 1)
  • Adjusted net yards per attempt: 8.6 (No. 1)

The latter metric is arguably the most-impressive number of them all. Adjusted net yards per pass attempt weights TDs, INTs and sacks into the number of yards gained per pass. Lamar Jackson (7.5) and Aaron Rodgers (7.3) are the only other QBs to average even 7.2. So Mahomes has basically been a full yard better than any QB to ever play the game when asked to drop back and pass.

The scary part is that the 2020 version of the Chiefs Offense might be even better.

Kansas City might (somehow) be even scarier next season

The Chiefs are one of just 10 teams expected to return all five starting offensive linemen. Note that starting linemen are determine by 1) If that player was a Week 1 starter and/or 2) If that player took at least 50% of the offense's snaps in 2019. They’re led by RT Mitchell Schwartz, who has been graded as PFF’s No. 5 overall tackle in each of the last two seasons. They drafted OT Lucas Niang in the third round and currently have the 11th-most 2020 dollars devoted to their offensive front.

The rest of the skill-position players are … also back!

  • Tyreek Hill: The artist known as TyFreak was the PPR WR8 in 2017, WR1 in 2018, and WR32 in 2019 after playing just 12 games. A bounce-back campaign is coming; nobody in the league instills more fear inside the hearts of opposing corners and defensive coordinators alike. The only WRs I'd feel truly comfortable drafting before Hill are Michael Thomas and Davante Adams in fantasy formats of all shapes and sizes.
  • Travis Kelce: The league's No. 1 PPR TE in four (!!!) consecutive seasons. The question is how much longer he'll be able to provide this type of high-end production. He hasn't missed a game due to injury since 2013, although fellow-HOF talent Rob Gronkowski is only 144 days older. TE is one of the league's more demanding positions. There isn't much reason to expect severe regression from Kelce in 2020, particularly as long as Mahomes is operating as a world-beating talent. Just realize that this sort of consistency can't last forever.
  • Mecole Hardman: Hardman had the single-highest playmaker rate (rewards big plays and scores) in the entire league among 214 players with at least 30 touches in 2019. He clocked a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the combine and registered the seventh-fastest play of the season at 21.87 miles per hour on his 63-yard score against the Titans. This almost seems slow considering how much he jumps off the screen. Hardman’s average of 13.1 yards per target as a rookie was literally the highest mark by a first-year player since targets began being tracked in 1992. A year-two blowup is far from out of the question.
  • Sammy Watkins: Watkins has basically been written off by everyone after failing to do pretty much anything after his three-TD explosion in Week 1. Still, the man deserves credit for posting 6-62-0, 4-114-0, 2-76-0, 7-114-1 and 5-98-0 receiving lines in five playoff games over the past two seasons. Hill (87% snaps) and Watkins (87%) worked as full-time receivers during the Super Bowl, while Robinson (49%) lost snaps to Hardman (28%) and Byron Pringle (4%). Offseason speculation has indicated Hardman could see an enhanced role in 2020, likely at the expense of Watkins.
  • Demarcus Robinson: The Chiefs' long-time No. 3 WR hasn't missed a career game and offers solid consistency. Still, his 6-172-2 breakout against the Raiders in Week 2 marked the only time all season (playoffs included) that he cleared even 60 yards in a game. Robinson’s biggest impact in 2020 will likely be whether or not he can keep Hardman on the bench.
  • Damien Williams: The Chiefs’ featured RB battled some injuries along with LeSean McCoy early in the 2019 season before absolutely balling out down the stretch, scoring nine times during the Chiefs' final five games. He boasts true three-down ability and has been too good in too many big games to fully be unseated by the Chiefs’ exciting rookie RB.
  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire: The new man in the equation. The Chiefs drafted Edwards-Helaire with the No. 32 overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft. The 5-foot-7 and 207-pound back burst onto the scene during his junior season at LSU, posting absurd 215-1,414-16 rushing and 55-453-1 receiving lines in 15 games of action. Coach Andy Reid has already comped his new rookie RB to former Eagles' great Brian Westbrook, noting, "He can block for you. He can run routes. He’s got tremendous vision and lateral abilities with cuts and route running, all those things. He’s just a real good football player." Furthermore, CEH was also apparently Mahomes' preferred pick. It’s easy to see why.

The pecking order behind Hill and Kelce is a bit muddled, but it's clear there's talent everywhere in this offense.

Add it all together and ...

Mahomes should at worst be your fantasy QB2

There’s little doubt Mahomes is the *best* QB in the NFL. Still, Lamar Jackson remains the preferred fantasy option. The rushing floor is simply unlike anything the position has ever seen. Yes, Jackson’s average of 61 rush yards per game is well ahead of second-place Mike Vick (43) on the all-time leaderboard for QBs, but he’s actually gone for 81.6 yards per game on the ground if we only include starts. That mark has only been topped by Ezekiel Elliott, Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry and Chris Carson over the past two seasons. Jackson offers the potential to post top-five production as a rusher, making a likely regression in passing TD rate much easier to swallow.

Nobody else should be drafted ahead of Mahomes at the QB position in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes. 50-plus touchdown upside is more than realistic, and Mahomes has even proven to carry a solid rushing floor. Overall, Mahomes posted 7-53-0, 8-53-1 and 9-29-1 rushing lines during the Chiefs' playoff run. He's only scored four times on the ground in 31 regular season games, meaning positive regression could be on the way: Mahomes scored 22 rushing touchdowns in his last 25 games at Texas Tech.

The floor for Mahomes is probably what we saw last season: injuries lead to missed time and a top-five, not top-one, offensive effort. Just don't get in the habit of betting against the NFL's all-time leader in most fantasy points per game, particularly when he's returning to a slightly-enhanced version of the same offense that led the squad to Super Bowl glory last February.

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.