In his three years since becoming the Kansas City Chiefs' starter, Patrick Mahomes has ascended into the NFL's most talented quarterbacks. But before he was the face of football, the 2017 first-rounder spent his rookie season as the backup to Alex Smith.
Smith was traded to Washington after Mahomes' rookie season. The rest is history. At just age 25, Mahomes already has an MVP, Super Bowl MVP, and a half-a-billion dollar contract under his belt.
Yet, through everything Mahomes has accomplished, he's gone out of his way multiple times to say how much Smith helped him during that 2017 season.
Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce, though, believes Mahomes would have been a great quarterback regardless if he spent his rookie season sitting behind Smith or not.
"I'm a little biased in who Patrick Mahomes is. I think I saw it from the get-go, his determination, his ability to see coverages early, feel confident in what he's seeing, be able to throw a good ball. And then, obviously, his ability to make plays when the play breaks down," Kelce said on the Rich Eisen Show.
"It's just second to no one that I've ever played with or ever seen on the field," Kelce continued. "So, I'm a little biased when I say I don't think he needed that year."
While Kelce doesn't think Mahomes necessarily "needed" to sit, the tight end believes one aspect where Smith did truly impact Mahomes was with the mental side of playing quarterback in the NFL. The talent was always there for Mahomes -- there's a reason he was the 10th overall pick -- but there's a certain mental toughness all quarterbacks need to be successful at the professional level.
"Him understanding Alex's professionalism, just how to be a pro. It's reassuring," Kelce said. "It gives you that confidence that 'OK, I know how to do this. This is a guy who has had success in the league for numerous years, almost a decade now, and he does it like this. I can see how he has success and turn it into my own madness and my own psychic.' And I think that really helped him."
Smith, who experienced plenty of highs and lows as an NFL signal-caller, had been considered the ideal veteran for young quarterbacks to sit behind. His experience with Mahomes in Kansas City is considered the example around the league for why some rookie QBs should sit their rookie season. There's a reason Urban Meyer reached out to Smith this offseason about coming to Jacksonville, potentially serving as a mentor for top pick Trevor Lawrence.
In Washington, Smith served as a mentor to several young passers, even when he was sidelined for over a year with a gruesome leg injury that he suffered. Although he's no longer in Washington, 2019 first-rounder Dwayne Haskins often praised Smith for his guidance during his time in the nation's capital.
So, while Mahomes might not have "needed" to sit behind Smith in 2017 in order to be a great NFL quarterback, there's no denying that he did at least benefit from that experience.
"I do think it helped him be ready for the next season, more than anything, without a doubt," Kelce said. "But at the same time, when you're talking about 'needed,' I don't know, man, I think Patrick Mahomes has something about him. He was going to find a way. It might not have been early, as fast as the 50 touchdowns his first season starting. It might not have been something like that. But I think he would still have found success."