Kansas City Chiefs season in review 2017: Quarterback analysis

This was the most exciting year for Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks since Joe Montana arrived in 1993. It’s time to review the season and see if it lived up to the hype.

For the first time since 1983, the Kansas City Chiefs selected a quarterback in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The selection of Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes placed a big spotlight on the Chiefs quarterback situation heading into 2017.

The expectations were high as from the start, even when Andy Reid declared Alex Smith as the Chiefs starter. It was believed that the Smith would have the best season of his career knowing Mahomes was hot on his heels and that it would likely be his last season in KC. This meant he not only had to play well to hold of the youngest, he had to play well in his audition for future teams.

Prior to 2017, Smith’s career best in yards, touchdowns, interceptions and quarterback rating had come over the course of multiple seasons. He threw for 3,502 yards in 2015, 23 touchdowns in 2013, five interceptions in 2011 and a QB rating of 95.4 in 2015. For Smith to maintain his starter spot all season, he would need to break most of these records. Reasonable predictions for Smith in 2017 varied, but 3,800 yards, 25 TDs, 8 INTs were seen by many as locks for him to keep his job. Win wise, it was a make it or break it year for Smith as he needed to reach the Super Bowl if he wanted much of a chance of staying in K.C. past 2017.

Expectations for the other two quarterbacks on the Chiefs roster were low. Nobody expected anything from Tyler Bray except to be able to hold a clipboard without dropping it. For Mahomes, the expectations were low for 2017 as he was not expected to play unless there was an emergency or blowout situation. Expectations were for him to learn behind Smith all season and be ready to take control of the team in 2018.

The Reality

As the 2017 season played out, things were better than expected in some places and worse in others. In terms of Smith’s stats, he exceeded even the best of projections despite only playing in 15 of 16 games. Smith blew past his career numbers by throwing for 4,042 yards and 26 touchdowns while only throwing five interceptions, matching a career low. These stats led him to shattering his career best QBR season by leading the NFL with a 104.7 rating. The biggest shocker came in his deep ball numbers as he led the NFL with a passer rating of 131.4. He was also third in the NFL with 14 passes of 40 yards or more. The king of dinking and dunking let it fly this year more than any other time in his career.

The wins and losses however, did not live up to expectations. Smith started out hot and was an early MVP candidate after a 5-0 start to the year. But he hit a slump starting with the Pittsburgh Steelers in game six. He shied away from throwing deep, got away from the running game and the Chiefs lost 6 of 7 games at one point. During those game,s Smith had the ball in his hand with the chance to win the game 6 times and failed on every one of them. He did finish strong, however, as the Chiefs captured the AFC West division crown for the second season in a row, winning their last 4 games of the season.

Unfortunately, the Chiefs’ playoff ghosts came back to haunt them for another postseason. The Chiefs lost to the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card round despite an 18 point halftime lead in Arrowhead Stadium. Smith went 19-23 for 231 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as he led the Chiefs out to a 21-3 lead. He was a different quarterback in the second half, as he was 5-10 for 33 yards with no touchdowns. While his overall stats showed vast improvement, his ability to finish games and lead the team to playoff success failed miserably.

His counterparts on the team had the season we all expected. Mahomes saw action in week 17 as most of the Chiefs starters rested ahead of their playoff game. Mahomes played a good but not great game. In his only game action of the season he went 22-35 for 298 yards, no TDs and one INT. He made some throws that made us all salivate at what was come and led a beautiful two-minute drill to win the game. With zero expectations coming into the year, he did just enough to make all of Chiefs Kingdom excited for what could be.

Unfortunately Bray did get playing time and he failed miserably. While I believe he made it the whole season without dropping the clipboard, the same could not be said for the football. He played two series in Week 17 against the Denver Broncos and fumbled on the first snap taken under center, which resulted in a Denver touchdown. His second series was a three-and-out before being pulled for Mahomes to lead the game-winning drive. Bray’s career stats after five years in K.C. aren’t pretty: 0-1 for zero yards, one fumble and a QBR of 39.6.

Lessons Learned

As we end 2017 and look forward to 2018, it’s important to ask what did we learn from the year. At the quarterback position we learned three important things that the team can take moving forward.

1. First thing we learned is that Smith is who we all thought he was before the year. Despite having the best statistical season of his career, he still failed when it mattered most. He failed time and time again to lead the team to wins with the ball in his hand at the end of a game. He also again appeared to crumble under the pressure of the playoffs with a miserable second half against the TItans.

Yes Smith can put up the numbers. He will also protect the ball and lead you to regular season success. But when it comes to be a franchise QB who you can depend on to take you deep into the playoffs, he isn’t that guy. Because he’s not that guy, the Chiefs know that he is not the future of the position in K.C.

Lucky for the Chiefs, a lot of teams and fan bases care more about numbers than end results. The Chiefs can hope that a team or two fall in love with Smith’s numbers and don’t dig much deeper. If they just look at his numbers and assume they are repeatable than hopefully we can get a good draft pick or two in a trade. However, it is important to know that if there isn’t a team to trade with the Chiefs have to release him. Any ideas that the Chiefs can afford to hold on to him, in terms of financially or fan relations wise, are just wrong.

2. Without Smith in a uniform, the 2018 season will be the begin of the Patrick Mahomes era. While we only saw one games worth of action from him, his talent was on full display. In one game we learned that Mahomes’s cannon of an arm was not exaggerated. He showed he has the confidence in his abilities to fit the football into tight windows that Smith would never even attempt. He also showed he has nerves of steel as he came off the bench to lead the game-winning drive.

We don’t know how 2018 and beyond will go with Mahomes at the helm. There is a chance that the Week 17 comeback win over the Broncos is the best game of his career and we are looking for a new quarterback in two years. What we do know is he has the talent and attitude to be a true star in this league. His kind of abilities don’t come along every day and if he’s as good as he can be, then the sky is the limit to what he can do.

While losing the league leader in QBR and a quarterback with 50 wins in five seasons sounds odd to the ears, it is where the Chiefs are heading. Mahomes is the future and has the talent to overcome Andy Reid’s deficiencies to lead the Chiefs to playoff success.

3. Silly me almost forgot, we also learned in 2017 that we will need a backup QB because Bray has been exposed as a bad QB. This does not need to be anyone special, just someone who can hold onto the ball as well as they hold a clipboard.