Comparing the MVP starts of Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes has been more impressive than Kansas City Chiefs fans could have imagined—including topping Alex Smith’s 2017 MVP-like start.
The hype around the Kansas City Chiefs and young quarterback Patrick Mahomes this offseason was unreal. Given that Kansas City has not drafted their own franchise quarterback in over 30 years, fans were in uncharted waters with their franchise. The hype only increased with a great performance by Mahomes in Week 17 against the Denver Broncos surrounded by backups.
Following that impressive performance, the Chiefs organization had agreed to a trade with the Washington Redskins to move on from Alex Smith before the Super Bowl could even be played. Kansas City would in return gain cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Especially after a poor performance in the second half of the Wild-Card matchup, Chiefs fans were quick to move on from the veteran QB and welcome in the young gunslinger. It was a moment that every Chiefs fan has been waiting for after trading up 17 spots to acquire Mahomes at tenth overall in 2017. While the excitement was unreal, fans were told to temper expectations for the Texas Tech product during his first season commanding the offense.
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After a career-high season for Alex Smith in 2017, many writers warned Chiefs fans to lower their expectations and not compare the two in 2018. Smith surpassed 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his NFL career while also throwing 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He did all of this while only playing in 15 games in 2017.
That wasn’t enough to slow down the hype train surrounding Mahomes. Even after reports coming out of training camp about the young quarterback throwing interceptions frequently, and limited success in the preseason, fans still had the hype train running full steam ahead. It would seem we were right to keep chugging along.
One of the main reasons for writers trying to calm down fans was the fact that Alex Smith and the Chiefs started off very hot in 2017. Starting the season 5-0 with major wins including in New England on opening night, it seemed too much for Mahomes to come in and have the same kind of success during his first season as the starting quarterback. That was not the case. Let’s take a look at the stats between the two quarterbacks through the first five weeks of the season.
Alex Smith (2017): 1,101 yards, 11 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 76.5% completion.
Patrick Mahomes (2018) – 1,513 yards, 14 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 64.2% completion.
Both quarterbacks led their team to 5-0 through the first five weeks of the season with some amazing performances. With Patrick Mahomes sitting behind Alex Smith in 2017, Smith took his game to an entirely new level attacking the deeper routes more frequently in 2017. His deep throws were effective too through those first five games completing 11/19 for 440 yards and three touchdowns.
There are so many variables that are similar to the starts to each season. Both quarterbacks went into tough environments to come away with a victory as the underdog. Smith took Kansas City into New England on banner night Week 1 to upset the Patriots. Mahomes went into Pittsburgh where Kansas City had not won a game since 1987, against a team that Smith struggled tremendously against, and upset the Steelers. He also went into Denver in Week 4 to play the Broncos in a very tough environment.
While Smith can hang his hat on having no interceptions and a better completion percentage through those first five games, Mahomes comes away with over 400 more yards and three more touchdowns. If you ask me, Mahomes has had the better start over Smith’s 2017 performance through five weeks. He has led his team to victory against two divisional opponents that are strong contenders with tough defenses, won against the Steelers, and topped the best defense in the league against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Patrick Mahomes has eliminated the issues from the offense that surrounded Kansas City with Alex Smith. Last season, Smith and the Chiefs ranked 29th in the league in red zone touchdown efficiency. In 2018, Kansas City sits near the top in that category. Under Smith, much discussion came around the poor play of the offensive line. Smith took 17 sacks in those first five games alone.
With the same offensive line despite one change at left guard, Mahomes has only been sacked six times. His ability to extend plays by moving around in the pocket and escaping has been spectacular. Mahomes also keeps his eyes up instead of tucking and running or just taking the sack like Smith tended to do. Alex also hurt his offensive line by dropping back too far as he didn’t trust his line right into the tackle lanes which often got the tackles the blame for sacks.
There’s no doubt that Smith was impressive through those first five games in 2017. However, Mahomes has been even more impressive through his first five games and it’s not even relatively close in my opinion. While both quarterbacks had success due to the scheme and play calling of head coach Andy Reid, Mahomes has been forced to make plays of his own. He has made plays that almost no other quarterback can do on a weekly basis. Something that cannot be said for Smith.
There was also the fear that if Alex Smith had success in Washington while Patrick Mahomes struggled in Kansas City to start the season that fans would question the trade. I think it’s fair to say that is far off base at this point. Smith is coming off a bye week and will play the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. Through those first three games, the Redskins have gone 2-1 while Smith has thrown for 767 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception.
It’s clear that Kansas City made the right move trading away Smith and handing the reins over to Mahomes. He has won games that Smith wouldn’t have been able to pull off most likely. Winning in Denver hasn’t been a struggle, but when Reid’s scheme doesn’t dominate, Smith struggled tremendously. Mahomes carried the team through dropped passes, 10 offensive penalties, and made plays of his own. Even during his worst game statistically against the best defense in the NFL, Mahomes still led his team to a 30-14 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It will be interesting to see if Mahomes has a regressive period like Smith and company experienced last season. Following the first five games, the 2017 offense became inconsistent. Now it’s time to see how much more Mahomes can separate himself from his predecessor.