Air Raid Quarterbacks Have Failed Spectacularly in the NFL, Caveat Emptor with Pat Mahomes


The QB that everyone seems to suddenly love heading into the 2017 NFL draft is Pat Mahomes out of Texas Tech. He’s an athlete! Drafted by baseball’s Detroit Tigers! His dad was a Pro Athlete (MLB pitcher for 11 seasons.)! He’s got a big arm! He put up monster numbers! Sleeper!

Those are all facts. Will any of it translate to the NFL? I’ve got two words for you: Air Raid. It’s the popular up-tempo college offense that puts up points. The team rarely huddles, the QB is out of the shotgun all the time, and teams put up obscene point totals.

Also, EVERY SINGLE AIR RAID QB has failed spectacularly in the NFL.

The best season for an Air Raid QB: Nick Foles, when paired with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia: 27 TDs, 2 INTs. Kelly knew that was fool’s gold and traded Foles a little over a year later. He’s clinging to an NFL roster spot – for now.

The transition from up-tempo/spread offenses to the NFL can certainly work – see Marcus Mariota, Dak Prescott, Cam Newton – but the problems with the Air Raid are that defenses in the NFL are too smart. When they make Air Raid QBs go through the progressions, problems happen. Take away that first read, and panic sets in.

We saw it with Jared Goff last year (coached by Sonny Dykes, who ran the Air Raid at California). He’d taken a handful of snaps from under center as a QB over an 8-year span. The adjustment was significant, and he struggled mightily. Perhaps he’ll improve. Maybe not.

When you haven’t had to make progressions from middle school through college, breaking old habits is hard. Coupled with the fact that defenses are much faster in the pros, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

A couple other examples:

Tim Couch, Kentucky.: The #1 overall pick in 1999 started just 59 games in Cleveland and was out of the NFL in five seasons.

But Jason, no QB succeeds in Cleveland. He never had a chance. 

That’s fair.

Geno Smith, West Virginia. Leading up to the 2013 draft, online draft pundits fell in love with Smith. ESPN had him going in the Top 20 of the draft. He fell to the 2nd round, landed with the Jets, and was a disaster. He started 29 games and is now a backup with the NY Giants.

Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State. Does it hurt my argument to mention another Cleveland QB? Well, they keep drafting them! Started 20 games, didn’t have it, then he was a backup in Dallas and Houston. Still can’t believe he went 22nd overall.

RGIII, Baylor. There’s some debate about how much Air Raid the Bears ran, and it really depends whom you talk to. (See 5th paragraph here.) And there are RGIII defenders who will say that his career was only derailed by injuries. He was dynamite as a rookie in Washington, leading the Redskins to the playoffs. He’s been a disaster since. Did NFL defenses figure him out after one season?

Bryce Petty, Baylor. The Jets drafted him, I believe, largely because of what RGIII accomplished briefly in Washington. Petty famously admitted he couldn’t identify the middle linebacker when he got to the NFL. So far … not good.

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. Off-field disaster? On-field, too. If he could play, and be a factor, a team would have snatched him up. The 1st round pick (Cleveland, again!) started 15 career games.

There’s a lot of Big 12 in here, and oh, look, Mahomes played in the Big 12. They don’t play defense in that league (West Virginia tried, for a minute, last season), and the offenses post video game numbers.

Buyer beware with Mahomes. He checks all the boxes (but is only 6-foot-2), and someone inevitably will draft him before he should be taken. If you’re looking for a 4th-5th round game, swing for the fences. But Day 2 picks should be expected to compete immediately.

That’s not Pat Mahomes.