Patrick Mahomes will be taking over for Alex Smith this year in Kansas City, and there will be immediate expectations. That’s what happens when you take over for a veteran that averaged 8.0 yards per attempt and had a 26-to-5 TD/INT ratio. That’s also what happens when the franchise traded up and made you the first quarterback taken by the organization in the first round since 1983.
I think he’s going to live up to those expectations in 2018. First, let’s get to the most similar circumstances to what is happening this year with the Chiefs going from Smith to Mahomes after a playoff season and a Pro Bowl season for Smith.
Going back to 1978, here are the eight most similar transitions:
- Daunte Culpepper, 2000 in place of Jeff George/Randall Cunningham. Culpepper was the 11th pick in 1999, and sat the entire season as Jeff George and Randall Cunningham started. The Vikings wound up in the top five in the league in passing production.
- Carson Palmer, 2004 in place of Jon Kitna. Palmer was the No. 1 overall pick in 2003, but was kept on the bench for one season as Kitna had the best season of his career. The next year, the team transitioned to Palmer as starter.
- Philip Rivers, 2006 in place of Drew Brees. Drew Brees’ breakout play in 2004 and 2005 kept Rivers on the bench, but a shoulder injury for Brees hastened the Chargers’ decision to move on to Rivers.
- Kevin Kolb/Michael Vick, 2010 in place of Donovan McNabb. The Eagles put up top 10 passing numbers in 2009 with McNabb, but let the veteran go to Washington. Kolb started the year as the starter, but Vick would be the one who led all QBs in fantasy points thanks to his rushing totals.
- Aaron Rodgers, 2008 in place of Brett Favre. The Packers had selected Aaron Rodgers three years earlier, and when Brett Favre retired, they moved on. They didn’t look back when Favre later wanted to return.
- Tommy Kramer, 1979 in place of Fran Tarkenton. Fran Tarkenton retired after the 1978 season, and Kramer — who was drafted in the first round two years earlier — moved into the starting role.
- Danny White, 1980 in place of Roger Staubach. Staubach retired after the 1979 season, and White, who had patiently waited for four seasons (while also serving as the team punter), took over as the starter.
- Steve Young, 1991 in place of Joe Montana. This one’s borderline, but Young was a top-end backup waiting behind Montana for four years. Montana was injured in the NFC title game the previous year, then in the preseason he had a tear in his elbow tendons. He was eventually ruled out for the season and Young (and Steve Bono when Young was out hurt) started all year. Montana never started for San Francisco again.
All these were cases where the quarterback the year before was in the top 12 in fantasy points, the new starter was already on roster the year before, and tended to be a highly-drafted player waiting behind the incumbent.
On average, the group of predecessors produced an average fantasy finish of 6.8, and despite the turnover, the team fantasy quarterback rank was 5.6. There were injuries that reduced the overall rank, such as Young being No. 1 in points per game but 6th in points. So other than games missed due to injury, the replacements largely picked up and produced. There were no busts.
While we haven’t seen Mahomes do it on the field yet, we do know Chiefs leadership decided to move on from Smith and thinks Mahomes is ready. The environment is there to hit the ground running.
Setting aside history, other factors portend you wanting to be early on the Mahomes’ train. The offensive core is mostly intact, with Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Kareem Hunt still there (players that weren’t a big part of Mahomes only start against Denver in week 17, when he still averaged 8.1 yards per attempt playing with backups). The team has added Sammy Watkins to that mix.
Meanwhile, Kansas City is in transition on defense. They traded Marcus Peters and let Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali go. Unless there’s a major turnaround with the defensive unit, this looks like a team that will be involved in a lot of shootouts.
Last year, Alex Smith was 4th in fantasy points at the quarterback position in this offense, at age 33. Mahomes will throw more interceptions but also take more chances downfield and can exceed Smith’s 26 TDs (which was a career high). He’s young, athletic, and he can match Smith’s productivity with his legs as well.
It may feel risky to project a guy like Mahomes to break out so quickly, and you can probably get him outside the top 10 at the draft. But he’s high on the list of guys that can be among the top scorers in 2018, if he can just carry on with the success from last season.