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Kevin Scott | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

How Early is Too Early to Draft Patrick Mahomes?

Patrick Mahomes had a season for the ages in 2018. Most know about his 50 touchdown passes and 5,000 passing yards, but most do not know that from a fantasy perspective his statistical output earned him the seventh-best overall fantasy football season in NFL history.

He finished with 421 fantasy points, and the only players who have ever had a season with more points are LaDainian Tomlinson (twice), Priest Holmes (twice), Marshall Faulk, and Peyton Manning. That certainly places him in elite company.

Peyton Manningís 2013 season edged Mahomes by less than a point, so the Chiefs quarterback had the second-best finish ever for a quarterback. The fact that Manning was 37 years old and at the peak of his intellectual prowess in 2013, while Mahomes was 23 years old and in his first full season as a starter, should make us collectively shake our heads. It also ought to make us wonder whether Mahomes peaked early or is just getting started.

Patrick Mahomes

For some context about the season Mahomes had relative to his 2018 peers, the No.2 scorer, Saquon Barkley, finished with this stat line: 1,307 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, 91 receptions for 721 yards and 4 touchdowns. That incredible season was 36 points, over two points per game, behind Mahomes.

Letís assume you donít need any more convincing when it comes to how remarkable Mahomesís 2018 season was. The question about what he will do in 2019, though, is certainly a hotly contested one. Most are saying that regression is a statistical inevitability, since a season like Mahomes just had is such an outlier that he is extremely unlikely to do it again Ė and certainly not in his very next season.

Indeed, if you were convinced Mahomes would produce the same way again in 2019, a strong argument can be made for drafting him as early as needed to make sure you get him Ė even though quarterback is the most replaceable position in single-QB leagues. He was about 4 points per game better than Matt Ryan, the second ranked quarterback in 2018, meaning he provided a significant positional edge for those who owned him. In most recent drafts he is being drafted in the third round, so if you are confident Mahomes bucks the statistical trends and repeats, you should be willing to take him in the late-second to mid-third to make sure you get him on your team.

However, perhaps you are like most fantasy players, and although you love his talent you are not convinced he repeats such a historic season. Perhaps you believe he will again be great, but not as statistically great. In that scenario, how early is too early to draft Mahomes?

KC's Mind-Blowing 2018

Before we get there, letís take a look at a few Chiefs statistics that are particularly mind-blowing and pertinent to this discussion. Last season the Chiefs finished with the most yards in the league, gaining 6,810 yards. They also finished with the most points scored, with 565 points (35.3 per game). Second place in both categories belonged to the Rams, with 6,738 yards and 527 points (32.9 per game).

But hereís where it gets interesting. The Rams ran 1,027 offensive plays, while the Chiefs ran only 970 plays. So the Chiefs ran 57 fewer plays than the Rams, the second-best offense, yet outscored them and outgained them. That is truly remarkable, and shows just how efficient the offense really was.

Similarly, if we compare Mahomesís 2018 season to the Peyton Manningís season in 2013 (when he scored the most ever points by a fantasy QB), the passing volume is also striking. During that 2013 season Manning attempted 659 passes en route to 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns (for a TD-per-attempt rate of 8.3%). By comparison, in 2018 Mahomes attempted only 580 passes en route to 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns (for a TD-per-attempt rate of 8.6%). In other words, he only finished behind Manning by a fraction of a point because he attempted 79 fewer passes.

I bring up those stats for one reason: to show that the Chiefs did not touch their ceiling last season. Yes, the season was historic, and certainly their levels of efficiency in yards-per-play and in touchdowns-per-attempt seem very likely to regress. But what if they run more plays? And what if their pass-to-run ratio skews more toward the pass, now that Kareem Hunt is no longer an option in the running game? Finally, what if the additions of Mecole Hardman and Darwin Thompson, two more electric rookie playmakers on the offensive side, push the offense forward in new ways?

If any of those things happens, Mahomes could still reach similar heights in fantasy scoring, even if his efficiency regresses a bit.

Back Down To Earth

But letís assume he doesnít reach those heights. Letís assume he again is excellent in 2019, but that the main difference is that some of his efficiency metrics come back down to earth. For example, his touchdown-per-attempt is likely to come down from 8.6%, which is astoundingly high. Letís put that ratio at 6%, which is still a very good rate.

I have the Chiefs running 1,000 plays this season, up from 970 due to a bit lower efficiency numbers (so that it will take more plays to score). I have the Chiefsí pass-to-run ratio changing from 60% / 40% in 2018 to 62% / 38% in 2019, due to the shift from Hunt to Damien Williams in the backfield. So that puts Mahomes at 620 passes, up from 580 last season.

If he retains his 66% completion rate from 2018, that puts him at 409 completions. I brought his yards-per-attempt down from 8.8 to 7, so that would bring his yardage to 4,340. And if his touchdown-per-attempt ratio is at the aforementioned 6%, that would give him 37 touchdowns.

That would put his overall passing numbers at 4,340 yards and 37 touchdowns. If we assume his rushing stats stay the same for the sake of this exercise, those numbers would give him 80 fewer fantasy points on the season Ė 5 fewer points per game. That would eliminate the positional edge Mahomes provided last season. While those numbers are still fantastic, and would almost certainly lead to a top-3 finish at quarterback, it would make drafting him at his current ADP a mistake.

Sure, Mahomes could be even better in 2019, and could have the best fantasy season ever, if everything breaks just right. But it seems far more likely that the Chiefs offense is just a bit less efficient this season, leading to a few less points per game for Mahomes. Those few extra points per game are absolutely required to make him a viable third-round pick.

In conclusion, although Mahomes is already my favorite player in the league to watch, drafting him in the second or third round is simply too early. Since a repeat of 2018 (or even better) is within his range of possible outcomes within that offense and with those weapons around him, he is certainly a worthy pick if he falls into the fifth round.

But drafting him earlier than that, when there are quarterbacks like Carson Wentz and Drew Brees available in the double-digit rounds, is simply too great of a sacrifice. The opportunity cost in the fourth round or earlier essentially negates the benefit of his potential upside, unless he again has an all-time great fantasy season in 2019.

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