Earlier today on First Take, former Pro Bowler Ryan Clark made waves with a hot take on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“Patrick Mahomes is better than all these dudes ever were,” Clark said. “I’m talking 2007 Tom Brady, 2011 and 2015 Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees in 2011. In all of their greatest years, the greatest they’ve ever been, they’ve never been as good as Patrick Mahomes.”
It’s quite bold to anoint somebody who has played one full season as the best quarterback in the history of football. It almost sounds blasphemous to already put him over somebody like Tom Brady, a 20-year veteran with six Super Bowl titles, or Peyton Manning, a five-time MVP winner. Forget being respectful, though. Is it warranted?
Well, no. Not really.
While Mahomes’ 2018 campaign was a completely unexpected display of brilliance, it was simply not on the level of the best single-season performances from legends like Manning, Brady, and Rodgers. Even if we look at the small sample of Mahomes’ current season, it isn’t on par with Manning’s legendary 2004 campaign.
So, what exactly makes Mahomes special? Simple: he’s just getting started. Brady was 30-years-old in 2007. Manning and Rodgers were 28 in their best seasons. The great Steve Young was 33 when he won his 2nd MVP title in 1994. Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes’ 24th birthday was six days ago.
The only other player to take over the league this early on in their career was Dan Marino, who was 23-years-old during his legendary 1984 season. Many older football fans argue that Marino was the most talented thrower of the football in the history of the game. It’s not exactly bad company for Mahomes.
While ANY/A and TD% are useful metrics, there have recently been developments in the statistics used to evaluate player performances. Now, we can factor in the context of every single play with Expected Points Added (EPA) and Win Probability Added (WPA).
Brian Burke offers a good explanation of EPA in his introductory article of the metric: “Suppose the offense has a 1st and 10 at midfield. This situation is worth +2.0 EP. A 5-yard gain would set up a 2nd and 5 from the 45, which corresponds to a +2.1 EP. Therefore, that 5-yard gain in that particular situation represents a +0.1 gain in EP. This gain is called Expected Points Added (EPA). Likewise, a 5-yard loss on 1st down at midfield would create a 2nd and 15 from the offense’s own 45. That situation is worth +1.2 EP, representing a net difference of -0.8 EPA.” WPA operates under similar logic except with win probability that takes into account the situation of a game (in terms of score differential, time remaining, etc). It rewards “clutch” players.
We can use nflscrapR to scrape a play-by-play database of every play since 2009 and use it to calculate some of the best single-season performances in terms of EPA per play and WPA per play.
One could use these modern era metrics to argue that Mahomes’ 2018 season was the best of any quarterback in the past decade. That’s not too shabby for a young quarterback playing in their first season as a starter.
Through the first two weeks of the season, Mahomes has added a whopping 0.59 expected points per play. Can Mahomes sustain these mind-boggling numbers? Probably not. People said the same thing going into the season and he has so far proved them wrong, but it’s hard to imagine him maintaining his current pace for 6,373 yards and 53 touchdowns through the air. Here’s the thing, though: he doesn’t have to maintain these mind-boggling stats. There’s plenty of space between him and the next closest quarterback over the past decade.
No, that’s not a typo or a glitch. Patrick Mahomes has simply been that good.
Is he already the best quarterback in league history like Ryan Clark claimed? I don’t think so. Is he easily the best passer in the game right now? Yes. Does he have the potential to become the greatest quarterback of all-time? Certainly; it would be foolish to think otherwise. But forget this pedantic talk about “greatness.” Just watch the Kansas City Chiefs every Sunday. If any player represents must-watch football, it’s Patrick Mahomes.