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Patrick Mahomes Among Big 12’s Best

Earlier this week I analyzed Phil Steele’s preseason All-Big 12 selections, but now I take a look at his interesting selection of Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes on his third-team above Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. Does a sophomore quarterback with seven games under his belt warrant this high a profile? The simplest answer is that the entire Big 12 — save TCU — are in some sort of limbo at quarterback. Baylor’s Seth Russell is primed for success but has to deal with taking over the reigns full-time, as do Mahomes and Rudolph. But it’s not just the unknown of Big 12 quarterbacks that place Mahomes near the top. He’s worth the grade in his own right.

What might be most impressive about Mahomes potential is that he’s doing it while splitting time on the baseball diamond. We’ve seen successful dual-sport quarterbacks like Jameis Winston in the past. Not to say he’s going on to win a Heisman Trophy, but the fact that he’s dividing his time among two sports and able to excel is impressive. But what we’re most interested in is his play on the gridiron as a freshman last season.

Turn back to Thanksgiving weekend when Mahomes became a household name after setting the Big 12 freshman single game passing record against Baylor with 598 yards and 6 touchdowns to boot, keeping pace with the nation’s best offense. But that was only the exclamation mark to his already impressive time as the Red Raiders starter. Before dismantling Baylor’s defense in a shootout for the ages, Mahomes had two consecutive games of 4 touchdowns and impressed as a backup to Davis Webb.

In his first collegiate attempt after Webb was sidelined, Mahomes’s first appearance showed us he wasn’t quite ready to take off the training wheels, throwing an interception while under pressure and should have just taken the sack. But after a fledgling first glimpse at the dual-sport athlete, he began to stretch his wings, slowly working himself into the offense and improving his pocket-presence during his first three games as Webb’s replacement. He does a lot of things well, but what separates him from most is his canon of an arm.

Going back to the Baylor game, Mahomes was asked to unleash his arm to make quick strikes in an effort to match the imposing Bears offense. He responded to the task, launching pass after pass deep into man coverage. It’s one thing to throw a ball 70 yards, but it’s another thing to hit your mark. Granted, some of his deeper throws looked like a falling duck, but that’s been a criticism of Peyton Manning as well. What’s most important is that Mahomes’s ball hit his target without the defense so much as touching the ball. If the Red Raiders want to keep up with (or out pace) the best in the league, he’ll need to return this precision passing to make up for a weak defense.

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 13 Arkansas at Texas Tech

Kliff Kingsbury has been able to masks Mahomes’ weaknesses so far, playing to his strong arm and downfield accuracy.

But with his strong arm also comes an exceptionally long release. His pass selection under pressure has improved drastically after his first attempt against the Cowboys, but defensive masterminds like Gary Patterson will take advantage of his release time. Mahomes has an all-conference arm, but lacks the legs to run from pressure, relying on his arm to get him out of pressure. However, under coach Kliff Kingsbury, Mahomes remained efficient under all sorts of packages and schemes in his three full games last season.

Against Baylor he showed off his deep-ball, but in games against Iowa State and Oklahoma, he showed he has accurate intermediate and short throws. There were a lot of close calls between a play gone wrong and success, but most of his passes were the latter — boasting a 56 percent completion percentage and only two interceptions in this three starts. He does a great job surveying the field against press and zone coverage schemes, finding the gaps left by each.

Mahomes was a little rough around the edges, no doubt, but you can’t speak down to 14 touchdowns in three games. Take a shot at his lack of team success if you will, but in his limited time to develop last season, his ceiling is as high as any other in the league if he keeps developing at the rate he did in 2014. If Lubbock gets back on the map, it will be at the hands of Mahomes.

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