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There has been a lot of chatter connecting 2017 NFL Draft QB prospect Patrick Mahomes II to the Arizona Cardinals. As most fans will know, this means with complete certainty that Mahomes will not be the Cardinals draft pick, but in the interest of fanning the NFL Draft rumor smoke higher, let’s take a closer look at Mahomes and what many analysts describe as his most glaring fault: his mechanics.
Poor mechanics, improper footwork, form and function - what does any of it mean, exactly? It may be difficult to grasp without first understanding what snappy footwork and a clean throwing motion are. The Cardinals’ own Carson Palmer has, in my opinion, some of the best footwork in the game today - occasionally, anyway - so we’ll let him demonstrate.
Aspiring quarterbacks take note, this is how to take a 3-step drop from the shotgun. Mahomes will have similar footage drilled into his noggin daily for the next year-plus.
Three efficient steps backwards. The third step is also the plant - Palmer is ready to throw the moment he hits the “top of the drop.”
Here he has to reset once because his read isn’t ready when he makes that first plant. With his feet, synchronized with his eyes, always firmly beneath him, he is ready to release the ball the instant he sees what he's looking for on the field. Now watch Mahomes make a similar throw.
This isn’t a man playing quarterback. This is a man going for a stroll in a field. If the lackadaisical “drop” isn’t bad enough, he makes no attempt to set his feet, instead leaning back on his back leg and letting one go like a burp in the breeze. His hips are open. There’s a lot of horizontal rotation and no transfer of weight forward. This reduces both accuracy and velocity.
Different set of problems entirely. There’s a little more urgency here but he doesn't keep his feet under him. He’s hopping like a child on a playground instead of taking quick, sharp steps backwards as we see in Palmer’s disciplined, rote movements. Mahomes’ back leg pops up before he releases the ball and it pulls underneath him rather than swinging out and away, introducing a hook into his throwing motion that hampers his accuracy. His receiver on this play is wide open but the throw is uncatchable.
Now a palate cleanser. One, two, three steps, reset, plant, release. You can see the transfer of weight and how Palmer gathers momentum in his back heel and carries it straight forward over the shoulder.
Mahomes’ second step is actually pretty good, and that’s as much praise as I have to give on this one. Look closely for the hitch when he catches the ball. Then, at the top of the drop when he’s making his first read, he floats, never actually planting on his back foot until his eyes move to the middle of the field and he sees a throw he wants to make.
Is he hovering instead of planting because the read isn't open? That could be a whole different bucket of issues - is he doing any of this intentionally, or subconsciously? Does he have an obvious tell when he's about to throw? Opportunistic defensive backs will love that if so.
Just out for a walk, playing catch with the boys. He throws the ball like he’s disgusted to be holding it sometimes. Remember that “all arm, no mechanics” quote from the start? This is what it’s referring to. He’s wandering around waiting to see something come open. There is no intent, no urgency, no discipline. Get your feet under you, plant, and drive the ball! Don’t treat it like a friend who just leaned in close to your ear and made a farting sound.
Continuing the streak of ugly quarterbacking, it’s time for a little “bad Carson.” Here he sets, buys a little time and space by strafing away from pressure, which is good. However, he has to make a hurried throw because of the defenders bearing down on him. Every time I see this I hold my breath. Hips open, stepping backwards, lead arm outside of his body and swinging... The horizontal motion and the inability to drive the ball create a recipe for disaster. This is what pressure does to QB's. It doesn't allow them to set properly and leads to sloppy play. How does Mahomes handle a similar situation?
Answer: poorly. You may be noticing a few trends with a lot of these snippets. The NFL plays a lot faster than college. Even with all the time in the world and a little extra on top of that, Mahomes rushes the throw to avoid contact by taking a weird sidestep and releases an awful, underthrown side-arm pass that results in an interception.
If you can spot anything you like in this play, you’ll have to point it out to me. He avoided the sack... by chucking a duck towards the sideline that an observant cornerback could have turned into a pick-6.
1-2-3set-forward slide into pocket, release. Palmer is hurried and this isn't great form. Without the time to properly set, his hips stay open somewhat and he can’t shift all his weight forward onto his front leg. He relies on his arm and torso, introducing horizontal motion. Good QB’s with big arms can do this, but it isn’t ideal.
Radically different play, similar form on Mahomes’ part. This has a little bit of everything: the back leg hooks up under his base, the front leg wanders away so he can’t distribute weight, and his torso twists to compensate for his failure to set his feet. The big arm almost makes it work in spite of it all.
Here’s a nice 1-step drop from Palmer against the Bengals. Fake, step-plant, release. Looks easy, right?
No step. No plant. No catch.
In case you were thinking any of these examples are rare, here’s a nearly-identical throw leading to another no-catch later in the game. Every game - every throw - is like this.
We’ve all seen the gaudy air raid stats and we all know Mahomes made an incredible number of plays in 2016. Because of that, many are quick to sweep Mahomes’ mechanical faults under the rug. They look at other NFL quarterbacks who have had success with wild and wacky releases like Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton, two players with enough physical ability to coast by without making every throw look perfect.
“The amazing thing about Mahomes,” they’ll say, “is how good he is even though he has no idea what he’s doing with his feet. Or his shoulders. Or either of his arms.”
To this, I present the final stat line for the throws pictured above: 4 of 9 passes for about 37 yards and a goal-line interception. Mechanics matter. Though his stats for the day were solid overall, there were really only two throws in all of it that I liked. The first was an effortless, on-the-run touchdown lob. The second was a cheeky back-shoulder pass that only his receiver could corral.
When I watch Mahomes, I see a lot of just-off-target passes that force receivers to break stride and make adjustments to the ball. I see off-balance softballs that quicker, more adroit defenders would prey on. I see the tantalizing-but-raw physical talent that the internet has fallen in love with, a kid making big-time plays despite barnyard form. I see a project with an awfully low floor but, in the right system and with the right coaching, a very high ceiling.