2017 NFL Draft: Why Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes Should Enter Weak QB Class

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2016

FILE - In this Sept. 10, 2016, file photo, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes looks to pass against Arizona State during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Tempe, Ariz. Patrick Mahomes, Kenny Hill and Shane Buechele are Big 12 starting quarterback with something else in common, they are the sons of former Major League Baseball players. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

As we enter the winter, many NFL fans turn their attention from on-field play to the potential of a franchise-saving offseason. As we've seen over the years, in the free agency era, the NFL draft is the easiest way to improve your team, as you're able to acquire a level of talent that isn't available in free agency and on contracts that are usually below market price.

There is also no position more important in the sport than the quarterback position. Per Spotrac, 21 of the 23 most well-paid NFL players on an average salary basis play quarterback.

Finding a quarterback on a rookie contract can make or break the job security of a general manager or head coach at this level. Unfortunately, in this coming draft class, there isn't much talent, which is why an underclassman like Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes could make a big splash come April.

Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN is the godfather of the draft community. If you look at the top senior passers from his preseason rankings, while no senior quarterback has really risen this season, the future isn't bright.

Mel Kiper's top QBs for 2017 draft. Apparently Webb can't win starting job at Texas Tech but is a franchise NFL QB. pic.twitter.com/gLSZLozo9E

— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) May 22, 2016

His top quarterback, Davis Webb, is a Texas Tech transfer who lost his starting job to Mahomes and played at California in his graduate year. His second-ranked passer, Mitch Leidner, threw for seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions for Minnesota and is now slated to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, a third-tier all-star game.

The third passer on his list, Chad Kelly, tore his ACL, ending his season at Ole Miss and likely puts him out of the draft process. To say the least, there is no shining star in the senior grouping.

That's why a player of Mahomes' raw talent can make a huge rise when juxtaposed to these passers. On paper, Mahomes has the skills of a first-round pick.

The junior will have a wide spectrum of comparisons. Some may say he has the arm of a Matthew Stafford, a former first overall pick, while others could make the case that his style of play is closer to Johnny Manziel's, who Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury coached as the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

No matter his skill, two things will be hung over Mahomes' head during the draft process. First, his Air Raid offense relates almost nothing close to an NFL system, and second, in a league run by quarterbacks, his 5-7 record in what might be his last year in Lubbock might be concerning.

With that being said, last year's first overall pick, Jared Goff of California, was able to go high in the draft despite those same concerns. Their systems are so similar that Mahomes' backup, Davis, transferred to California, and Goff's 14-23 record in his three years with the Golden Bears didn't seem to worry the Los Angeles Rams.

At some point, you have to question how different Goff and Mahomes are or at least where Mahomes lacks Goff's attributes. When you break down his talent, there isn't an answer to where Mahomes is worse, while he clearly has a stronger arm than Goff did coming out last season.

Here's Oklahoma dropping nine, sending two on a 3rd and 10. Patrick Mahomes completed a sideline 25+ yarder. pic.twitter.com/Fo4uQMI4Cg

— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) December 7, 2016

On third down, Mahomes has the arm strength to complete the long ball, against pressure or coverage, even if his feet are inconsistent at times. When Mahomes settles down and works on his mechanics and decision-making, like when he passes up shorter, open passes, he's going to be a special talent, similar to Derek Carr.

If you read Nolan Nawrocki's NFL.com draft profile on Carr coming out of Fresno State in 2014, it's almost a direct reflection of the same negatives that Mahomes possesses:

At times tries to do too much and forces some throws. Occasionally throws off balance unnecessarily and sails some throws. Operated out of the shotgun and pistol and made a lot short/lateral throws and half-field reads.

Almost three seasons after that draft, it's fairly apparent that the "flaws" that Carr had could not be differentiated from his system, and that those traits could be coached up at the NFL level. Carr, a former spread-happy quarterback, is now the second-leading candidate for the NFL MVP award, according to Odds Shark.

When you isolate specific reads that Mahomes has to make, like a high safety flying into the flats, a crashing man coverage read or a middle of the field safety vacating, he's able to execute NFL-style reads, he's just not asked to do so on a down-to-down basis.

In terms of talent, he has the slippery, play-making ability of a Manziel and will have the arm strength near a top-10 passer in the league the moment he's finally drafted. If you isolate just a few plays against Oklahoma, when he threw for 734 passing yards, he has more "flashy plays" than some former first-round picks post in their final seasons.

According to NFL Draft Scout, Mahomes should make it over the 6'2"-flat threshold that seems to be the standard for professional quarterbacks. Other than refinement, which every college quarterback needs to some extent, there are no limitations to what Mahomes' upside is.

If a squad can make a forward-thinking move to sit Mahomes early on, as Goff did, they may find huge value in selecting the passer in the first round of this coming draft, where options are limited. The recent history of quarterbacks like Carr, in action, and Goff, in the draft, makes Mahomes the biggest sleeper candidate in this coming draft pool.