Projecting Patrick Mahomes: The Chiefs' QB is Coming for the Record Books
The year is 2035. Patrick Mahomes is hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the 10th and final time, having just beaten Gunner Rivers in Super Bowl LXIX (that’s 69, for those unfamiliar with Roman numerals). At 40, the old gunslinger has rewritten the NFL’s record books and cemented himself as the greatest athlete in history. Brittany and Patrick III look on as Mahomes, his eyes glistening with tears, begins to speak. His familiar raspy twang is tinged with emotion.
“Kansas City! We did it, baby, again! Now it’s time to go home.”
If Patrick Mahomes plays another 15 seasons, retiring after his age 40 campaign, he could play as many as 259 more regular season games — with the NFL moving to a 17-game regular season schedule as early as 2021, and possibly to an 18-game schedule in the next CBA, beginning in 2030. More realistically — factoring in the possibility of injury, shortened seasons, and the fact that Mahomes will be sitting out the final game most years after the Chiefs clinch the #1 seed — Mahomes might play 250 regular season games in the next 15 years. With 31 games already under his belt, that would see him retire after 281 games played (for comparison, Tom Brady has appeared in 283 regular season games in his career).
If we imagine Mahomes’ NFL career as an NFL game, with four quarters and 60 minutes of play, we’re 6:36 in right now. The clock shows 8:24 left in the first quarter, and Mahomes is already up three scores on NFL immortality. What will his career look like when the clock hits 0:00 in the fourth quarter?
In this article, I’m going to project Patrick Mahomes’ career numbers, assuming retirement after his age 40 season and 281 regular season games played. I can’t promise that this will be scientific, but it should be fun.
We’ll start with the simplest, least scientific method of projection: extrapolation of current averages. Through two seasons as an NFL starter (plus one game as a rookie), Mahomes has averaged the following numbers per 16 games.
If Mahomes maintained these exact averages over the next 250 games, his career totals would look like this:
Here are the current NFL career leaders in each of those categories, with Mahomes’ projected career totals shown again for comparison:
Yes, Patrick Mahomes is currently on pace to obliterate the all-time NFL records for yards, touchdowns, and passer rating. That’s assuming his production going forward falls somewhere between his superlative 2018 MVP season and his slightly less superlative 2019. But what if 2018 was an outlier? What if 2019 is a better indicator of what to expect going forward?
There are 64 quarters of football in a 16 game NFL season. Patrick Mahomes missed two full games — eight quarters — and was injured in the second quarter against Denver. Rounding up, Mahomes played in 54 of 64 quarters in the 2019 regular season. Using that number to adjust his numbers to a full, 16-game season, we get the following:
Obviously, Mahomes’ numbers were still excellent — just not quite as earth-shattering as 2018’s were. If we assume Mahomes maintains the above pace over his next 250 games, his career totals will look like this:
That is still good for NFL records for passing yards (with over 6,000 more than Drew Brees), touchdowns (scraping by with nine more than Brees’ current total — though Brees is expected to add to his 547 this season), and passer rating. And that is projected from Mahomes’ worst NFL season. Dream with me for a minute: what if Mahomes’ 2018 was, impossibly, his baseline? What would his numbers look like if he played at that level for the next 15 years?
Let’s compare those numbers to the current NFL records and laugh uncontrollably:
If Vegas ever gives you odds on Mahomes’ career touchdown total, take the over.
There’s one final exercise I want to try. If Mahomes plays 250 more games, then the 31 he’s already played make up 11% of his eventual career total. In those games, he’s already thrown 76 touchdown passes. But what he gets better? After all, most quarterbacks don’t peak in their first two seasons in the NFL, do they? Let’s look at a handful of the all-time greats (and John Elway*) to get a sense of how prolific Hall of Fame QBs are early in their careers.
Marino famously peaked early, setting a then-NFL record with 48 touchdown passes and 5,084 yards in his second season in the NFL. But these other Hall of Fame quarterbacks started slower, throwing TDs at a far greater rate after their first 11% of games. Let’s project Mahomes’ career based on each of these quarterbacks’ career arcs:
For the sake of the NFL’s other 31 teams, let’s hope Mahomes isn’t the second coming of Drew Brees.