KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs fans probably should expect to see more interceptions this season, which coach Andy Reid is fine with. But don't assume that's an automatic indictment of Patrick Mahomes.
Alex Smith threw only 33 interceptions in 76 career games with the Chiefs, finishing his five seasons under Reid with a 1.4 percent interception rate. That would be the lowest interception rate in NFL history by a healthy margin.
Obviously, Reid won’t be rooting for Mahomes, who takes the reins from Smith after he was traded to Washington in the offseason, to rack up a boatload of picks.
Still, there seems to be an understanding that the Chiefs are going to see an uptick in aerial turnovers, because he’s got less experience, presumably will force more throws, and is expected to push the ball downfield more.
“Are there going to be growing pains and all that stuff that go on? Sure, he’s a young guy that’s learning the game,” Reid said. “We’re here to teach him and that’s what we’ll do, and he’s here to learn and then go play and have fun doing it.”
While Mahomes has a reputation as a sometimes-reckless gunslinger, his college stats actually paint a slightly different picture.
Mahomes’ interception rate at Texas Tech, which was 2.15 percent, actually compares favorably among contemporaries and former Reid quarterback disciples.
During his junior season with the Red Raiders, Mahomes only threw 10 interceptions in 591 attempts — a fantastic interception rate of 1.7 percent.
There’s also an argument, perhaps surprisingly, that he’ll be better in the NFL. Nine of the 12 quarterbacks who played in Power Five programs, like Mahomes did, actually saw their interception rates drop moving from the NCAA to the NFL.
If that trend continues for Mahomes, with an interception rate that holds steady or drops in the NFL, he’ll rank in the top 10 all-time for best interception rate among NFL quarterbacks.
Now, it’s up to Reid and his staff to help Mahomes learn when to take chances and when to simply take what the defense is giving.
“That is the challenge for all quarterbacks, though,” Mahomes said. “You want to make the big play. You want to throw a touchdown every single play, but at the same time you have to know it is a process. These defenses are good. You have to make sure you take what they give you and don’t go for the home run every time.
“… If I throw an interception in practice, I have to learn from that and know I can’t do that again. With this training camp, it will help me with that — learning when … I can take chances.”
Reid doesn’t plan to panic if the defense occasionally gets the best of Mahomes during the upcoming weeks of training camp.
“If there’s an interception, we will fix that, but don’t hesitate,” Reid said. “If you see it, let’s shoot it and go.”
In fact, it may actually be a sign of progress. Reid wants Mahomes to play with an edge, keep the big-play aggression he showed in college, and take some high-risk/high-reward shots that his talent allows for and practically demands.
“You surely don’t want to stifle that at all,” Reid said. “One thing that he is blessed with is he has good vision, so you don’t ever want to stifle that and put him in a box with that. Allow him to see. Is there going to be a hiccup here or there? Yeah there’s going to be a hiccup here or there, but you don’t want to stifle that at all.”
Quarterback wins is a much-maligned stat — and rightly so, because it offers no context for a QB’s play and impact on the game — but it’s also the only one Mahomes professes to care about as he enters his first camp as an NFL starter.
He should benefit greatly from witnessing Smith’s preparation firsthand last season, understanding how to break down NFL defenses and the importance of sustaining drives.
“For me, it is all about playing and winning football games,” Mahomes said. “All the expectations, all the stats, all that stuff doesn’t really matter. If you win football games in this league, you will stay around for a long time and have a ton of success.”
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