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patrick mahomes chiefs 2022 season
Kansas City Chiefs

Will Tyreek Hill’s Absence Make Patrick Mahomes a Better Quarterback?

  • Jack McKessy
  • July 28, 2022
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In The Athletic’s recent NFL Quarterback Tiers article, one anonymous offensive coach reportedly told Mike Sando that the Kansas City Chiefs’ loss of receiver Tyreek Hill would make Patrick Mahomes a better quarterback.

“Defenses caught up with them a little bit … [Mahomes] was still on a throw-it-downfield mentality because he had 10 (Hill),” the coach said. “He will complete so many balls this year because they will get his mind wired for that before the season. Moving Tyreek forced them to a mentality that they would have had to do anyway, and now it’s just easier.”

While Mahomes is by no means a perfect quarterback, is the Hill trade really going to make him—or the Chiefs, for that matter—better?

The answer is an unequivocal, resounding no.

To be fair, the point that the offensive coach made has some logic to it. Patrick Mahomes often likes to play hero ball, committing himself to throwing the deep ball rather than taking the short-to-intermediate throws the opposing defense might give him. Another coach quoted in the article, a “veteran defensive play caller,” identified this problem as well, pointing to Mahomes’ tendency to scramble out of the pocket and rely on his arm talent rather than a good pocket presence to make plays.

The thing is, removing Hill, his deep-threat receiver, from the equation doesn’t necessarily fix all of those issues, it just leaves Mahomes and the Chiefs with a weaker offensive core.

Hill is the kind of player that any NFL team would love to have. It’s not just because of his willingness to stand up for his quarterback but because of his elite playmaking as a receiver too.

Hill is just different from other receivers. His speed and sure hands allow him to succeed and produce at a high level year in and year out, and in his six years with the Chiefs, Hill established himself as one of the NFL’s best receivers. He’s a six-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro selection in a six-year career, and the Kansas City offense thrived with him in it. He can stretch the field by running deep routes with his speed or lean on his agility to take a short pass over the middle to the house.

It’s not surprising that with that kind of elite skill set, Mahomes often looked to Hill for those big plays in big moments. The receiver had already established himself as the most dangerous guy on the field, and when Kansas City needed a big play, Hill often delivered.

But did Mahomes lean on Hill too much? Well, not really. Tight end Travis Kelce had nearly as many targets and receptions as Hill, while receivers Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle got plenty of their own looks too. Mahomes was pretty good about spreading the ball around in 2021, especially in contrast with someone like Aaron Rodgers, who threw to Davante Adams nearly three times as much as he did to his second-most targeted pass-catcher, running back Aaron Jones, in 2021.

Yes, Patrick Mahomes has liked to throw the deep ball and hit guys like Hill downfield for big plays, but it isn’t like that’s all he did in 2021. Looking at his passing charts over last season, particularly in the back half of the season, there’s plenty of cases in which he did take the short and intermediate passing opportunities as they came to him. The solution then wasn’t to get rid of Hill, it was to coach Mahomes to understand that the home run ball didn’t have to be everything for the offense.

Moving on from Hill wasn’t a move to “force” Mahomes away from his “throw-it-downfield” mentality. It’s not a move that is a form of addition by subtraction in that the young quarterback will somehow be even better now that he’ll “have to” complete more passes in 2022. Mahomes could have gotten better at staying in the pocket through his progression and completing more easy passes and also still have Hill to throw to. If that were the case, the Chiefs’ offense might have become even more dangerous than it already was.

Instead, Hill is gone. Maybe in the end that will help Mahomes in the long term. But right now, looking at Kansas City’s roster ahead of the 2022 season, it’s impossible not to note the lack of a dynamic playmaker like Hill and wonder how much it’ll impact Kansas City’s offense in a tough AFC West race.

Written By

Jack McKessy