Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes stunned in the NFL season opener, but what stunned Chiefs fans more was a PFF Week 1 QB ranking.
After an offseason full of preemptive power rankings based on speculation, having Week 1 performances to finally grade quarterbacks on solidifies some assumptions while challenging others.
For example, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is known for airing it out and being quick on his feet — that’s why he pushed for a major contract this offseason, after all. But that’s not what happened on Sunday when Murray completed 22 of 34 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Murray only passed for 200 yards in one game last season, although his attempts and touchdowns weren’t out of the ordinary.
Murray may have won when he hardly passed versus the Chicago Bears last season, but it didn’t work against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs pummeled the Cardinals in a 44-21 game which saw Patrick Mahomes put on a magic show. Mahomes completed 30 of 39 passes for 360 yards and five touchdowns.
So when PFF fantasy and betting social lead Jarad Evans shared the top ten highest-graded quarterbacks in Week 1 according to PFF, it came as a shock to those who saw Mahomes thrive in his element.
“Highest-graded” implies that the quarterbacks are ranked in order of who had the best game, and it’s hard to believe that anyone was better than Mahomes on Sunday.
In actuality, both statements are true: Patrick Mahomes was phenomenal, and he should still be ranked No. 8 according to PFF’s grading scale.
Why Patrick Mahomes deserves to be No. 8, according to PFF
Let’s talk about “highest-graded”, because what that term means colloquially and what it means to PFF analysts are two separate things.
Completing the majority of his passes, scoring five touchdowns, and passing the length of the field three and a half times indicate that Mahomes was successful when he was on the field. He made the plays he needed to make, scoring quickly and efficiently — that got the Chiefs an overpowering win, and that is exactly what fans like to see.
In that regard, Mahomes earns high marks across the board for completing that objective: scoring high and getting his team the win.
However, that isn’t what PFF looks at when they determine their grades. Their website offers a thorough explanation of what goes into their grading system, including how they grade quarterback play, but admittedly, it can still be confusing for fans who saw what seemed to be an impeccable performance from Mahomes. Evans, who originally shared the list, spoke with FanSided about what his coworkers examine when they determine player grades.
To clarify, Evans is not one of PFF’s graders, but he did share his understanding of how the process works:
“Mahomes is obviously amazing and had a great game, but judging from what PFF graders have said, a lot of his production came on plays that were so wide open that the QB was expected to make the play.”
Evans then shared a tweet from Sam Monson, PFF’s lead NFL analyst.
“We grade the play the QB made, not what results it led to,” Monson wrote.
Monson referred to one of Josh Allen’s two interceptions, explaining how Allen made a difficult play and got the ball to his receiver. Protecting his wide receiver from a closing hit is a skill that many NFL quarterbacks don’t always practice, and it requires Allen to read the defense properly and place the ball in the perfect position so his receiver isn’t hurt.
This is not to say lower-ranked quarterbacks don’t do this — Tom Brady is famous for doing this, and he was No. 9 on the list — but it’s a reflection of who made the most of a challenging situation. Monson argues that Allen’s performance came with more challenges than that of Mahomes, mentioning the metric of an “expected QB play.”
“Not giving a lot of credit is not the same thing as punishing,” Monson wrote.
In other words, PFF is grading quarterbacks based on the unique situation they face on that particular day and how they perform in response to those challenges.
It’s not a bad thing, and may not even be Mahomes’ fault, if he is graded lower — some of that is outside of his control. Monson mentions down and distance and how tight the coverage is as factors that matter, which means that if Mahomes connects with Kelce in the endzone and Kelce beats the coverage, that may be graded as a less challenging play. Beautiful, but less challenging.
In fact, there are a lot of potentially positive takeaways from this. Mahomes benefits from Andy Reid’s playcalling, which facilitates wide-open receivers — that’s a good thing. The Chiefs have improved their offensive line, so Mahomes could be expected to make better reads because he has more time behind the line.
Josh Allen had a fantastic return, but so did the other quarterbacks on the list (including a criminally-overlooked Davis Mills). All that this grade means for Chiefs fans is that in Week 1, Mahomes had it easy, and that’s never a bad thing.