Just a few years ago, the idea of a Brett Favre with an even bigger arm, more mobility, and more versatile arm angles was only able to be explored through Madden’s Create-A-Player. Then came the 2017 draft, where two young gunslingers were taken after the more polished pocket passer, Mitchell Trubisky. Those gunslingers are Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. As Bears fans wring their hands in despair and look to the free agent market for a quarterback upgrade, the Chiefs and Texans have emerged as the two of the most offensively dangerous teams in the AFC.
Many NFL fans think that Mahomes-Watson is the next great AFC quarterback rivalry, drawing memories of to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the mid to late 2000’s. More so, these two players represent the current archetype for a premier young gunslinger. While I’m sure Matt Nagy and the Bears would take either one of these quarterbacks over middling Mitch Trubisky, let’s break down which one is better right now.
Many NFL fans will recall the Powerade commercial from the early 2000’s when Michael Vick, at the time considered to have the strongest arm in the league, threw a ball out of a stadium. This summer, opposing secondaries watched in horror as Patrick Mahomes actually threw a ball out of Arrowhead Stadium , as tracked by what appeared to be a helicopter. Mahomes can absolutely toss the rock, which we’ve seen time and time again with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and other receivers. But the most impressive thing about Mahomes’ arm strength is his ability to throw mid-level balls with little or no lower body support. Before his knee injury, the main reason that Mahomes had been so effective with weeks of playing on an injured ankle is that he didn’t need his lower body to make throws that other NFL quarterbacks do.
Deshaun Watson can throw a great deep ball. He has turned Will Fuller into a legitimate second option at wide receiver, and has even made speedster Keke Coutee dangerous. While Watson apparently threw a very slow ball at the 2017 NFL Combine, Watson defied critics early in his career, throwing an iconic 61 yard deep ball to Will Fuller against the then-elite Legion of Boom. He’s proven he can air it out with the best of them in the league on many occasions and completely shaken the “mediocre arm” criticism.
But in terms of arm strength, it really is no comparison. Mahomes has one of the strongest arms of all time and takes the tally easily.
Accuracy & Vision
While Patrick Mahomes’ accuracy has improved since he entered the league, he still finds himself with a below-elite 65% completion percentage, relying more on deep balls than almost any other quarterback. Mahomes’ no-look passes are impressive and part of his unpredictability, but missed throws often miss the highlight tapes along with his receivers. His awareness and understanding of the game is improving, as Chiefs fans probably drew parallels to Aaron Rodgers during Week 6 when Mahomes recognized a free play and found Tyreek Hill for a deep ball in traffic.
Deshaun Watson has become one of the league’s most accurate passers, with a career 67% completion percentage despite only throwing 62% as a rookie. He now posts near 70% completion and sits at a remarkably consistent yards per attempt figure, at over 8.0 YPA in each of his three seasons. While Watson also relies heavily on the deep ball, he’s more accurate than Mahomes at throwing intermediate routes. On top of that, Deshaun has flexed his football IQ multiple times this season in postgame interviews. While his explanations are a bit heavy handed and gratuitous, Deshaun’s analyses of opposing defenses should be very impressive for a quarterback in his third year.
This weekend, Deshaun Watson proved that he doesn’t even need two eyes to find receivers, as he made the Play of the Week in Week 8, hooking up with Darren Fells after being kicked in the eye by a Raiders defender. Tally to Deshaun as the more accurate and analytical quarterback.
Pocket Presence & Escapability
In his scouting report of Patrick Mahomes, the great Mike Mayock wrote: “He is a big-time gunslinger like Brett Favre. He’s got the athletic ability. My question is can he learn to win in the pocket because to play in the NFL, at a certain point, you have to.” While Mayock was correct about the Favre arm comparison and athletic ability, he didn’t realize that Mahomes could redefine the position in the way that he has done. Mahomes stands in the pocket when he can, but there’s no quarterback, even Aaron Rodgers, who is better at escaping pressure than Mahomes.
This season, the most representative play of Mahomes’ awareness in the pocket and escapability than his touchdown pass to Byron Pringle against the Colts. Mahomes drops back, manages the pocket, escapes pressure twice, and tosses an absolute dime across his body while moving to the right sideline. Cris Collinsworth says it best: “Patrick Mahomes, just stop it. We haven’t seen this!”
Deshaun Watson likes to stay in the pocket a bit longer than Patrick Mahomes, and this season has had the luxury of better protection thanks to acquisitions like Laremy Tunsil. Watson stands tall in the pocket and releases passes with above-average quickness despite scrambling significantly more than Mahomes at six rushing attempts per game. However, sometimes he can get too patient with his progressions, and took a league-leading 62 sacks in 2018 behind a mediocre line that has since been updated. You can’t blame all 62 sacks on the line.
While Watson is better outside of the pocket, Pat Mahomes is doing things that even Aaron Rodgers has not done to escape pressure. Tally, Mahomes.
Relying heavily on his strong arm, Mahomes often overemphasizes his upper body and arm movement, ignoring a conventional bottom-first throwing motion. His release, which inspires awed looks from fans and defenders, also includes some dip and wind-up. There are significant inefficiencies in Mahomes’ throwing mechanics that do get him into trouble and can be cleaned up while still retaining his X-factor variability.
For a big-armed quarterback with playmaking ability, Deshaun Watson has a very disciplined standard release and throwing motion that has improved since his time at Clemson. Bill O’Brien has shortened up Deshaun Watson’s relatively long wind up, enhancing his efficiency while leveraging his fantastic vision on the field.
In terms of traditional quarterback mechanics, Watson has made more improvement during his time in the league and takes the tally here.
Imagine having throws that are so different from the rest of the league that Madden puts in a new throw package for you after your second year in the league. Patrick Mahomes has the standard side arm throw, reminding fans of Philip Rivers. He also has his famous three-quarter angle throw while rolling to the left and leaping off of his right foot. In 2018, Mahomes even threw his famous left-handed pass to Tyreek Hill. And let’s not discount multiple no-look passes Mahomes has thrown to fool defenses as if he was Jason Williams on the basketball court. The man is a magician with the ball.
Deshaun Watson may be able to make some great throws while on the move, like Sunday’s one-eyed gem, but not like the unmatched versatility of Patrick Mahomes. Watson even complimented Mahomes earlier in the season, mentioning that his rival had some baseball-derived throws that he could never pull out of his hat. Deshaun Watson would even give this tally to Mahomes.
Now in his second year as starter and first year as reigning MVP, Patrick Mahomes is becoming a vocal and inspiring leader of the Chiefs. During his most recent few pregame speeches, you can tell that his teammates are inspired by Mahomes’ presence and respect him as a leader. He looks comfortable in his leadership role, and with Mahomes out Week 8, you could feel a bit of a leadership void on the Chiefs offense.
Deshaun Watson is a leader by example, and has more of a business-like, analytical approach to the game. Bill O’Brien has been extremely complimentary of Deshaun as a leader, emphasizing his consistency, calm demeanor, and coachability. When Watson was mic’d up against the Panthers in Week 4, he was poised but not necessarily inspiring as a leader. JJ Watt is still the leader of the Texans, and now with Watt out for the season Deshaun should get an increased opportunity to lead this team vocally.
While Deshaun is a strong leader by example who will get more opportunities going forward, right now Pat Mahomes is an inspiring presence and helps push his team to elite status.
Last year, as Patrick Mahomes emerged as MVP, it was clear that he was the best quarterback in the league. Deshaun Watson has been so impressive in his third season in the league, joining names like Mahomes, Brady, Wilson, and Rodgers in an elite tier of quarterbacks that can take over a game for their teams. Watson’s elite status was not as clear towards the end of 2018, when Mahomes appeared to be in a tier of his own with Brady.
Despite Deshaun’s progress, Patrick Mahomes is a complete representation of this new ‘Gunslinger 2.0’ quarterback archetype. Give Mahomes a crown as the king of sling, but remember that his draft mate Deshaun Watson is not far behind.