Patrick Mahomes =/= Johnny Manziel.
Maybe in a parallel universe we would be talking about Johnny Manziel and Patrick Mahomes playing against each other. Or Manziel would be the one with the NFL MVP award, and Mahomes would be the quarterback out of the league. All the decisions they made, didn’t make, or didn’t even choose to make, play out in an infinite number of worlds.
But in this universe, it was a decision that Mahomes indeed chose to make that was the Big Bang that gave life to this comparison. During the Kansas City Chiefs’ 26-10 win over the New England Patriots this season, Mahomes took the snap at 10:57 in the fourth quarter on New England’s 39-yard line, facing a third and eight. He then ran left for 18 yards, before stepping out of bounds.
He looked to the crowd and made a gesture with his hands. That was it. Something that simple. It wasn’t Manziel’s money sign, he was merely trying to hype up the substantially reduced crowd. But it did start the reactor of comparison, parallels, and everything that may have happened if the universe had allowed it.
Mahomes is everything the former Texas A&M quarterback could have been, or maybe, should have been. Mahomes is the NFL equivalent of Manziel in college.
First, the obvious differences have to be at least acknowledged. One of biggest issues Manziel faced coming out of college was that he was too short to play the position at the highest level. He was listed at six foot exactly, compared to the six foot three Patrick Mahomes when he came out of Texas Tech. Never mind the fact that Russell Wilson was listed at five foot ten at his combine, and despite that he’s managed to carve out a somewhat solid career for himself.
There’s also the off the field image Manziel had. You can get away with partying all the time when you’re great, but there’s a reason the ones that don’t party all the time also happen to be the great ones.
In 2012 Manziel was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and, did so just a few days after turning 20, becoming one of the youngest to ever win the award. In 2019 Mahomes won the NFL MVP aged 23, in his first season as a starter, making him (at the time) the youngest MVP since Ace Ventura star Dan Marino in 1984.
Manziel and Mahomes took over their respective football worlds, demonstrated by the fact that both won major honours so young. Both were new, fresh and exciting – taking the NFL and CFB by storm. Manziel at Texas A&M was fun. Mahomes in his MVP season was fun. They were special – and Mahomes certainly still is.
Kliff Kingsbury deserves some recognition for how he helped mould both quarterbacks. He was Manziel’s offensive coordinator at Texas A&M and was Head Coach at Texas Tech when Mahomes was a Red Raider.
Both played in Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense, which is one of the “most quarterback friendly” systems a team can use. It’s a heavily pass orientated scheme, making plays quick and simple. It also involves running to the line as fast as possible to make adjustments, all to catch out any defenders. Plenty of quarterbacks that came out of the Air Raid system failed to make the jump to the NFL, mainly because pro systems are so much more complex. Even though more and more teams are now utilising aspects of the Air Raid offense, and quarterbacks currently in the NFL are products of the system, it still has its critics.
Manziel’s performance in the NFL shows why those Air Raid critics exist, but the performance of Mahomes in the NFL also proves many of them wrong. But again, the similarities reappear – products of Air Raid, products of Kingsbury.
In terms of playing style, comparing Manziel in 2012 to Mahomes in 2018, again, leads to parallels. Both have big arms, and always looked to get the ball downfield. Both were praised for their abilities to make things happen when plays broke down. Scrambling and extending plays were huge weapons for both in their award laden years, before delivering unconventional, side arm, or underarm throws to receivers. They were gunslingers in the purest sense of the word. Manziel would throw to Mike Evans, Mahomes to Tyreek Hill – both receivers took advantage of their physical skills to respectively outmuscle and outpace defensive backs.
Their biggest strengths were also their biggest flaws. Both threw risky passes downfield and took too many unnecessary risks in college. Mahomes ironed those out, but Manziel? Not so much. He could get by on his athleticism at Texas A&M, but not in the NFL.
The quarterbacks had an aura about them. Johnny Manziel was nicknamed Johnny Football, purely because he dominated the sport. Mahomes is already in a position to be considered, by some, the best to ever play.
Manziel in college showed the promise of everything Mahomes became. In another world Manziel is drafted by another team and had Andy Reid as his coach. He then wouldn’t end up with the Cleveland Browns, the one place where, recently, the only thing they guarantee to quarterbacks is disappointment. Or in yet another world Mahomes goes to Cleveland and turns around the franchise. So many things could, should, or would have been, and it’s so easy to say that. But the two were kindred spirits – electric, young quarterbacks with the footballing world at their feet.
In retrospect it’s sad, so much could have been for Johnny Football. Infinite universes mean infinite possibilities and who knows what’s happening in another world at this moment. They were so similar, but when it mattered most, they were so different.