Mahomes Mania: Why 2018’s Fantasy MVP is 2019’s Team-Killer
To say that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a great second season in 2018 doesn’t begin to do him justice. In his first year as starter for the Chiefs, all Mahomes did was become just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in the same season on the way to being named the league’s most valuable player.
Mahomes was arguably the fantasy MVP as well. He began the season with an average draft position of QB15—and ended it as not only the top-scoring fantasy quarterback but the No. 1 signal-caller by a margin of over four fantasy points per game in NFL.com default fantasy scoring.
The problem is that after that fantastic season, Mahomes’ ADP in 2019 has skyrocketed. According to early ADP data at Football Diehards, Mahomes is coming off draft boards in the first round—at No. 8 overall.
And quite simply put, drafting a quarterback that early—any quarterback—is a disaster waiting to happen. Fantasy owners will need another massive season from Mahomes in 2019 just to justify that eye-popping asking price.
And there’s more than one reason to think that they aren’t going to get it—that Mahomes is primed to regress in the upcoming season.
And if he does, those fantasy owners who spend their first pick on Mahomes could be sinking their fantasy season before it ever gets out of the dock.
Statistical Regression is all but Certain for Patrick Mahomes
Monster seasons like the one Mahomes had in 2018 are great fun for fans and even more fun for the fortunate souls who draft those breakout players in fantasy. They also usually set fantasy owners up for disappointment the following year.
Because by their very nature those seasons are outliers. They don’t repeat.
As Fantrax’s own Mike Florio reported back in early April in his look at Mahomes, there have been 11 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history if you count Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers last year. In all nine in which we have data for the following season, that quarterback’s passing yardage declined the following year.
Four of those nine 5,000-yard seasons were followed by a drop-off of at least 13 percent. The average drop-off was a bit over nine percent—a decrease of just under 500 passing yards on average.
The drop for quarterbacks who throw 50 touchdown passes in a season is that much more precipitous. Granted, it’s only happened twice before Mahomes did it—Tom Brady in 2007 and Peyton Manning in 2013. But in Brady’s next full season after tossing 50 scores (he missed almost the entire 2008 season with a torn ACL) he threw 28 touchdown passes. Manning fell from 55 in 2013 to 39 the following season.
That’s an average decline of over 36 percent.
Finally, there’s the matter of fantasy quarterbacks who have eclipsed 380 fantasy points. In the scoring system Florio used for his piece, Mahomes posted 417.1 fantasy points in 2018—the most ever by a quarterback. In doing so, he became the seventh quarterback to top the 380 mark.
Even if you wipe out Brady’s injury-marred 2008 campaign and Aaron Rodgers injury-shortened 2018 season and give those quarterbacks the benefit of the doubt by using the next full season, the previous six all declined in production the following year by at least 12 percent, The average decline was over 22 percent—a free-fall of nearly 90 fantasy points.
Not one of those quarterbacks lost fewer than 50.
The historical data is as consistent as it is depressing. Every quarterback who had had a monster year saw his numbers drop the following season. More often than not the decline was significant. And even if Mahomes saw a “best-case” drop of 50 fantasy points, his edge over the rest of the pack would essentially evaporate.
Mahomes’ Situation Has Taken a Hit as Well
Even if the supporting cast around Patrick Mahomes had remained relatively unchained, history tells us that his odds of repeating last year’s gonzo numbers are slim to none.
But the situation in Kansas City hasn’t stayed the same. It’s gotten significantly worse.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave (hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it—they’re climate controlled at least) you’re likely aware that star wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who led the NFL in fantasy points among wide receivers last year and tied for the ninth-most targets at the position with 137, has been banned from all team activities while child abuse allegations against the 25-year-old are being investigated.
Hill has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, but an audio recording of a conversation between Hill and his fiancée led authorities to re-open their criminal investigation into the matter. Given Hill’s checkered past (he was convicted in 2014 of punching his pregnant fiancée in the stomach—an arrest that led to Hill being kicked off the team at Oklahoma State), the overwhelming belief is that Hill is looking at a lengthy personal conduct suspension. It’s entirely possible depending on how the investigation plays out that Hill will be released.
Yes, the Chiefs still have one of the NFL’s very best tight ends in Travis Kelce. A high-priced wide receiver in veteran Sammy Watkins. And the Chiefs made an effort to compensate for Hill’s absence with the addition of rookie Mecole Hardman, who has a similar skillset.
But Hardman’s a raw route-runner who had 60 catches total over three years at Georgia and has never had even 600 receiving years in a season. Watkins hasn’t topped that mark either since his 1,000-yard campaign with the Buffalo Bills in 2015 and has missed time every year since 2014—including six games last year.
And while tailback Damien Williams impressed down the stretch last year after Kareem Hunt’s release, he hasn’t yet shown he can carry the load in an NFL backfield over an entire season.
It’s ridiculous to assume that the potential loss of arguably the league’s most dangerous receiver (and inarguably the No. 1 fantasy wideout of 2018) isn’t going to negatively impact Mahomes’ fantasy production.
The Value’s Not There
Success in fantasy football is all about value—using past performance and present circumstances in an effort to play the percentages and probabilities to find players with a good chance of out-performing their ADP on draft day.
That’s part of the reason why so many fantasy pundits (including this one) advise against selecting any quarterback early. There’s just too much depth available at the position—proven veterans like Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers aren’t even being drafted as starters in 12-team leagues in 2019. The edge an elite QB offers—even if that QB justifies his asking price—isn’t worth the hole that burning an early pick at the position leaves teams in at running back or wide receiver.
With Mahomes in 2019 though, it’s that much worse. Not only are fantasy owners digging that hole at another position, but they are doing so to select a player at his absolute ceiling. A player that history has shown all but certainly won’t hit that ceiling this year. A player whose supporting cast has been potentially been weakened significantly.
Patrick Mahomes had a season for the ages in 2018. But that season is in the past.
And living there on draft day is a sure-fire way to ruin your team’s future.
A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary Davenport has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications, including the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an eight-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization’s Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last three years. He won the honor in 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. He knows football. Or so he’s heard.
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