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INDIANAPOLIS — Utah State quarterback Jordan Love has long had his eyes on the NFL, so the fact he tuned in to watch the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV is hardly a shock.
While Love was partly watching out of sheer interest in his favorite sport, he also had a personal rooting interest.
Over the past several weeks, he has come to realize that the continued success of Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes is not only making his tricky draft evaluation easier, he’s also giving his draft stock a boost, almost by proxy.
“Seeing that, I was obviously rooting for him to do his best,” Love told Yahoo Sports this week in a sit-down interview at the NFL scouting combine. “Seeing him … a guy [like that], that can make plays and get your team back in it, it’s huge to see.”
And helpful to Love, personally. The 21-year-old is phenomenally gifted — big, at 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds — with arm talent galore. He can make all the throws, from different platforms to boot (like Mahomes), and he has the athleticism to escape and elude pressure.
Although Love has first-round talent — one scout told Yahoo Sports this week that he could see Love going in the top 40 — he’s also coming off an uneven junior season at Utah State, a campaign in which he threw for 3,402 yards and 20 touchdowns but also had 17 interceptions, a concerning number for talent evaluators.
Love’s statistical regression after a dazzling 2018 campaign in which he posted a 32-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio has caused teams to dig deeper on him, but it appears they still cannot deny his Mahomes-accentuated positives.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that,” Love said, when asked if teams have mentioned the comparison to him. “Different teams ask me who I’d compare my game to, and I’d say that too, as well, just as far as arm strength and playmaking ability. I mean, I’m not saying I’m Patrick Mahomes at the end of the day. But I love his game, I love watching his game, and obviously, that’s something I’m trying to implement in my game, as well.”
That Love could actually be getting the benefit of the doubt despite his issue — which hasn’t always been a given for black quarterbacks — doesn’t surprise NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks. After talking to league executives, Brooks says mobile, African-American quarterbacks like Love are tangibly benefitting from the unparalleled success that many black NFL quarterbacks had in 2019.
“The Pat Mahomes-Lamar Jackson bump is real, because the more we get comfortable seeing African-American quarterbacks having success, the easier it is for teams to get comfortable envisioning that guy being their player,” Brooks told Yahoo Sports. “When you looked at, like, four of the top [quarterbacks in 2019], it was Russell [Wilson], it was Mahomes, it was Jackson, Deshaun Watson. All those guys are balling out.
“And so now what is happening is, some of the things that we used to have said about them like, ‘Oh, you can’t play that style and succeed, you can’t play that style and remain healthy, oh those guys can’t pass, oh they don’t have the IQ to be able to run the game’ … now that a bunch of different style of quarterbacks who happen to be African-American have had success, it has kind of opened up the floodgates for the next generation of guys to come through.”
‘I’m gonna figure out what’s gonna work for him’
Love isn’t the only black quarterback at the combine who is positioned to get a similar benefit of the doubt throughout the draft process.
Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, a dual-threat quarterback who this week shot down any possibility of playing a different position in the NFL, must still overcome questions about his passing ability over the next several months. Yet, he was thrilled to see the success of Mahomes, Jackson and others in 2019.
“I think it was great, just to see them have the success they had [and] overcome the barriers, I guess, that people try and place on them,” Hurts told Yahoo Sports this week at the combine.
That Hurts still needs to prove himself as a passer and is still liked in some NFL circles — he’s seen by some as a second-to-fourth-round pick despite those questions — speaks to how the league-wide view of what a quarterback must do to be successful is changing after Mahomes (a product of the once-critiqued Air Raid scheme) won MVP in the 2018 season and Jackson (whose accuracy has long been critiqued) became only the second unanimous MVP in league history for his 2019 campaign.
“If you play in a system in college that typically doesn’t translate, it doesn’t mean anything anymore — it doesn’t mean anything,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach, the driving force behind the team’s decision to draft Mahomes, told Yahoo Sports this week. “Because you know what? [Teams] see what these guys can do, and instead of running traditional NFL offenses, [they say] we’re gonna run college offenses, we’re gonna do what Lamar did — we’re gonna bring back a run-oriented veer offense, and we’re gonna make him a thrower in regards to what we do.”
Chiefs coach and offensive mastermind Andy Reid, meanwhile, also implemented more shotgun — which Mahomes was adept at in college — into K.C.’s offense once he was named the full-time starter in 2018, and watched him take off instantaneously.
“You have these coaches and these offensive coordinators who [used to] draft a guy and [would be] like, ‘We run our stuff,’ ” Veach said. “But I think with guys like Pat and Lamar, these offensive coordinators are gonna be like, ‘My stuff isn’t gonna be good for this guy, but I gotta have this guy, and I’m gonna figure out what’s gonna work for him.’ And I think that’s what you’ll see.”
‘It gives kids a dream they can chase’
Brooks wouldn’t be surprised to see this type of “build around the player” thinking further infiltrate the youth levels, where electric black athletes (like Jackson) may be more inclined to stay at quarterback.
“The Lamar Jackson thing has changed the game,” Brooks said. “Because now, everybody that’s playing on Friday night, [they say] ‘Ooh, I’m [No.] 8 — I ain’t gotta change. I can be exactly who I am.’
“We used to worry about, hey, you had to look a certain way, you had to throw it a certain way, but now they’re kind of debunking that myth, and now you’re just going to get the best players. And when you go and get the best players, it kind of opens it up for all those guys that we see on Friday nights — the guys that everyone had in the neighborhood, that was just running around making plays — well now, they have an entry way into the league [at quarterback].”
Love, for one, can vouch for the positive impact that seeing players who look like you on the biggest stage can have on a kid’s psyche. When he was growing up, the presence of black quarterbacks like Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb showed him it was possible to make it to the NFL, and in the end, his decision to watch Mahomes in the Super Bowl and visualize himself in the same position wasn’t much different.
“You think of the quarterback position in the past, obviously, I think you know a typical quarterback is white, I guess you could say,” Love said. “But to have, you know, African-American quarterbacks balling and doing what they’re doing at the highest level, man, it’s great to see it, and it gives kids that dream that they can chase.”
While the past black quarterbacks who helped shatter the NFL’s glass ceiling — like Vick and McNabb, in addition to Randall Cunningham and Doug Williams — were often forced to acclimate their talents to the NFL schemes they played in, this current generation will likely benefit as more teams seem to be more open to building their offenses around their dual-threat talents.
And quarterbacks entering the league are noticing.
“There’s no point of having a Ferrari, a nice foreign car, if you don’t know how to use it,” Hurts said. “So I think, just seeing how guys have been used at that level, and how dynamic of a player that I am, I think it can be dangerous.
“The game is changing, and I’m looking forward to what it brings me.”
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