How Jordan Love Is And Isn't Like Patrick Mahomes

Photo: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

In late February, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay discussed draft-worthy quarterbacks on First Take and said this about Utah State slinger Jordan Love:

“I’m gonna get in trouble for this, but I’m gonna say it, because multiple people in the league have talked about it, and I understand the comparison. But you have to listen to what I say versus just the name that I’m saying. Patrick Mahomes is a comparison, only because they work off of instinct and because they’re able to adjust and they don’t care about working reps in terms of getting the ball out here, here and here. They just do it instinctively and naturally. So I think that’s the comparison. I’m not saying he’s gonna be Mahomes. Nobody is Mahomes. I’m just saying he’s that kind of player where he kinda breaks the rules.
“When Mahomes was coming out of Texas Tech, I remember watching him and saying, ‘Ugh, the mechanics are horrible, he makes bad decisions, but the ball winds up in the perfect spot at the end of the throw.’ You see a lot of the same stuff from Love. He’s not as gifted physically. Nobody is. But he has a lot of those same qualities in terms of just creating and extending plays and being able to throw from any platform.”

It's important to see the entire context of the comparison; boiling it down to say that Love is the next Mahomes falls short of what McShay is attempting to communicate. The comparison is between their play styles, and while there are certainly other quarterbacks who have are off-beat and creative, Mahomes is the most notable name, so he's the one we use.

I don't disagree with this particular comparison in its entirety. However, it requires a full investigation and in that investigation, it becomes clear that while Love may do things that look Mahomesian, it is not within his range of outcomes to be a passer as talented or as dangerous as Mahomes.

Aesthetic Similarities

Love has been getting Mahomes comparisons before he even entered the 2020 NFL Draft, which is critical to note. Underclassmen don't get scouted heavily until they come out, and while everyone knew that Love was an intriguing draft-caliber passer, they only knew it because they had watched him from the corner of their eye. No one had really parsed his film yet.

So when Mahomes comparisons were made, they were made with an incomplete picture; a snapshot of Love's full game with only his most prominent and memorable plays captured for reference. The initial foundation of the Mahomes comparison is accordingly an aesthetic one: Love looks like Mahomes.

Love's ability to place accurate footballs when he's off platform, out of rhythm or under pressure is exciting. On this deep shot against Colorado State, Love is caught in split-zone play-action moving away from a blitz. Colorado State has an unblocked rusher on the weakside, and Love has to stop his rollout, re-set his feet in the back of the pocket and quickly release a ball that travels close to 60 yards. Without much power from his lower body and with a release close to sidearm, Love delivers a perfect pass that should have been caught for a touchdown.

That ball arrives with pace, touch and placement; for the context under which Love threw it, it is an extremely difficult pass to attempt. Most other quarterbacks in this class don't have this pass attempt in their arsenal, much like Mahomes has attempts in his arsenal which other passers in the league couldn’t dream of.

Even under a microscope, this play is extremely similar to one Mahomes would produce; from keeping his downfield in the face of pressure to the quick-flick release with his feet pointed in the wrong direction to the way the ball just zooms off his hand, this is Mahomes-like.

Distinctions In Quality

Mahomes has somehow perfected throws just like Love’s. Mahomes can replicate it consistently enough to power a Super Bowl-winning offense. He isn't a perfect quarterback. He makes mistakes, misses throws and takes risks but makes just enough of those plays that a team is more than willing to live with it.

Love doesn't make enough of them. They're certainly there and there's more than one might expect given his raw statistical output. Love had a terrible supporting cast in his final season at Utah State, which largely contributed to his drop-off in play. Love's 2020 Contextualized Quarterbacking portfolio (available with TDN Premium) show a massive decline in completion percentage for tight-window throws despite only a modest decrease in accuracy and ball placement; this, combined with the 9% drop rate that his receivers, regularly failed to win in both open and contested situations.

Love is not as accurate as Mahomes — he isn't really that accurate at all. Love threw a very catchable football with an overall accuracy score of .901. But with a placement score of only .565, Love is below average for this class in terms of his ideal ball placement.

In another Mahomesian play, Love has an opportunity here to take his three-step drop, hitch and drive this throw on this near red-zone touchdown. Instead of keeping his hitch square to the target and delivering from a solid base, however, Love opens his hips and guides this throw never reaching the ideal extension with his upper body to put much velocity on it.

Why Love relinquishes ideal throwing mechanics and throws the ball like this is a mystery, which is similar to some of the decisions Mahomes makes. Both quarterbacks are extremely comfortable throwing off platform that they regularly choose to do so, even when they shouldn't.

But Love's poor mechanics here lead to an inaccurate ball. It's catchable, but it allows the cornerback to work his way back into the play. Love prefers throwing with touch rather than with velocity. In this rep, he needed to hammer this ball home to drive it upfield so that only the receiver could make a play on it. By feathering this throw to the upfield shoulder of the pass-catcher, Love allows the corner to recover from the trail and play into the catch point. This could have been broken up.

It brings us to our second concern: field vision. Mahomes' heroic plays are a product of his physical toolkit. If Mahomes didn't have his explosive release, variable arm angles, tremendous deep ball and pocket escapability, he wouldn't produce the plays that make him special.

But the other truly elite trait of Mahomes that gets overlooked is his field vision. He sees defenders rotating and anticipates their coverage decisions better than any other quarterback, except for maybe Drew Brees. Brees is a master of underneath zones; Mahomes is better at predicting space down the field, which leads to his explosive plays.

Love does not have good field vision. He regularly misses defenders in the deep and intermediate levels of the field and does not understand what safety activity tells him about likely coverage shells and open receivers. There are flashes of brilliance, but they are overshadowed by a crushing quantity of perplexing decisions, especially when Love is pushed beyond his first read.

On this throw against Nevada, Love is rolling out against a drop-8 coverage. Fortunately, Love has four routes developing against three deep defenders. Reading from the playside, he should see the outside corner stacked over the deep comeback and work to his first crosser, which he does. As Love gets his eyes on the first crosser, the safety drives and attacks the route. At this point, Love should know that the middle of the field has been vacated and work to the second crosser — No. 2 to the strong side — who is bending up the seam. He's capped by the field safety but a throw to the middle of the field will pull him away from coverage and into open space.

Love gets stuck on the first crosser, who is driving hard into the sideline that is already occupied by the outside corner. There is no throwing window here, but Love attempts to jam the football into the non-existent space. Were it not picked off by the sinking corner, the safety in coverage would have taken it as well.

Understanding Comparisons

Love does not compare to Mahomes in any way other than stylistically. They play the game a similar way, but Love is missing key traits of Mahomes — traits that make Mahomes who he is. While some can say that Love plays like Mahomes, they cannot claim that Love can become Mahomes. There are too many unteachable things, ingrained instincts, that Mahomes has and Love doesn't.

Love represents a fascinating case study on the efficacy of player comparisons. His playstyle is indeed reminiscent of Mahomes as well as Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson — other names that came to mind as I watched him. From a production and value standpoint, Love projects most favorably to Jameis Winston — a player that remains on the free-agent market.

Comparisons are heuristic measures.

We use them to narrow the field down from "Jordan Love is a quarterback" to "Jordan Love is a quarterback in the mold of players X, Y, and Z," which helps us understand what sort of offense teams should build around him to get the most value.

For other players like receiver, edges and safeties, it tells teams which role they can fill. They do not, however, give an adequate measure of overall talent or ceiling/floor projections. That's where you have to do the gritty work of analysis: figuring out how much of a trait, or how consistent a skill, a player has.

While the flashes are there with Love’s traits, the consistency in skill is sorely lacking.

Written By:

Benjamin Solak

Director of Special Projects

Director of Special Projects and Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast. The 3-Wide Raven.