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Gunslinger label saddles Texas Tech’s big-armed QB Mahomes | TribLIVE.com
Steelers/NFL

Gunslinger label saddles Texas Tech’s big-armed QB Mahomes

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Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes runs a drill at the NFL Combine on Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Indianapolis.
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Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes runs a drill at the NFL Combine on Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Indianapolis.

In a quarterback class where the constant is that the talent lacks quality and quantity, Patrick Mahomes is the variable.

Considered among the top three passers in the draft, Mahomes’ name can be found all over mock draft boards.

ESPN’s draft gurus, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, each recently projected the Texas Tech quarterback going in the first round as the third quarterback taken. Kiper slotted Mahomes to Arizona with the No. 13 pick. McShay, though, slid Mahomes all the way to No. 32 and a home with New Orleans.

Nobody, it seems, can figure where the ultra-talented but oft-erratic Mahomes fits within the draft hierarchy, except that he will likely be taken sometime after North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky and Clemson’s DeShaun Watson.

“Mahomes is the wild card,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.

Draft analysts have compared Mahomes to former Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, a freewheeler out of Vanderbilt who has never won consistently in the NFL.

At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Mahomes has the requisite size and build to absorb the bumps and bruises at the position.

He also has the arm, leading all FBS passers in 2016 with 421 passing yards per game (5,052 total), with 41 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions and a 65.7 completion percentage. To boot, he scored 22 rushing touchdowns during his time at Texas Tech.

“Man, is he athletic,” Mayock said. “Nothing is conventional, and you can tell. He almost feels constrained with five steps with a hitch. He wants to get out of the pocket and make plays — sidearm.”

The way Mahomes whips the ball downfield — in and out of the pocket — plus his Texas roots has earned him the reputation as a gunslinger.

“I think a lot of that comes from the system that he plays in more than anything,” Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “But I think people call him that because he has so much arm talent.”

Mahomes has embraced the perception.

“Definitely,” Mahomes said, “because I threw the ball a lot of times at Texas Tech. That’s definitely a gunslinger mentality as well as I’ve done a lot of stuff scrambling outside the pocket.”

The Steelers, of course, have a strong-armed quarterback with a take-chances attitude in Ben Roethlisberger. But with Roethlisberger entering his 14th season, the Steelers may look to the future in this draft. Mahomes was the highest-profile of the three quarterbacks the Steelers invited to UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for a predraft visit.

If the Steelers, who hold the No. 30 pick, drafted Mahomes, he wouldn’t be the first player from his family to toss a ball around the North Side. His father, Patrick Mahomes, was a major-league relief pitcher who finished his career with the Pirates in 2003.

“For my first eight years of life I was everywhere at every stadium,” Mahomes said. “I feel like that has helped prepare me, just seeing the work ethic and what it takes.”

Because of his unconventional playing style, Mahomes is viewed as a project who has some flaws to overcome. With the Steelers, he would be expected to sit a year — or more, until Roethlisberger retires.

Some draft analysts believe Mahomes needs a lot of refining.

“I don’t know how you can play winning football with a gunslinger that doesn’t have regard for ball security,” NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks said. “It’s fun to watch, looks good on tape. When you’re trying to put together a winning game plan as an offensive coordinator, it’s hard to play someone who lives off the script.

“I just think that it is a long development process for him to be a starting quarterback in the league.”

Mahomes’ upside, though, is arguably the biggest among all quarterbacks in the position-thin draft.

“Trust me, I hear the buzz from teams, they’re fired up about him,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “He has a huge personality, a big arm, teams want to work with him. I think the buzz is definitely legitimate.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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