October 17, 2021

2021 NFL season: Projecting win share leaders on offense, defense.


Mahomes ranked in the top five in passing touchdowns (35) and passer rating (116.1) when he wasn’t under pressure in 2020, according to Next Gen Stats (min. 100 pass attempts). A big driver in his league-leading win share number is that he likely won’t be under pressure as often this season, given his retooled offensive line. And maybe teams should think twice about blitzing him. Mahomes has been blitzed on just 20.7 percent of dropbacks since 2018, the lowest rate in the NFL, but he averaged 9.1 yards per attempt when facing the blitz over that same time period, which was the highest average in the NFL. Last season, he earned 13 touchdowns with zero interceptions and a 134.2 passer rating against the blitz, leading the league in those categories.

Computer vision shows that the Chiefs’ offense spreads the field vertically and horizontally more than any team in first halves of games, which helps explain why Mahomes’ targets averaged 3.8 yards of separation last season, the second-most in the league. However, in the red zone, when space was constrained, his targets averaged 2.9 yards of separation, which ranked 15th. With that in mind, look for the Chiefs to try to create space for their weapons even more frequently to establish the game tempo early on.

Another key takeaway here is that Mahomes has his eye on the quick strike and he knows how to put the ball in the end zone in a hurry. He threw 12 TDs on deep passes last season (tied for second-most in the league), six on deep play-action passes (most) and 13 on the run (most). One last thing that’s a bit more predictive: The Chiefs used play-action on 18.6 percent of dropbacks in Weeks 1-6 (ranking 26th) last season, compared with 33.3 percent in Weeks 7-17 (second-highest). My models show that the improved O-line and its run-blocking potential creates the opportunity for increased rushing (or short passes that essentially function as a run) productivity, which will make play-action an even stronger tool in Mahomes’ tool belt.