A 63-year-old former fifth-round draft choice out of Eastern Illinois has figured out modern quarterback play. Jeff Christensen, a self-described "old gray-haired grizzly bear," is too modest to tell you that. But it is hard to understate his impact -- as well as the grizzly bear's gray hair.
Christensen was part of the epic 1983 quarterback class that included John Elway and Dan Marino. He was the seventh quarterback taken in that NFL Draft at 137th overall, 110 spots after Marino.
For posterity's sake, he is Patrick Mahomes' throwing coach.
As the founder and head quarterback coach of Throw it Deep, a Texas-based quarterback and receiver academy, Christensen has inside knowledge of the Mahomes Effect. He has been with the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback working on form, function and, well, fun since Mahomes entered the NFL in 2017.
That makes Christensen a witness to the transformative impact Mahomes has had on his position -- everything from two-hand touch to the Super Bowl. Simply translated, the Mahomes Effect is the wide acceptance by coaches and players at every level of quarterbacks playing the position like Mahomes: free, wild ... even crazy at times.
"You don't ever want to coach the maverick out of them," Christensen summarized.
Improvisation -- that would have gotten quarterbacks run off the practice field by coaches in the past -- is now an accepted part of playing the position. Look around college football. If you can't throw side arm, throw no-look or throw a wrench in the opposition's plans with a split-second decision, you are not of this era.
Ask the participants. Bryce Young was arguably the best player in Alabama history because of ability to create plays. Now with the Carolina Panthers, Young became only the second Alabama quarterback selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. He won the 2021 Heisman Trophy imitating a version of the player he grew up watching.
"Patrick Mahomes for sure has changed how the game is played," Young told CBS Sports. "... I think it's getting a lot more common, a lot more acceptable, especially at a young age. I think I was somewhere in the middle of there being a stigma [to not playing traditionally, but there were] coaches around to let me have freedom once I earned it.
"Now, little kids are going to see that and starting to try [that style] at 6 or 7."
News flash, Bryce: It's already happening. What was once discouraged is now accepted, if not demanded. Just don't try to draw it up. The entire football mentality has changed to embrace what is called "off schedule" plays.
That's the hip, industry term these days. "On schedule" is taking a three-, five- or seven-step drop while surveying the field before ripping a throw. Off schedule is entertaining and fun -- there's that word again -- basically a football painting by abstractionist Jackson Pollack. Making it up as you go can be brilliant.
"I think it's just being a football player, honestly," said former Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker. "That comes from playing a lot of football, being creative. I remember going through the draft process, a couple of teams asking me, 'How are you creative when you play football?' I was thinking, 'Creative?' … [Sometimes] it comes down to playing backyard football."
Backyard? That's where everyone grew up playing the sport. Because of an infusion of athleticism, creativity and free thinking, those moves have moved to the field. Florida's Anthony Richardson -- drafted No. 4 overall by the Indianapolis Colts -- might have been last year's best example in college.
"Patrick Mahomes took away the traditional style of quarterback play," Richardson said. "He kind of adds a backyard element to it. I feel like that's what the game is about. You shouldn't be robotic when you're on the field."
Kids imitate athletes. Not everyone can dunk, block a blitzing linebacker or stop a 100-mile-per-hour slapshot, but they can chuck a Nerf football as far as possible. They can move the ballet that is 7-on-7 football to the field of competition without losing much of the subtlety of the dance.
It's a full-on athletic expression, which wasn't always the case in the age of the I-formation, wishbone and veer.
"I'm like, 'Wow, this dude is different the way he throws it,'" Richardson said of watching Mahomes. "He's falling on the ground throwing the ball. That's different. Maybe I should try that sometime."
"I think it's hard not to see [Mahomes' influence]," said Graham Mertz, who followed Richardson as Florida's starter. "The reality of the game is you're going to have to make off-schedule throws. If you can have that in your toolbox, great. … But if you only play the game off schedule, you'll never understand the timing and true beauty of football."
Christensen is not part of the Chiefs staff. At every turn, he defers to Kansas City's coaches. However, he is part of the inner circle. It was his job to help refine a potential franchise quarterback after the Chiefs had the vision to trade up to get Mahomes at No. 10 overall out of Texas Tech in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Andy Reid continues to draw up inventive plays at age 65. Matt Nagy is coaching his 16th year in the NFL, his second stint as offensive coordinator. They are both accomplished coaches, but this phenomenon might have a simple explanation.
The closer you get to Mahomes, the better you become.
"When he was coming out, [draft analyst] Todd McShay said Patrick Mahomes had no mechanics," said Chris Cabott, who represents Mahomes as CEO of Steinberg Sports and Entertainment. "Early on, when I was talking to teams about him, there were some of those same concerns. I said, 'Guys, I understand where you're coming from. I want you to think about something for a second.'"
Cabott reminded those teams Mahomes was the Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, the first at Texas Tech. He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in baseball and could have received a scholarship in basketball.
"You think he's not athletic or smart enough to pick up three-, five- and seven-step drops?" Cabott asked those teams rhetorically.
No mechanics? Maybe that's part of the point. Maybe that's an advantage when Mahomes throws left-handed as he did against Denver in 2018.
"You still want to have the 'it' plays," Christensen said. "You can't take away that aggressive attack style from a kid. Patrick, before he's done, he will have a year where he completes 72% of his passes. As they get older, Andy and Matt aren't getting less intelligent."
Not with Mahomes throwing for a career-low 7.31 yards per attempt this season. His explosive plays are down, too, after Mahomes led the league last year with a career-high 73 completions of 20+ yards. If the league has adjusted, so have the Chiefs. This year, they have the NFL's No. 4 defense.
As for Christensen's prediction, Mahomes is becoming more accurate the older he gets. Last year, he completed a career high 67.1%. So far this year, he is at 68.6%. The NFL record is 74.4% set by Drew Brees in 2018.
"Pat is an old soul," Christensen said. "He respects and appreciates the work and enjoys it. You add that to the fact he has a steel trap mind. He forgets nothing; he can tell you where the cornerback was four years ago and when he threw a ball against Houston for a touchdown. He can tell you how many inches the guy missed the ball by."
An entire generation is in the process of growing up, progressing from throwing sidearm in the backyard to making that ability a resume-builder for the NFL. Ever watch Caleb Williams play?
Former Boise State and Washington coach Chris Petersen had as good a view at the phenomenon as anyone. Petersen, who coached the last Pac-12 team to make the College Football Playoff (2016), left the Huskies after the 2019 season -- Mahomes' third in the NFL. During his career, he coached the likes Jake Browning and Kellen Moore.
"I really think some of this is coming from high school," Petersen told CBS Sports. "They take their best athlete, put him out there and even the numbers with a running quarterback. … I marvel that these high school coaches have influenced the NFL."
Jayden Daniels is the best modern example. The LSU quarterback is on track to lead SEC signal callers in rushing for the second straight season. He is 82 yards away from becoming the first 1,000-yard rushing quarterback since 2021.
On Saturday night, Daniels became the first FBS player ever to throw for 350+ yards and run for 200+ yards in a single game.
"I wouldn't say I imitate him," Daniels said of Mahomes. "I try to take little tidbits of his game but staying within the framework of me. His arm talent is second to none. Some things he can get away with somebody else might not be able to."
Add Alabama's Jalen Milroe to that list. We've watched him grow in real time over the last three months. In the same season the Crimson Tide's quarterback was benched against South Florida, he has also accounted for 10 total touchdowns in the last two games (seven rushing, three passing).
"I actually think it's a blessing that they're seeing what guys can do physically instead of trying to play them one style," Richardson said.
Despite all this transformation, Christensen says the game hasn't changed.
"It's the same shit, just rinse and repeat," he said. "RPO is a fancy word for 'don't block a defensive end.' It still comes down to, when you throw it, what are you doing with your body fundamentally -- and is [the ball] accurate?"
Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz has thought about this -- a lot. He was hired four years ago because of his offensive background. Quarterback Brady Cook has thrived this season after Drinkwitz gave up play calling duties, hiring Fresno State's Kirby Moore as offensive coordinator.
As a result, Drinkwitz might be the front-runner for SEC Coach of the Year.
"We kind of had this saying, 'When the play breaks down, the play has just begun,'" Missouri's coach said.
Gus Malzahn has been there from the beginning. He was running RPOs (run-pass options) as a high school coach in Arkansas. Former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton -- and later Nick Marshall -- had a hand in revolutionizing the game from 2010-13. With Malzahn as offensive coordinator in 2010, Auburn won the BCS Championship Game with Newton. Marshall led Auburn to the 2013 SEC championship and last BCS title game with Malzahn as coach.
If you want a tutorial on those RPOs, grab some Auburn game film from back then. Malzahn perfected it.
"Nowadays, to have a chance to win, you have to have a quarterback who can at least create," he said, "because when things break down and you get to the final top teams, they're going to have great defenses who can rush the passer. It doesn't matter how good your offensive line is, you gotta have a guy who can create. I felt that way for a long time. I think people are feeling more strongly about that now than ever before."
The next benefactor of the Mahomes Effect might be Georgia, for his senior season. He led his team to the playoffs and has yet to throw an interception this season. Christensen loves Raiola, comparing him favorably to Mahomes.. Ranked as the No. 2 overall player by 247Sports, the 2024 quarterback moved from Phoenix to Buford,
Father Dominic Raiola, who played at Nebraska and in the NFL, can't wait to immerse himself in the next steps. Dylan has committed to two-time reigning national champion Georgia.
"A lot of people don't know how to take a simple drop back, go under center," Dominic said. "The beauty about guys like that, when they go off schedule, it's so much of a 'wow' factor. The boring part of the game is taking a five-step drop and hitting a hitch. That's not fun."