There are plenty of fun, young quarterbacks in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes still has something the rest of them are chasing.
Every quarterback who won a Super Bowl ring as a starter is at least 33 years old, except Mahomes (Nick Foles is actually the second-youngest player on that list). We can be wowed by Joe Burrow's moxie or impressed with Josh Allen's physical gifts, but Mahomes — who turns 27 on Saturday — is still the king of the younger QB generation due to that championship.
Justin Herbert is one of the quarterbacks chasing Mahomes. The two square off on Thursday night when Herbert's Los Angeles Chargers face Mahomes' Kansas City Chiefs in a great matchup that will be streamed on Amazon Prime Video.
Mahomes is still the measuring stick for any quarterback under 30.
"I've got a lot of respect for Patrick," Herbert said this week. "He's an incredible quarterback, has had a lot of success in this league over the past few years. Anytime you play against him it's always a great opportunity to learn, to watch, and have so much respect for his game."
A regular-season win, even in a prime-time spot, wouldn't put Herbert ahead of Mahomes. But he can't battle for that No. 1 position until he gets some big wins on his resume.
Chargers looking to challenge Chiefs
Herbert is 24, and it seems like he and Mahomes will be putting on a show against each other twice a year for a long time.
Mahomes had a phenomenal start to his career and, statistically, Herbert is close to matching it. He has the most passing yards (9,350) and touchdowns (69) through his first two seasons for any quarterback in NFL history. Mahomes might have matched that, but he didn't start as a rookie.
Herbert is a fantastic player but to some, it won't matter until he leads the Chargers to the playoffs. For all the yards and touchdowns, the Chargers are still 16-17 in Herbert's starts. That's not entirely on Herbert, who has done all he can to lift the Chargers. But quarterbacks are judged on playoff success and Herbert hasn't been there yet.
Part of the reason is the Chiefs have owned the division. If the Chargers want to win the AFC West this season — and if Herbert wants to get the same kind of respect Mahomes gets — a win Thursday night would be a great start.
"I know our guys are really excited for this one," Herbert said. "To be able to play on prime-time, Thursday Night Football, it's something you grow up dreaming about."
Chiefs make a statement in Week 1
There were questions about the Chiefs' offense over the offseason. Tyreek Hill, Mahomes' top receiver, was traded. Travis Kelce is still great, but he turned 33. Nobody knew if the Chiefs would be as explosive as usual.
Then in Week 1, Mahomes threw five touchdowns in a 44-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
“The whole offseason, everybody asked us the questions of what this offense was going to look like,” Mahomes said after the game, via The Athletic. “We’ve always believed that we were going to put on a show."
Until further notice, Mahomes is the best quarterback under 30, and probably under 40 or 50 as well. There are, however, challengers. Herbert, who threw for three touchdowns in a Week 1 win over the Raiders, is clearly one of them.
You have to knock off the champ to win the belt. Doing that in Week 2 wouldn't change how we think of Herbert. But it would be a necessary step.