Chiefs' Mahomes nearly drafted by Saints
NEW ORLEANS – Saints coach Sean Payton seriously considered drafting Patrick Mahomes in 2017.
But the Saints were slated to pick 11th overall and Kansas City traded up to snag Mahomes at pick No. 10.
Record-setting quarterback Drew Brees was 38 years old then, but had no intention of retiring. And as it turned out, the Saints wound up with one of the greatest drafts in franchise history that year anyway.
It began with the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who'll get his first chance to see how he fares against Mahomes and Co. on Sunday when the Saints (10-3) host the defending NFL champion Chiefs (12-1) in a potential Super Bowl preview.
"Everything worked out for the best," Lattimore said. "He's over there doing his thing. I'm over here doing my thing. So, everybody won.
"And yeah, I'm excited to play him because he's one of the great up-and-coming quarterbacks," Lattimore continued. "So you know our game is going to be way up, and you know we're going to be ready for him."
With help from playmakers such as receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, Mahomes leads the NFL in yards passing with 4,208 and has his team in pole position to defend its Super Bowl title.
"To be that young and to be as talented as he is is rare," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Mahomes. "For him to have excelled the way he has is a real tribute to the kid and the genes that his parents gave him, too, is part of it – and how hard he works."
The Chiefs have the best record in the AFC. But ensuring that it stays that way another week requires a victory against a contending Saints squad looking to bounce back from a stunning loss in Philadelphia. The Saints can win the NFC South for a fourth straight season with a victory (or a Tampa Bay loss).
"It's going to be a great battle," Lattimore said. "I feel like we're stacked, just like they're stacked. So, we're going to go out there and play and the best man wins."
The Saints added intrigue to their quarterback situation this week by designating Brees eligible to return from injured reserve. Brees has missed four games since a sack against San Francisco left him with multiple rib fractures and a punctured lung.
Taysom Hill has started in Brees' place, going 3-1.
The Chiefs have been forced to prepare for both QBs.
"No question they're different," said Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who in 2012 held the same position in New Orleans. "You're talking about a future Hall of Famer (in Brees) and a guy (in Hill) that's playing really good football that gives us the added threat of running the ball.
"We need to defend the scheme," Spagnuolo continued. "They do really well with whoever they put back there. There's a lot of other weapons there besides the guy that gets the ball on the snap."
PAT IN BLACK
Payton has said Mahomes and Lattimore were the two prospects left under consideration for New Orleans at No. 11 in the 2017 draft when the Chiefs traded up and made the decision easy.
Mahomes recalled having a good workout for the Saints, "but I didn't sense they were going to pick me with Drew still there. ... They got a great player with Marshon, so I'm sure they're still happy with that."
Not to mention the rest of that draft class.
The Saints picked current starting right tackle Ryan Ramczyk later in the first round and current starting safety Marcus Williams in the second. They traded up to take 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara in the third round – the same round they also drafted defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who this season has blossomed into one of the NFL's sack leaders.
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has a chance to obliterate records during the last three regular-season games. He needs 128 yards receiving to break George Kittle's record (1,377) for a tight end, and could become the first tight end in league history to lead the NFL in yards receiving. His 26th game of 100 yards or more would match Tony Gonzalez for the most in Chiefs history. He needs 10 catches to become the first tight end in NFL history with multiple 100-catch seasons.
"If you look at history, look at the seasons tight ends have had, he's had one of the best," Mahomes said. "Then you watch the way he blocks for teammates, it's truly been a special season."
Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a Louisiana native who's preparing to play in the Superdome for the second time in less than a year. Last January, he helped LSU beat Clemson for the national title – and the Saints' brass was watching.
"He was someone that we really liked," Payton said. "I love how he's built. You feel a sturdiness."
Edwards-Helaire leads the Chiefs with 724 yards and four TDs rushing to go with 293 yards and a score receiving.
"He just does so many things well," Payton said. "That was a great pick."
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.
Super Bowl preview?
WHAT — Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) at New Orleans Saints (10-3)
WHEN/WHERE — Sunday, 3:25 p.m., Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
TV/RADIO — CBS (KCTV 5, Comcast Cable channel 3, HD 803)/WDAF-FM-The Wolf (106.5 FM)
OPENING LINE — Chiefs by 3
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Chiefs 6-7, Saints 7-6
SERIES RECORD — Chiefs lead 6-5
LAST MEETING — Chiefs beat Saints 27-21, on Oct. 23, 2016, at Kansas City
LAST WEEK — Chiefs beat Dolphins 33-27; Saints lost to Eagles 24-21
AP PRO32 RANKING — Chiefs No. 1, Saints No. 4
CHIEFS OFFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (17), PASS (1)
CHIEFS DEFENSE — OVERALL (17), RUSH (26), PASS (14)
SAINTS OFFENSE — OVERALL (13), RUSH (7), PASS (21)
SAINTS DEFENSE — OVERALL (2), RUSH (2), PASS (4)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — The Chiefs have clinched the AFC West for a franchise-record fifth straight season. Kansas City clinches a first-round bye with a win and losses by Pittsburgh and Buffalo. ... Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL with 4,208 yards passing and last week became the third QB in NFL history to pass for at least 4,000 yards in three of his first four NFL seasons ... Mahomes completed 24 of 34 passes for 393 yards and two TDs vs. three interceptions against Miami last week. He has at least 315 yards passing in six straight, tying the longest such streak in NFL history. ... Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a former LSU star who last played in the Superdome less than one year ago when the Tigers beat Clemson for the 2019 college football national championship. ... Edwards-Helaire had 91 scrimmage yards last week, with 59 yards receiving. ... Tyreek Hill is tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns receiving with 14. Hill had 79 yards receiving with one TD, and one TD rushing at Miami. He has two or more TDs in 14 career games, tied for the second most by a receiver in his first five seasons in NFL history. ... TE Travis Kelce has caught at least eight passes for 125 or more yards and a TD in each of his previous two games. Kelce has 100 yards receiving in five of past six games and leads NFL tight ends with 90 catches for 1,250 yards receiving. His nine TDs receiving are tied for the most by any NFL tight end this season. ... Safety Tyrann Mathieu is a former LSU star who lost a national championship game in the Superdome in January 2012. Mathieu has interceptions in his past three games. ... Defensive end Frank Clark had a sack last week. Defensive tackle Chris Jones had a sack and his first-career safety in Week 14. ... The Saints can win the NFC South for a fourth straight season with a win or Buccaneers loss. ... QB Drew Brees has been designated to return from injured reserve and could be eligible to play after missing four games with fractured ribs and a punctured lung. ... Brees has nine TDs passing and two rushing in five home starts this season. ... QB Taysom Hill has started the Saints' past four games and passed for a career-high 291 yards last week, when he also threw two TD passes and one interception. ... Running back Alvin Kamara had seven receptions and 94 scrimmage yards with a TD rushing at Philadelphia. Kamara has seven TDs rushing in his past six games. He ranks third in the NFL with 1,422 scrimmage yards (1,422) and is tied for third in scrimmage TDs with 14. ... Kamara leads all running backs with 77 receptions as he closes in on becoming just the third running back in NFL history with at least 80 catches in four seasons. ... WR Michael Thomas led the Saints with eight receptions for 84 yards last week. Since 2016, Thomas leads the NFL with 510 receptions, the most by player in his first five seasons in NFL history. ... WR Emmanuel Sanders caught his fourth TD pass of the season last week. ... TE Jared Cook had his sixth TD receiving of the season last week and second in two games. ... DE Cameron Jordan is the only player with at least sacks in each of the past nine seasons. ... LB Demario Davis needs nine tackles for his fourth-consecutive 100-tackle season. ... Defensive end Trey Hendrickson is tied for third in the NFL with a career-high 10 1/2 sacks. ... Safety Malcolm Jenkins had his 11th career fumble recovery last week. ... Fantasy tip: Thomas, sidelined by injuries earlier this season, has ramped up his production in recent weeks. He has eight or more catches for 84 or more yards in three of his past four games, including two games in which he eclipsed 100 yards receiving.
– The Associated Press