KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Nothing the Kansas City Chiefs saw in training camp or the preseason from quarterback Patrick Mahomes II suggests they should have buyer's remorse about trading up to draft him in the first round this year. Indeed, on several occasions during the summer, Mahomes showed the skills that led the Chiefs to make their move to get him.
The Chiefs are still forced to confront the issue of whether they made the right call with Mahomes on Sunday night when they face the Texans in Houston. The Chiefs could have drafted a different quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who eventually went two picks later to the Texans with the 12th overall pick.
Watson is off to a dynamic start as Houston's quarterback. He is the NFL's 13th rated passer, with a completion rate of 65 percent, 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions for the 2-2 Texans, who scored 57 points in last week's win against the Tennessee Titans.
Mahomes, as was Kansas City's plan all along, hasn't been off the bench. He's the top backup behind a quarterback, veteran Alex Smith, who has been even better than Watson.
Though comparisons at this early stage may not be fair to Mahomes or the 4-0 Chiefs, Watson's early success is a reminder of the cost of possibly making the wrong decision. Watson looks to be on the path toward being a great player, and if Mahomes turns out to be something less, their wrong choice would set the Chiefs back for years.
"He's a great player," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Watson this week. "What he did at Clemson was what we thought he would do here. We think he's a tremendous football player. He's got some good players there around him and he's utilizing them. As good of a player as he is, he's even a better person. He's a great kid. He was a real pleasure to deal with before the draft. With him, he's one of those kids when you meet him, he's got that 'whatever' about him that you really like. He's a top-notch kid and competitive, very, very competitive.
"They're giving him things that play to his strengths as he learns, as he learns the NFL. It's some of the things he did in college, so there's a certain comfort level. They're managing that whole thing very well."
Still, the Chiefs are surprised by the high level of Watson's early play. John Dorsey, the Chiefs' general manager during the draft before being fired in June, said after selecting Mahomes that none of the quarterbacks coming out of college this year would be ready to play as rookies.
If nothing else, the Chiefs underestimated the ability of some of the quarterbacks in the draft, Watson included.
"Look at what's going on with the Rams in that situation," Reid said of quarterback Jared Goff, the first pick in the draft last year. "That kid, everybody kind of wrote him off [last year], and he's doing a nice job [this season]. Look at what went on in Dallas last year [with rookie Dak Prescott]. Who expected that to happen at the quarterback position? He did a great job.
"You just don't know until you get the guys here and work with him and get them into that situation."
The Chiefs looked closely before the draft at Mahomes and Watson. Both came to Kansas City, where, among other things, they spent long sessions dissecting video and diagramming plays on a white board in front of Reid and other coaches.
The Chiefs were intrigued with Mahomes long before then. He showed an ability in college at Texas Tech to make great throws when the pocket wasn't clean. He could throw with accuracy while on the run.
His X's and O's session in Kansas City before the draft clinched the Chiefs' decision to put him atop their quarterback draft board.
"We drew up a ton of plays, and they really tested my knowledge," Mahomes said. "I feel like I did well. I feel like I drew them up really well and explained them, explained what I did at Texas Tech and how it would relate and how different we were with how coach [Kliff] Kingsbury let me really take control of that offense at Texas Tech. I feel like it went really well and we got along great. It felt like a great relationship already."
Everyone involved in the Chiefs' decision, from Dorsey to Reid to Brett Veach, then the personnel director and now the Chiefs' general manager, had Mahomes rated higher than Watson.
"Anytime you make a move that bold, you move from 27 up to 10 and you give up [two draft picks, including a first-rounder next year] everyone is on board," Veach said shortly after taking over from Dorsey. "I thought he was the best quarterback in the draft. There was no doubt in my mind that was the right decision."
Coach Bill O'Brien and the Texans also traded up in the first round to draft a quarterback. They had a different player rated No. 1 at that position, and he wasn't Mahomes.
"We were thrilled to be able to go up and get Deshaun because he was our No. 1 guy that we wanted," O'Brien said this week. "We just felt good about him relative to what we wanted to do offensively and organizationally. We felt he was a guy that had done a lot in college, national champion and won a lot of games and delivered in big moments.
"I don't think [winning in college] is the No. 1 thing [for a quarterback] because you also have to look at with all these guys the surrounding cast in college. But when you've won as much as he's won, even including when you go back to high school, the guy's been on a lot of winning teams, and he's been the starting quarterback for those winning teams. That definitely does factor in."
Watson went 32-3 as a starting quarterback at Clemson. He led the Tigers to the national championship game after the 2015 season and to a victory in the title game last season.
Meanwhile, Mahomes was 13-16 as a starter at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders lost in the only postseason game in which he started, the 2015 Texas Bowl.
Smith is 45-20 as a starter for the Chiefs in his four-plus seasons. The Chiefs frequently point to that record as a reason they've stayed with him as their starter.
Winning evidently didn't count as much when they evaluated college quarterbacks.
"[Texas Tech] was giving up 60 points a game," Dorsey said after the draft. "He had to try and score 65 points a game.
"Listen, Deshaun Watson is a good kid. He's the senior that has proven it. He battled for the title last year. He won the title this year. That's very special. That's a very big deal for those guys. But at the end of the day, we had Mahomes rated above Watson. That's just how we saw it."
For his part, Watson said this week that he thought in the days before the draft he might be playing for the Chiefs.
"They were high on me," he said. "I went up there and took a visit, [but] they went with the guy they wanted."
Watson said he had no hard feelings about Kansas City's decision to pick Mahomes. He said he even traded friendly text messages with Reid during the summer.
"It's all love and respect," Watson said. "Sometimes the chips just don't land the way you think they [will]."
The Chiefs shoved all of their chips to the middle of the table with regard to their future at quarterback by drafting Mahomes. It's not a choice they would go back on now, even if they could.
But Watson's early success is shining a brighter spotlight on the Chiefs to make certain Mahomes develops into the player they thought he would be.
"We think they're both really good football players," Reid said. "We just thought with what we do that Mahomes would fit in well. We had all the guys in. All the quarterbacks came in. We had an opportunity to spend six hours with each guy, and that was a great experience to have a chance to meet all the guys. Both those young men are tremendous young men. We just thought with what we do, Mahomes would fit in the best."