MIAMI -- Last week in Mobile, Ala., Jordan Love was one of the best players at the Senior Bowl, and that performance gave his draft stock a much-needed boost. The Utah State quarterback came off an uneven 2019 campaign that raised doubts about his first-round pedigree; he completed just 61.9 percent of his throws with 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions during a season in which he conceded to CBSSports.com that he took on too much at times.
This is what can happen when the coach staff changes and your offense consists of mostly new faces. It was a talking point late in the season and Chiefs rookie running back Darwin Thompson, who played alongside Love for the Aggies in 2018, confirmed as much during Super Bowl LIV Media Night.
"I know exactly why he struggled this year," Thompson told CBSSports.com on Monday. "A lot of things have changed. He lost his O-line. He had (running back) Gerold Bright, and we were a 1-2 punch when I was there. He lost his receivers. He had O-line leaving, the coaches leaving -- it was a whole different offense. They were trying to keep it the same, but it wasn't the same coaching techniques or whatever you want to call it."
In 2018, Ron'Quavion Tarver and Jalen Greene combined for 110 receptions and 14 touchdowns, and Dax Raymond was one of the best tight ends in the conference who many folks (us included) thought would get drafted. Thompson rushed for more than 1,000 yards and added another 351 receiving yards, and Bright added another 888 rushing yards and 232 receiving yards. All but Bright were gone before the '19 campaign. And that had a noticeable effect on the Aggies' offense and, more specifically, Love's productivity. For much of the season, he played like someone who knew that he has to do everything. And for much of the season, it didn't go well.
"He tried to do too much," Thompson said. "He felt like he had to carry it on his shoulders."
Love is undoubtedly a special talent, and at various points during the 2019 campaign, we saw glimpses of what makes Love so intriguing. Every throw looks effortless, and he has the athleticism to make plays outside the pocket. But when Love doesn't get his feet set, or when he throws off-balance, his accuracy suffers. So what will an NFL team get in Love, whose physical abilities, arm strength and playmaking abilities firmly put him on NFL team's radar a year ago?
"At the end of the day, it's football," Thompson said. "When Tyreek Hill was at Oklahoma State, I was in high school. I was on a visit, and Tyreek was playing running back at Oklahoma State. I was watching these guys since I was in high school. Pat was at Texas Tech, and I was recruited by Texas Tech when I was in junior college. To be able to play with these guys and play with Jordan Love ... I've seen some similarities in Jordan Love and Patrick Mahomes."
Thompson offered up that Mahomes comparison unprompted.
It's the same comparison we've been making for a few months, though warily. That's a lot to put on anyone, especially a young quarterback coming off a tough year with lofty high-round expectations in his near future. Thompson had no such concerns but with the caveat that Love, like Mahomes, lands in a stable environment that can nurture his development.
"In the right system -- an Andy Reid system or a Bill Belichick system -- he could dominate the game," Thompson said. "Jordan Love is a baller. He can play football."
We agree. In our latest mock draft, which came out hours before we spoke to Thompson, we had Love going to the Saints with No. 24 overall pick. Both Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater could return in 2020 -- and that would be ideal for Love, who will need a season or two on the bench before he's ready -- but in that system, under Sean Payton's tutelage, he could have a chance to be really special.
We won't know how special for some time but for now the Mahomes comps will continue, given their style of play and all the physical similarities to their games. Knowing that, who has the better arm? Love or Mahomes?
"Patrick is a JUGS machine," Thompson said.