Patrick Mahomes is king of the deep ball

Mahomes ranks No. 18 on ESPN The Magazine's Dominant 20 -- and No.1 in throwing a deep ball the camera can't get to quickly enough. Hana Asano for ESPN

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 14 Dominant 20 Issue. Patrick Mahomes is No. 18 on the list of the most dominant athletes of the year. Click here for more on the Dominant 20. And subscribe to the magazine!

Patrick Mahomes had mastered the most exciting moment in football before his stunning 2018 regular season even began. In his quasi-rookie year, the Chiefs quarterback is appointment television on a weekly basis, and his takeover is a product of rare skills, outlandishly talented receivers -- and the limitations of televisions decades ago. Mahomes is the new master of the sideline angle.

When you watch football on TV, the vast majority of plays are filmed from the sideline camera. On a special occasion, you might get to see a snap or two from the end zone camera. This is the angle that Madden players use when they control the quarterback, and it's what coaches use when they're reviewing line play as part of the "All-22" tape. There's no hiding from the All-22 tape, in which you can see just about everything happen in real time.

The same thing isn't true of the sideline angle, which was chosen in an era of square pictures and fuzzy, standard-definition television. In many ways, this is a problem. More information is generally better than less information. I say generally, though, because less here helps create the most exciting moment of watching football on TV. When a quarterback drops back and throws a pass beyond the camera's view, the element of the unknown adds drama that's manufactured entirely by TV limitations.

Fans in the stadium can see what a quarterback sees and where a deep pass is likely heading. We, from the sideline angle, cannot. The camera whips downfield to reveal what's going to happen before the ball arrives, but in that brief moment between the pass being thrown and the camera revealing its intended destination, my imagination runs wild. Is the camera going to reveal a wide-open receiver? Is a cornerback about to get Mossed? The possible range of outcomes -- long touchdown pass, completion, pass interference, incompletion, interception -- is more meaningful and significant than for any other sort of play from scrimmage on a football field.

Over the years, I've found that my excitement in those moments is strongly tied to the quarterback throwing the pass. Nothing against Joe Flacco or Brock Osweiler, but when I see them throw downfield, I'm expecting the camera to reveal the broad side of an unblemished barn in the end zone. But when Aaron Rodgers looks downfield and launches a pass, my heart rises into my throat. I start with the assumption that there is a receiver who has materialized out of thin air and Rodgers is about to hit him in perfect stride for a long touchdown pass.

For years, Rodgers has been the sideline-angle superstar. But that changed in August. "Preseason" and "exciting" aren't exactly well-acquainted, but in an otherwise nondescript exhibition win over the Falcons, Mahomes launched a throw over three Falcons defenders and hit Tyreek Hill on a 69-yard pass for a Chiefs touchdown. In the process, Mahomes' pass traveled 60.8 yards in the air, per the NFL's Next Gen Stats. It was the longest in-air completed pass the league had seen since Week 13 of the 2015 season, when Rodgers launched a Hail Mary 61.0 yards in the air and found tight end Richard Rodgers for a game-winning touchdown against the Lions.

Mahomes has subsequently taken over the sideline-angle throne. He hasn't thrown another 60-yard air strike for a touchdown, but the second-year passer has completed 48 "deep" passes (through Week 13), the NFL's descriptor for throws that travel 16 yards or more in the air, tops in the league. Mahomes has 10 touchdowns on those throws, tied for third most in the NFL. Of course, he's also tied for second among passers with six interceptions on those bombs. Good or bad, when Mahomes goes deep, something exciting usually happens.

Week after week, Mahomes is challenging opposing defenses downfield. Most often that's with Hill, who has been the subject of memorable long touchdown passes against the Patriots and Rams. Against the Steelers, Mahomes picked apart the middle of the field with tight end Travis Kelce. In the opening- week victory over the Chargers, Mahomes hit fullback Anthony Sherman on a picture-perfect wheel route for a 36-yard score. Mahomes has hit five different receivers for touchdowns on deep passes this season, trailing only Drew Brees.

The former 10th overall pick threw for 300 or more yards in nine of his first 12 starts this year, the second-highest total through the first 12 games of a season in league history. He also posted a triple-digit passer rating in 10 of his first 12 starts, a figure topped only by Carson Palmer in 2005 -- and, unsurprisingly, Rodgers during his MVP season in 2011.

And as has been the case with Rodgers for many years, I know there's still another heart-stopping throw in Mahomes' arm. Even if you discount that 60-yard throw against the Falcons because it took place in the preseason -- well, you're not going to have to wait years to see him do it in a meaningful game situation. I know that deep pass is coming. And even more exciting, I won't know it until the moment the ball drifts into my screen.