Comparing Patrick Mahomes' first 6 years to Tom Brady's

It isn't fair to compare Patrick Mahomes to Tom Brady, the inarguable greatest quarterback to play the game… yet.

It's not fair to compare a 23-year career to one in its sixth year, no matter how potent. Part of the Brady lore is longevity. There's no denying that. 

But in his sixth season, with Brady retired and on the verge of beginning his broadcasting career at FOX, Mahomes is inarguably the best quarterback playing in the NFL right now.

[McKenna: Patrick Mahomes hasn't surpassed Tom Brady as the GOAT — but he might someday]

Maybe it's fair to check in on his progress as it pertains to Brady's at the same point in his career.

Let's try it.

Humble beginnings

Both quarterbacks started their careers on the bench. Mahomes, despite being drafted in the first round, sat behind Alex Smith for most of his first season. Brady, infamously drafted in the sixth round at No. 199 overall, sat behind Drew Bledsoe. 

Each ended up playing in one game in their rookie season. Brady came in after Bledsoe was injured and attempted just three passes. He connected on one for six yards. Mahomes started and played a full game, completing 22 of 35 passing attempts for 284 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. 

That's where the question marks end for both players. Loading Video…

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A rapid ascent

In Brady's second season, his first as a full-time starter, Brady led the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl Championship and was named to the Pro Bowl after throwing for 2,842 yards and 18 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. He added 572 yards and a passing touchdown in the postseason. 

In Mahomes' second season, his Kansas City Chiefs didn't have as much success — they made it to the AFC Championship game against Brady's Patriots — but Mahomes had much more individual success. He did something Brady didn't until he turned 30: throw for 50 touchdowns. Mahomes led the league in 2018, being named an All-Pro and Pro Bowler after throwing for 5,097 yards and those 50 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions.

There's been no significant drop-off for Mahomes since. As the full-time starter, he has never passed for less than 4,000 yards in a season. He's never thrown fewer than 26 touchdowns.

But Brady also saw continued team success. He went on to win three Super Bowl Championships in his first four years as a starter. 

Now for the tricky part. How do you define success for a quarterback? By what a team accomplishes, or what an individual does? Between Brady and Mahomes in the first six years of their careers, this is an important distinction. Loading Video…

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Stats and styles

Brady saw a lot of team success while paired with a top-five defense early on. He was a game manager, a fitting title for current debates. This isn't a knock on Brady. It's merely a different way of building a team but there's no way around that classification. 

It took until Brady's sixth season for him to surpass 4,000 yards passing. In 2005, he earned his third Pro Bowl nod after leading the league with 4,110 passing yards. He threw for 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. It wouldn't be until 2007 and the arrival of Randy Moss that Brady shed his game manager shell and blossomed into a beautiful game-changing butterfly.

Contrast that with Mahomes, who has been a game-changer throughout his career thus far. It has not only translated into individual success, but team success as well. A Mahomes-led Chiefs team is about to play in its fourth Super Bowl. Mahomes could win his third.

Mahomes hasn't thrown for less than 4,000 yards since becoming the full-time starter in Kansas City. In 2022, he led the league in passing yards with 5,250 along with 41 touchdowns. It was his second All-Pro nod and his second NFL MVP season. Mahomes then capped it off by winning his second Super Bowl. 

In 2023, he had a down year… and yet threw for 4,183 yards and 27 touchdowns with a rookie as his WR1. There's also the way Mahomes evolves and adapts over the course of seasons and even in the course of a single game. He goes off script with the best of them, with backyard-football heroics abound. His partner in crime, Kelce, is nearly always on the same page. And Mahomes has a play caller in Reid who constantly comes up with new and innovative play calls. Sure, Kansas City can get down to business when they need to, but it also looks like Mahomes has fun playing football. 

If there's one thing about Brady, he's all business, all the time. He and Belichick didn't look like they were having ‘fun'.

You have to consider the different eras both quarterbacks played in during the first part of their careers, too. The early-2000s NFL wasn't as high-flying as it is today. There was still a huge emphasis on the run game and 4,000-yard seasons weren't the benchmark for franchise quarterback play. It's not as quantifiable a determinant but it matters for context between the two performances. I'd venture to say Brady's first few seasons, while not close to Mahomes' numbers, were still every bit as impactful and highly touted around the league at the time. Loading Video…

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A huge part of Brady's legacy is his longevity. He may not have been the best quarterback every year, but he was one of the best for over two decades. He won seven rings and led two teams to the top.

No one knows the silliness of this comparison right now than Mahomes himself. But that doesn't mean he won't get there, especially with the start he's gotten.

"I mean I'm not even close to halfway," said Mahomes on media night when asked to compare his legacy to Brady's. "If you ask me that question in like 15 years, I'll see if I can get close to seven. But seven seems like a long ways away still."

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.