KANSAS CITY, Mo. (TNS) — Sammy Watkins thought he was about to score his first touchdown as a Chief.
The wide receiver's new team was leading the Chargers in the first quarter of the season opener when he ran a slant route, slipping behind two Chargers defenders. Just two more defenders separated him from the end zone, some 60 yards down the field.
All he had to do was catch his second pass of the day from Patrick Mahomes and then take off running.
But the throw was too hot, and it bounced off Watkins' hands, popping up and nearly landing in the arms of a Chargers' defender.
"That time, as soon as I came on my break, the ball's like right there," Watkins said. "Usually, I can stop it. I don't drop it. But it kind of like flung me the other way. I'm like, OK, he's throwing it, it's definitely a different speed."
Even though the pair didn't connect on that pass, Watkins jogged back to the line of scrimmage and told his quarterback to keep rifling it.
Mahomes has a wealth of intangibles that make him a dangerous quarterback. His arm strength and throwing speed tops the list.
"I just look at him like, 'Good job, keep doing it,' " Watkins said. "For a wide receiver, you want to catch and run for the most part. And you got a quarterback that puts it like that, on time, like Cheetah (Tyreek Hill) got that one slant play. That was on time. It was in front of him, it was a bullet. So you actually have that room and that separation to score."
That score, of course, was Hill's 58-yard touchdown in the same game.
But there's more to a successful pass than just throwing it with seemingly inhuman strength.
"There's so much difference having arm ability," Mahomes said. "You have to be able to throw it hard, you have to be able to throw it with touch, you have to be able to do everything in this league, and I try to get better at every single one of those throws every single day."
A former standout pitcher with a fastball in the mid-90s, Mahomes knows all about meshing speed with finesse. He had to reconcile the two as he put together his repertoire of pitches. Now, he's trying to do the same thing with a football.
"All of it's about having touch and being able to have the fastball at the same time, have the change up and be able to throw with touch, but still be accurate," he said. "It's something that I've had to work on, playing both sports. But luckily now I play one, so I can just focus in on that."
Neither Mahomes nor Watkins can quantify the speed of the football in those situations, but Mahomes acknowledged that he throws it "pretty hard."
During the 2017 draft process, Mahomes participated in a segment on the NFL Network where a radar gun clocked his throw at 62 miles per hour. At the NFL combine that year, he hit 55 mph, according to Ourlads NFL Scouting Service. Meanwhile, former CBS NFL analyst Dane Brugler recorded Mahomes' velocity at 60 mph _ which would be among the top speeds thrown at the combine.
"To us, it's moving pretty fast," Watkins said. "I'm pretty sure it's moving faster than it really is. But we kind of programmed and we've been doing it forever. So the ball is not moving as fast to me. Probably if you go out there and run a route, it might get up on you pretty quick."