ATLANTA, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- You didn't see him on billboards or in commercials after he was picked in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He didn't even start his first full season.
But that was the strategy for Patrick Mahomes. And now it's literally paying off.
The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback is expected to take home the NFL MVP award Saturday in Atlanta. After backing up Alex Smith in his first season, Mahomes scorched the record books. He threw 50 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions while completing 66 percent of his throws. He passed for more than 5,000 yards in his first full season as a starter.
But the Chiefs and Mahomes' agent Leigh Steinberg saw it all coming; even when he was sitting on the bench on Sundays and Smith was leading the offense.
"Ever since he got in that locker room, he was a star," Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce told UPI. "You could tell even when he was behind Alex Smith all of the year before."
"There is something about him," said Kelce, a spokesman for Emergent BioSolutions, the makers of take-home nasal naloxone.
"He has a special trait to just be himself: be confident in who he is and play this game with confidence and intelligence. Sure enough, it showed all season long. He had one of the best years we have seen in recent NFL history."
Now the suitors are lining up, hoping Mahomes can help market and sell their products. Steinberg said Mahomes is signing deals with companies in very major product categories.
"It has been a deluge," Steinberg said. "We wanted to keep him where his play on the field came before his notoriety and to give something to Kansas City before we took from them."
Steinberg had lofty expectations for his client from the start, comparing Mahomes to Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and others, before he was even drafted out of Texas Tech.
"Everyone thought I was crazy," said Steinberg, who has represented numerous first round quarterbacks and stars including Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Roethlisberger.
Steinberg is most impressed with Mahomes' rapidity.
"It goes against nature to think that he would be this good this fast because the field is so complex," Steinberg said. "And you have to wait for it slow down."
Mahomes threw 10 touchdowns without an interception in his first two games as a full-time starter. The Hall of Fame requested his jersey. He said the game started to slow down over the course of the season.
Steinberg said the team probably had a plan as soon as it drafted the gunslinger. He says his client is very bright and the Chiefs saw his character and "freakishly gifted" arm. Mahomes also has something similar to Los Angeles coach Sean McVay and LeBron James -- the ability to recall virtually every play he has ever performed.
"Not in an arrogant way, but Pat has always believed he would be here," Steinberg said.
"We have a phrase that I use with him which is 'stay in process.' Which is keep doing the things, whether it's the draft or winning football games. Keep doing the work you've done, don't focus on the ultimate goal, just keep doing it. So, frankly, his sole focus now is getting to the Super Bowl."
Kelce said Mahomes could immediately command the huddle and the team noticed the 'it factor' immediately.
"It doesn't matter if he's playing a street game of basketball or whatever, he is a competitive guy," Kelce said. "And sure enough he understands a lot of things out there that most guys can't quite comprehend."
Kelce on the Hunt in 2019
While Mahomes' rapid rise was a spectacular story for the Chiefs and many fantasy football team owners in 2018, it didn't result in the ultimate goal: a Vince Lombardi trophy.
And Kelce says he's getting a "little too used" to being at Radio Row during Super Bowl week, instead of preparing for the game.
"It's something you just have to live with," Kelce said. "You have to man up and try to figure out what happened in in the AFC Championship game ... how to learn from it, how to get better from it. You can learn from everything that was out there. Sure enough, I feel like we've gotten better every single year since I've been here in Kansas City and the NFL and I don't see that stopping."
Kelce said the Chiefs need to work on being aware and more physical at the line of scrimmage if they want to surpass their 2018 production. The two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl selection had three catches for 23 yards and a score in the Chiefs' season-ending loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Another reason the Chiefs struggled down the stretch was losing star running back Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs released the 2017 Pro Bowl selection in November after a video surfaced showing the 23-year-old pushing and kicking a woman.
No charges were filed against Hunt, who is now a free agent. Commissioner Roger Goodell said Hunt will go on the commissioner exempt list if he returns to the league, before facing further discipline.
The Chiefs were 9-2 before Hunt was released. They were 4-3 after his departure from the team. Kansas City averaged 329 passing yards and 186 rushing yards per game before Hunt's departure. The Chiefs posted 293 passing yards and 86 rushing yards per game in their final five regular season games without Hunt.
Mahomes told TMZ that he hopes Hunt gets another chance at an NFL career.
"It's stuff that he has to handle off the field and hopefully he might get another chance on it," Mahomes said. "I know he does a lot of things on the field really well. As long as he keeps doing stuff off the field and getting back right, I'm sure he'll get another chance."
Mahomes called Hunt a "buddy." Kelce believes his former teammate is a "great guy."
"He's my guy, he's my brother," Kelce said. "I love him to death. We all have some things that we can work on as people. I think he is doing that for the better of himself and for the better of being a great guy because that's what we know him to be. We know him to be a good person. Sometimes some things get carried away and situations take hand and it's unfortunate for sure."