Jared Goff through one NFL season has not looked the part of a first overall pick. The Rams quarterback looked hesitant, shaken and without confidence in 2016.
Los Angeles expected that to a degree. Goff’s college offense, a disciple of the Air Raid system that has produced exactly two successful NFL QBs (Sam Bradford and Robert Griffin), did not allow him a realistic development of timing, speed of progressions or pre-snap defensive alignments.
Goff will be the Rams’ starter in 2017, as he should be — he needs a chance to impress. But after Los Angeles saw Jacksonville wait too long to pull the plug on Blake Bortles, this could be a make-or-break season for Goff.
The advanced stat “adjusted net yards per passing attempt,” or “ANY/A,” encompasses passing yards, touchdowns, interceptions and sacks into one number. It has proven to be a strong indicator of QB success and has the highest correlation to wins.
Since 2000, 48 quarterbacks drafted in the top-100 picks have thrown over 100 passes in their rookie seasons. Of those 48, Goff is 46th in ANY/A.
Goff’s college offense stifled his development of many things, but pocket navigation may be the most critical. Even when he impressed at Cal, Goff rarely utilized proper footwork and spatial awareness of the traffic around him.
Goff’s delayed upfield steps in the pocket are turning into rushed throws, sacks and turnovers in the NFL. Goff last year suffered 26 sacks on 240 drop-backs, one of the worst sack percentages in the league. Half of them were on third downs, almost equal to the number of first downs he converted.
Goff made the same mistakes throughout the 2017 preseason. Against the Chargers, for example, he was reluctant to step up, stared down his primary target and was strip sacked for an eventual defensive touchdown.
But along with his lack of pocket movement skills, something that was expected in his NFL development, Goff’s confidence as a mid-range passer has suffered. Once considered his best skill set, Goff’s anticipation has given way to indecisiveness, over-placement of throws and repeated missed opportunities.
Still Jared Goff. pic.twitter.com/YF3oVCgIuT
— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlass) August 27, 2017
There is hope for Goff and his abysmal ANY/A ranking, however. The quarterback who finished 48th out of 48 in that ranking, Alex Smith, has become a quality NFL quarterback and a player with whom Goff shares some similarities.
Smith was horrendous as a rookie in San Francisco, finishing with 11 interceptions and 29 sacks, similar to Goff’s rookie year. Smith struggled with the speed of the game, the added responsibilities and the pocket maneuvering he hadn’t done in Urban Meyer’s spread offense in college at Utah.
Smith got a new offensive coordinator in his NFL second season and improved a bit. But it took until his fifth season, with Jim Harbaugh as his head coach, for him to turn into a serviceable NFL quarterback, and he has seen even more growth on his second NFL team in Kansas City.
Goff, like Smith, might just need his expectations drawn back, a reduction to a true game manager, and additional instillment of confidence in him and his game.
On the Scanning the Field Podcast, former Redskins GM Scot McCloughan professed his confidence in Goff, plus whether the Rams have to wonder about his future.
“It’s way too early,” McCloughan said. “Worry about the 10 guys around him. Worry about the offensive line that doesn’t block for him. Worry about the running game so you can have the play action passes. Fix that.”
When asked about Goff’s struggles, McCloughan mentioned the Rams’ ineffective talent on offense: “All of sudden, you lose confidence, you start playing off your back foot. He has the talent, but they need to improve the talent around him.”
Bortles isn’t the first young quarterback to get far too many opportunities to earn a starting job. But he’s the most recent and maybe the most damning considering how optimistic the Jaguars have been about their playoff chances since his arrival.
Instead of drafting an early-round quarterback to compete for the job in 2016, the Jags selected Brandon Allen in the sixth round and passed on DeShone Kizer in the second round despite interest. Now Jacksonville is once again set to suffer through poor quarterback play on a roster that otherwise could be a dangerous playoff team.
The Rams aren’t quite that stocked with talent, but with the additions of Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Andrew Whitworth, and with Todd Gurley set for a rebound season, Los Angeles’ offense should be able to make substantial strides this season.
If Goff can’t begin to show signs he can lead a team stocked with quality offensive weapons, it’s not too early for the Rams to start thinking about alternatives. Tempting options like Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo might come from free agency. The same goes for the likes of Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Goff is the future of the Rams for now, but he was not new coach Sean McVay’s pick, and general manager Les Snead needs a strong season this year or he may be out as the leader of the team’s personnel. Whether Goff is the next Smith, the next Bortles or the star QB the Rams hoped he would be, he needs to start revealing who he is this season.