“But Can He Make Music?”

“Have your views about Jared Goff and Dak Prescott changed now that we’ve seen them during the preseason?”  Matt answers this question and the deeper one underlying it. 

I was wrong to think that Jared Goff was the most pro ready of the 2016 rookie quarterback class. I underestimated the difficulty of the transition from Cal’s Air Raid offense to the Rams’ West Coast system. But I don’t think this is a big deal if you’re focused on the true North of the compass for what matters most for a young quarterback:

Long-term development.

Most people aren’t oriented this way. What we see written and discussed in major media reinforces the fallacy that rookie quarterbacks need to perform well immediately. When a lesser-regarded prospect outperforms a player of higher regard, there’s often a one-to-one comparison of the two and there shouldn’t be.

Quarterbacks are a lot like musicians and it’s problematic to judge two rookie quarterbacks during the rehearsal process. They’re learning how to interact with their band and the performance environment and each band and environment has enough differences that most boom-bust conclusions are short-sighted.

Listen to these two performances and ask yourself which version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is better.




Many of you will pick the version that appeals to your ears, your current emotional state, or the instrumentation that you like the best. All of these are valid reasons for liking one over the other but none of them are valid reasons for explaining which one is of better quality.

The quartet is filled with top-notch professionals. I’ve taken classes or private lessons with two of the four players and all of them have played with performers you’ve probably heard of (Frank Sinatra, Miami Sound Machine, Buddy Rich, etc.).

I know for a fact that every member of this quartet is capable of performing Al McClean’s version in a musically compelling way.

Based on what I’ve heard from McClean, I have little doubt he could learn any of the parts for the Miami Saxophone Quartet and fill in without a hitch if they needed a substitute for a gig.

Some of you will say that the quartet was better. There were more examples of rhythmically difficult passages, the four performers were in tune and in time, and there were significant variations to the composition. A few of you might even note that the saxophonist in church with the piano was a little sharp with his intonation.

A really astute observer may note that the saxophonist in the church was intentionally a little sharp so he could create an edge to the overall tone of the piece. Another great point about this performance is that a slow, moody piece with fewer time boundaries requires a more difficult interplay.

It should become apparent to you that asking which version is better is highly subjective. I have a more meaningful question that also leads us back to quarterbacking: Which version is an easier setting for a budding professional to perform well?

When it comes to instrumentation, I can tell you from experience that most saxophonists can switch between the alto and tenor reasonably well but it requires more work to achieve a similar facility with the soprano or baritone. Most saxophonists will tell you that the soprano is the most temperamental of the four.

The quartet possesses strength in numbers, defined tempos, and a sheet music arrangement. Each individual is less exposed if he makes a mistake. The strength in numbers also makes it easier for an individual to make mistakes and recover without derailing the performance.

The more isolated the instrument in a setting, the more demanding the situation when it comes to a player’s sound, his intonation, and his feel for time and story-telling.  The solo act with piano accompaniment, no sheet music, and no defined tempo requires a higher level of interplay and leadership. There’s also much greater exposure to the audience when there is a minor mistake.

The differences in environment and setting when comparing Dak Prescott and Jared Goff are a lot like the quartet and the solo act in the church. Prescott is like the tenor player working with a quartet. When featured, he sounds great but the inherent demands on his part aren’t as risky as the other parts.

For most of his preseason snaps, Prescott has been asked to make 1-2 reads on the same side of the field and if neither come open, run the ball. A significant number of Prescott’s snaps featured 3-5 receivers but only 2 left the line of scrimmage.

The most common short and intermediate routes Prescott targeted in these games were screens and underneath zone routes. The big-play routes were one-on-one fades that rely heavily on the athletic prowess of a teammate.

None of this is meant to downplay Prescott’s intelligence or his potential to become a good NFL starter. The fact that Prescott did an excellent job performing the Cowboys’ game plan is encouraging. Teams can win games with strong surrounding personnel and a quarterback who does what Prescott has shown but it’s less reliant on Prescott leading the offense with the same freedom and range of a veteran quarterback.

What Prescott hasn’t shown is whether he can make plays when his decision-making process has more demands of 2-4 reads, full-field reads, 4-5 receivers in routes, and displaying good timing and execution to move from one option to the next.  These components of quarterback play are like that ballad with the soprano and the piano–the demands are higher and the potential exposure is more damaging.

Jared Goff is learning an entirely new system. Will Hewlett–a quarterback coach and consultant to high school, college and professional passers–says the transition from the Air Raid system at Cal to a West Coast system with the Rams is like learning Chinese.

If you’ve ever taken language lessons as an adult, it becomes apparent almost immediately that the process sublimate the winning traits of your personality. Learning Chinese? Forget having a quick wit or great sense of humor for months.

Are you known for your sensitivity? You’ll be so busy focusing on what people are saying that you only catch a glimpse of how they’re saying it. Facial expressions and tone of voice are like third and fourth reads for a quarterback at your opponent’s 45 on 3rd and 12 with 1:34 left on the clock, down by 3, and dealing with the potential for A-gap pressure and missing that DE dropping into the flat.

You’re still sensitive, witty, and intelligent. You still have those skills and others but they won’t show up nearly as often when first learning that new language. Goff’s stats show that he’s not handling pressure well and he’s making critical errors but to conclude that he’s lost these skills or analysts were wrong for ever seeing them, glosses over the realities of learning a complex system.

And the West Coast system is the most difficult offense to learn. It’s the most common one in the league because coaches have witnessed how unstoppable it can be when at its best. However, there are few quarterbacks who can run it at that level.

It’s like staring in one band as a tenor saxophonist and then being asked to perform a ballad like the one shown above on the soprano. There are multiple, subtle demands to evoking deep emotions from the audience and the main performer’s flaws are at much greater risk of exposure to the crowd.

Jared Goff’s learning curve is far different but he’s judged along the same standard. RamsWire writer Jeff Smith has done a good job of telling Rams fans to freak out that Goff is the No.3 quarterback after the preseason. Smith is correct that the Rams invested a lot of capital in Goff, analysts (like me) thought Goff was the most pro-ready quarterback in the class, and Goff’s statistics haven’t been good.

But the stats only show that Goff’s results are bad and they way they are presented, there’s a presumption that Goff should display the same qualities that made him productive at Cal. This is a bad presumption.

The Cowboys have asked Prescott to play his best ax as a part of a strong group of players and perform songs with strict time boundaries, comfortable tempos, and tightly rehearsed forms. The Rams want Goff to learn a similar but slightly different and temperamental instrument and perform songs that have a lot more variables.

Goff is doing a lot more thinking than performing and it’s why he’s the No.3 option. If the Rams ownership has a clue, Goff’s temporary tenure as the final backup on the depth chart is more annoying when answering media questions than it is in the locker room.

Jeff Fisher gets his share of media criticism as an overrated coach but he believed in bringing quarterbacks along slowly. He wanted Vince Young to rely more on his brains than his body but Young didn’t become a student of the game. After a great rookie year with the team working around Young’s talents, opposing defenses generated more demands for Young to succeed and he didn’t study enough to meet them.

Steve McNair was a student of the game and he evolved into one of the more underrated pocket passers of his time. McNair didn’t start immediately and there were concerns early on that McNair wasn’t worth the No.3 overall pick in the draft. Fisher and the Titans were patient and it paid off.

Brett Hundley was the No.3 quarterback last year. He’s now considered a promising backup with starter potential. The notable difference in perception between Hundley and Goff is that Goff was the No.1 overall pick and Hundley dropped to the middle rounds in 2015.

Those in the know understand that Hundley was considered an early round talent entering his junior year. If he stayed at UCLA last year, he might have earned a high-round selection.

The public pressure on Goff and the Rams has greater intensity due to the number of picks the team traded to invest in the rookie. But if the Rams ownership and executive team is thinking clearly, they’ll look at Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady’s career arcs.

Neither players was remotely a No.1 overall pick in the draft. Brady began his career as the No.3. Most teams would have spent more on these two players in their prime than what the Rams spent on Goff.

So when readers ask me, “What do you think about Jared Goff and Dak Prescott now?” it’s all about my frame of perspective. For fantasy football, Goff is a player that I’ll monitor. He’s a potential waiver-wire player in re-draft leagues later in the year.

Prescott is at least a temporary starter with actual value in daily fantasy formats. He’s also capable of strong opening month in season-long formats.

In dynasty leagues, I’m still drafting Goff over Prescott and there’s no hesitation. If anything, I’m getting better value on Goff. The bump in Prescott’s value makes him a little less attractive although the opportunity to solidify his future as a starter is a lot more compelling in the immediate present.

Beyond the immediate fantasy implications of late summer and early fall, I stand by the process that led me to the results that I publish every April.

If the Rams give Goff the time the Packers and Patriots gave to their starters–or even Washington inadvertently gave to Kirk Cousins while rushing the process with Robert Griffin III–Goff has the talent to thrive. His pocket presence, accuracy, and feel for the game hasn’t left. The new system is forcing him to think rather than play.

If the Cowboys continue to surround Prescott with a strong band and can spotlight the rookie’s confidence and athletic ability, he’ll succeed this year. If they gradually feed him more options and responsibilities so he can grow into a well-rounded leader of an offense, he develop into a complete player.

Quarterbacking is like making music. Thanks to our digital age, most young quarterbacks have more access to technical coaching, nutrition and training programs, and football theory than their predecessors.

Look at their technique, athletic ability, and understanding of specific offensive ideas in a vacuum and they appear more pro-ready than in the past. But just like musicians who developed the optimal physical techniques to produce a good sound, memorized hot licks, and gained extensive knowledge of harmony, none of it matters if they can’t make it all sound musical.

 For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2016 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – early-bird purchase for April 1 download available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2015 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.


5 responses to ““But Can He Make Music?””

  1. Excellent article. This is far and away a step above your typical fantasy column, and I’m hooked. Your Jalen Richard piece originally brought me here, and this one will keep me around. Great work, sir.

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