Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio shares its pre-draft scouting report of Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
1. Jared Goff, California (6-4, 214)
Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler come to mind when I think of Goff’s talent. There are no direct correlations between the Cal quarterback and these NFL veterans. But if you combined their style of play and their talent, the product of that union would be Goff.
Rivers and Cutler are gifted throwers who like to attack downfield and give their receivers a chance to win one-on-one. Both are smart players with on-field confidence that often crosses into arrogance and leads to mistakes born from an aggressive mindset. The slow-footed, awkward-looking Rivers maneuvers the pocket much better than anyone expects, and Cutler still has the wheels of that high school strong safety who made 19 tackles in his state championship game.
Although Rivers earns a few votes from those with a nuanced appreciation for the game and Cutler has earned the label of a tease, neither is considered an elite NFL quarterback. Despite not earning this coveted designation from media and fans, both are considered players you can win with and, at their best, capable of Pro-Bowl caliber play.
A reasonable expectation for a player of Goff’s skills and talent is a career that fits somewhere between the range of Cutler and Rivers. Add Goff to a less stable organization that doesn’t provide continuity for the Cal quarterback’s development timeline, and fans are more likely to see a notably talented player who makes questionable decisions and gets labeled a tease. Provide Goff a stable organization with a strong locker room of veterans, and fans are more likely to see the quarterback of a contending team, who, as his career progresses, becomes capable of carrying the offense.
There is an argument that Goff’s offense at Cal makes him look better than he is. I was told earlier this fall that one respected general manager believed Goff wasn’t that good because all the quarterback had to do was catch the snap and throw the ball to a wide open man. There’s still a lingering distrust of quarterbacks from Air-Raid offensive schemes. Wary decision-makers are conflating the design of an offense with bad draft choices, in which more weight was given to production over traits.
There’s no doubt that Goff has enjoyed opportunities to sit back and throw the ball to open receivers, but to imply that Goff hasn’t faced pressure, worked from tight pockets, been forced to produce when the structure breaks down or exhibited skill with the pre-snap/postsnap diagnostic aspects of quarterbacking is a gross mischaracterization of what Goff has shown on the field. Goff is a complete quarterback with a strong arm, excellent pocket presence, and the great confidence of a playmaker.
Goff has a quick release with an over-the-shoulder throwing motion. The ball comes out quick and the motion is compact. He can adjust his release from the pocket to get the ball over or around defenders in his face.
One of the frequent criticisms of Goff’s technical grasp of the position is his footwork. The Cal offense is far and away a shotgun scheme, and there will be questions about Goff making good reads from under center. It’s true that an adjustment will be necessary, but it’s becoming an overstated concern. Dropping from the pocket is a trained skill that merely takes practice. After seeing 10-15 years of quarterbacks who have made the transition to doing more work under center, it’s clear that if the quality of quarterbacking is getting worse in the NFL, this task-oriented skill is not the reason.
Good footwork is a physical language. It expresses the player’s desires and reactions. A quarterback’s drop is at best, a sentence of a longer statement. Sometimes a sentence is enough to communicate a simple desire.
But football can demand more complexity from a quarterback. A statement (his drop back) can be met with a question (a lineman in the way of the quarterback), a counter-argument (a blitz), or a competing demand (tight coverage). How that quarterback responds to these scenarios is a truer determination of good footwork, because the passer is integrating a variety of information into his overall expression.
Good footwork is about the drop, adjusting his position in the pocket, navigating from oncoming pressure, and resetting position to deliver the ball on time and accurately. These aspects of quarterbacking are like phrases and sentences that can be grouped into a variety of combinations that yield a more sophisticated form of expression.
A related criticism is Goff’s jittery feet. If examined with some level of nuance, linking a quarterback’s flaws to jittery footwork can lead to overanalysis. I believe this is often the case with Goff’s more ardent critics.
If overall footwork is a language, the pace or stillness of the footwork is a lot like the energy or smoothness of the communication. There are extremes of energy or smoothness that can hurt overall expression, but this is not the case with Goff.
The jitters in Goff’s footwork are a by-product of the nervous energy that comes from thinking fast. Peyton Manning had the same issue and it’s often about the body trying to keep up with a fast processing mind. In a simplistic way, a quarterback’s jittery feet are a form of mild stuttering (the IQ of an average stutter is 14 points higher than the national average) where their minds are processing faster than their bodies can keep up.
Goff’s feet may stammer a word here and there, or make small adjustments mid-statement, but the quality of his communication is excellent. Goff executes one-, three-, and five-step drops and he’s especially good at cutting short the length of his dropbacks or even accelerating his pace to adjust to any pressure that interferes with the offense’s original plan. He’s also excellent at adjusting his feet when his first route doesn’t come open so he’s in position to make a sound throw to the next target in his progression. This sounds basic, but as you’ll read in subsequent profiles, many good prospects struggle with footwork.
In this context, critiquing Goff’s lack of experience dropping from center and expressing concerns about his jittery steps is like critiquing Frank Deford’s lack of experience covering squash matches and then expressing further concern that he might not write a compelling magazine feature on the subject because his hands shake a little bit when he types.
Still not convinced? Goff’s pocket presence is arguably the best of this class, in no small part due to his footwork. Just as his feet are light and fluid with drops and turns to set up his throwing stance, Goff’s footwork in the tight confines of the pocket deserves high praise. In addition to the textbook skills of climbing from pressure, flushing to a side, or spinning from oncoming defenders, Goff has the confidence, peripheral vision, and nimble feet to take the smallest possible step to avoid what looks like a defender with an inescapable angle. I call these “micro steps” because sometimes Goff doesn’t even appear to move, yet the defender misses wildly on a straight-line shot.
To make these minute adjustments, a quarterback must value delivering the football over avoiding contact, and this applies to Goff. He’s not a big-play threat as a runner, but when he sees or anticipates an open receiver on a vertical route, he’s willing to take punishment to get the ball to the best possible spot.
The previous statement is a vital part of accurate passing. The best quarterbacks can maneuver from pressure and still throw the ball accurately. Goff delivers the ball with pinpoint accuracy on a variety of throws at distances of 30-45 yards after eluding pressure in the pocket.
This aggressive mindset is one of my favorite things about Goff, but it can also be his greatest flaw. I love that Goff doesn’t check down when there’s time for him to work downfield. He is as good at making full reads of the field as any prospect I’ve watched in recent years and he’s patient with the reads he’s making.
He’ll wait for receivers to break open on routes and treat progressions like a conversation. In an era trending toward quarterbacks who make fast, computer-style mathematical calculations and throw mindlessly because a particular route is “supposed to be open,” Goff seems to listen and respond to cues, with a human creativity and insight. He’s also excellent at looking off the safety before returning to his primary target.
Because of his pocket maneuverability, patience, anticipation, arm, and accuracy, Goff will take unnecessary chances with the football. One of his most frequent mistakes is delivering the ball into an area where a defender has peeled off his shallow coverage responsibility and has dropped towards Goff’s target, undercutting the route. Although Goff may not have seen the proximity of this shallow coverage to his targets on all of these errors in judgment, I think he often reads the shallow coverage and feels overconfident about his ability to fire the ball past them.
And there’s a great reason for Goff’s confidence in his passing prowess. He may not have the best arm in the draft, but his arm is top tier in many categories that I use to measure arm strength. When it comes to delivering the ball from a good stance, I have seen pinpoint throws covering impressive distances with velocity: 57 yards from pitch to catch versus Air Force; a toss from the left hash to the right sideline covering 51 yards from pitch to catch, hitting the receiver in stride against USC; and a 60-yard, pitch-to-catch throw against San Diego State.
Another dimension of arm strength is how well a quarterback can deliver the ball when his feet aren’t set or he’s not operating from a moving base designed to give him momentum into his release (a rollout). Some of Goff’s most impressive off-platform throws include a 44-yard strike off his back foot up the seam against tight coverage versus Air Force and a 40-yard throw off-platform against Utah.
Although he has the power to deliver these passes to receivers in stride from impressive distances, he lacks the gun that hangs off the shoulders of Favre, Newton, Roethlisberger, and Stafford. His arm is stronger than, but closer to, Drew Brees, a great deep passer who can make the stick-throws that will prompt Ron Jaworski to ask for a tissue, but not the specimen of a thrower who will burn a hole through a defender to reach a receiver.
Like Brees, Goff is a passer with a good arm and excellent anticipation. He’s particularly good at throwing receivers open in the short and intermediate zones. In the red zone, Goff displays touch and placement on fade routes. He’s also adept at dropping the ball between tight Cover 2 zones up the sideline.
This anticipation and accuracy come in handy on routes covering 35-45 yards where Goff has to drop the ball in the bucket with the shortest possible drop. At the same time, ask Goff to zip the ball on a line 35 yards from where he’s standing and it will be there. When his accuracy suffers, Goff tends to place the ball a little behind the target, or he hasn’t made the best choice between using touch and anticipation and firing the laser cannon.
Goff is at his best in the pocket. He’s quick and he has a good feel for avoiding pursuit angles when scrambling, but he lacks deep speed, great acceleration, or brutish power to shake off wraps. He’s capable of earning positive yards when he breaks the pocket or the pocket collapses, but he’s not a big-play threat.
Goff also needs to do a better job of running with conviction early and sliding late. He takes too much punishment trying to find a better opening or waiting too long to end his carry.
His play-action game needs to be more convincing, and he’ll likely be asked to execute more play fakes in the NFL. He has a good range of motion on his pump fakes and enough violence for them to be convincing. This belies the concerns about Goff’s 9-inch hands because the college ball is shorter and thicker than the NFL ball. If Goff can deliver violent enough pump fakes with the college ball, the NFL ball will be easier to grip.
The greatest challenges for Goff’s transition will be adjusting to the speed and complexity of NFL defenses. Based on what he’s shown physically, mentally, and strategically at Cal, he’s ready for the challenge. If he’s matched with a strong offensive line and the rest of the surrounding talent can keep games tight, Goff will have an easier learning curve and he’ll maintain a good balance between aggression and foolhardy risk. If not, he could have a long, mistake-filled year.
Regardless, the talent is there. Goff is a playmaker with the skills to spread the ball around, the confidence to let his teammates make plays, and the creativity to turn bad into good. Just don’t expect miracles and he may surprise you with a few along the way.
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Jameis Winston has a more notable on-field leadership presence and Marcus Mariota is a better athlete, but Goff throws the ball better than both and has a better feel in the pocket. The pocket presence may not show right away because he’s not going to out-athlete opponents as he adjusts to the speed of the game in the way that Winston or Mariota did with limited success last year.
Goff is worth a first-round pick in dynasty leagues, possibly in the middle of the round. You have to ask yourself if you’re selecting on the basis of need, talent, build strategy or luxury. Goff is a good match for need if you don’t have trade bait and your league is stingy about hoarding starting quarterbacks. He’s also a good match for talent because he’s one of the top five skill talents in this class.
If your build strategy is to avoid rookie quarterbacks and you have the ammo to trade for an established starter, then don’t waste your time on Goff. If you have a good team and you’re seeking a player with a strong balance of talent and upside, Goff fits here, too.
This analysis of Goff is only the beginning of what you’ll find every year in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio publication. For most in-depth analysis of skill players available, get the 2018 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 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 each. You can pre-order the 2019 RSP beginning in December.