Sage Rosenfels is a former 12-year NFL quarterback who writes, does radio, and podcasts about the NFL and college football.
We are less than two weeks removed from one of the most exciting NFL drafts in recent memory. All 32 teams feel they have upgraded their roster with exciting young talent who will make an immediate impact, as well as others who will develop into important pieces in the future. The draft is one of the NFL’s best hype machines, as it gives hope to each team - even the Browns - that their future is bright. After the lights are dimmed and the draft stage is deconstructed, it’s time for the players and coaches to get to work.
Some of the players drafted will be immediate NFL stars, while others will soon be out of the league, even first-rounders. Of all the positions, quarterbacks have been the trickiest players to scout. Quarterbacks taken in the first round are a huge gamble - some have immediate success while others never come close to being worth their high-pick status. On occasion, great quarterbacks are afterthoughts who become NFL stars (like Tom Brady and Kurt Warner). Drafting a quarterback high is a huge risk that can change an organization, for better or worse, for years to come.
Jared Goff is one year removed from being the first overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. Before and after the selection, he was complimented by nearly every analyst as a future NFL star who would lead the Los Angeles Rams for the next decade. A lot has changed in the last year for Goff. The organization fired Jeff Fisher and replaced him with the youngest head coach in NFL history, Sean McVay. Goff’s rookie year was memorable for all of the wrong reasons, as poor play from both him and his team as a whole resulted in the coaching overhaul.
This is what happens every year in the NFL. Young men who are only a few months removed from playing college football are expected to make huge impacts on struggling franchises, many of which haven’t won consistently for decades. Every year, many of these players don’t live up to the hype, as the honeymoon period of the draft quickly disappears.
Goff knows this all too well. Every rookie has hopes that they will come into the league and shine immediately. Some, like Dak Prescott, excel right out of the gate by landing in a perfect situation. Others, like Goff, end up on teams that even Brady wouldn’t be able to fix.
This is why McVay was hired. He and fellow first-year coach Kyle Shanahan are two young minds who view offensive football differently. McVay and Shanahan worked together in Washington and both are responsible for developing Kirk Cousins, who went from a fourth-round draft pick to a $25-million franchise player in just a few seasons. Both McVay and Shanahan view offensive football from one angle, the quarterback. Everything they do, even the running game, is with the quarterback’s success in mind. The pass-protection, route combinations, personnel decisions, and play-calling are done to put their quarterback in the best position to succeed. With Goff having a less-than-mediocre rookie year, this is undoubtedly one of the reasons McVay was hired. The Los Angeles Rams' ownership bet on Goff one year ago. Now they are betting on McVay to maximize their young quarterback’s talents.
I spoke to McVay about Goff last week regarding the first few months of their relationship. Though they have had only one minicamp, I could feel the genuine excitement in McVays’ voice regarding his signal-caller. When analyzing quarterbacks, McVay has a certain set of criteria he uses to make a decision on their abilities.
First, is the quarterback a pure passer? To succeed in the NFL as a QB, you must be able to make all the throws with accuracy. After studying Goff’s film and going through the Rams’ first minicamp, McVay is convinced that Goff’s arm isn’t a concern. “He can make every throw in this offense and I was particularly excited to see him push the ball down the field, even when he had the pocket collapsing around him,” said McVay. The second part of his response should not be overlooked. The combine and private workouts can give a false impression as to the real throwing conditions for a quarterback. Rarely in the NFL, especially on deeper throws, does a quarterback have a clean pocket. The ability to create velocity, while still being accurate, without being able to step into the throw is an important aspect of the position. Goff has this subtle but valuable asset.
Secondly, McVay said Goff showed he will stand in the pocket and deliver a throw while defensive linemen and linebackers are breaking down the protection. The courage it takes to do this separates the “combine” quarterbacks from those who actually succeed at the highest level. No quarterback likes getting hit. A young quarterback who stands in the pocket the extra split second to make a throw, knowing he will endure physical pain, gains a tremendous amount of respect from the players and coaches on his team. Many of the quarterbacks who are drafted high, and then fail, don’t have the courage to take the punishment necessary to play the position. Look through the lists of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and you won’t find one that didn’t take a beating during their career. A QB who can deal with pain is a necessity for a team to win on a consistent basis. The importance of making a throw must overshadow the pain of bruised ribs, especially for a young quarterback who must earn respect from the veterans on his team.
McVay was also encouraged by Goff’s ability to take what they had been working on in the classroom and transfer it to the field. Every NFL offense is unique. Plays which look the same on paper in different offenses many times have small details that can vastly affect the outcome. The NFL is a game of inches, and these details are more important for a quarterback than any other position. “I am encouraged by Jared’s ability to absorb our information and bring it to the field,” stated McVay. “He is absorbing a lot of information and he seems to easily understand, communicate, and execute the new offense.”
Over the next few months, Goff and his teammates must continue to learn these fine details in meetings and then bring them to the practice field. After one minicamp, Goff has shown he can do this with ease.
Lastly, their are various ways to excel as an NFL starting quarterback. Some, like Aaron Rodgers, are talented enough to execute a play just like it was designed, as well as make magic happen when something has broken down. Others, such as Michael Vick, excel more at off-scheduled plays rather than simply executing the offense. Then there are the Cousins types who don’t have the “playmaking” talent of some other QBs, but are masters at quickly progressing through their reads to find the open receiver. The quarterbacks who can sort through all of the information presented to him - from the play called, to the defense before and after the snap - and consistently find the open receiver are playing at a higher mental level than those who just make plays. In the long run, these “executors” are what coaches look for.
Fortunately for the Rams, Goff has shown he can be a mix of both executor and playmaker. Though he won’t be compared to Rodgers any time soon, he has shown signs of both positive traits. The Rams' offense, just like Washington’s and San Fran’s, values execution over simply “making plays.” By the way, McVay and Shanahan have designed the concepts in their running and passing attack to play off each other, so having a quarterback who can efficiently run this type of attack is invaluable. This is why both Cousins and reigning MVP Matt Ryan have excelled recently. On the other hand, anybody who watched Goff play at Cal saw his ability to make plays with his feet. He isn’t a runner, but he does have enough athletic ability to extend plays and find an open receiver downfield.
According to McVay, Goff has a lot of the same characteristics as Cousins and Ryan. He can make the same throws, shows the level of toughness required, absorbs and translates information easily, and has a yearning to be coached. This has me looking forward to Goff’s second season. Coaching and offensive style have a huge influence on a quarterback's ability to succeed. Based off Goff’s physical and mental talents, Rams fans should be excited for the future of their team.
After my initial analysis of the situation in L.A., I firmly believe we will see a very different Goff in 2017 and beyond. While the early feedback is based off non-contact practices, all signs point to a solid relationship between quarterback and coach. The Rams may have improved their team significantly this offseason and it may have nothing to do with the over-hyped draft. A quarterback in the right offense can improve a team much more than any player (or players) added to an NFL roster.
For the Rams, only time will tell.
(Photos courtesy: USA TODAY Sports)