New York has long been known to draft for the trenches and 2010 was no different. Despite the suggestion from some prognosticators that the Giants had a strong interest in linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (who eventually became a Falcon,) they took defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Considering the vacancy left by the release of Antonio Pierce prior to the draft, that selection appeared a risky strategy. Little did anyone know the Giants had a Secret Superstar on their roster in the form of 2008’s 5th round pick, Jonathan Goff.
Goff is the prototypical old school middle linebacker – punishing running backs and offensive lineman is his trademark. While he may not be ideal in coverage, that’s not to downplay his importance to a defense that ranked eighth best against the run in 2010.
A runner’s nightmare
Goff exploded as a run defender in 2010. He had the same number of defensive stops (37) as Bart Scott, our top ranked run-stopping inside linebacker, despite playing almost 200 fewer snaps. He also made more stops per tackle than studs like Patrick Willis and Brian Urlacher and missed just two tackles on the year. A particular highlight was an impressive Week 2 performance against Indianapolis where he logged five stops on seven tackles and earned a +3.0 Run D grade. He put on an equally strong display against Chicago two weeks later. His +14.5 rating for the year had him ranked as the ninth best inside linebacker against the run.
With over 300 tackles and a reputation for being tough against the run while in college, this is the kind of production the Giants may have envisioned as being the best case when drafting Goff. A defensive leader for Vanderbilt and a two-time second team All-SEC performer, Goff came with all of the backing of his former coaches and had the drive to stay in school for his senior season to once again captain the team and complete his mechanical engineering degree. It did take him nearly two seasons and an injury ahead of him, though, to get into the spot and earn enough of an opportunity to show what he was capable of on the NFL field.
Goff’s 2010 was in stark contrast to his 2009 when he first got the chance to contribute after Pierce’s injury and Chase Blackburn’s short stint as a replacement. He did little of note against the run in his first significant playing time, finishing his 248 snaps with a -0.9 rating and making just seven stops. Those snaps in 2009, though, were an achievement coming off of his rookie season in which he was rarely used and even when he was, he primarily saw action on special teams.
Know your limits
While Goff may be one of the better run defenders in the league, the knock on him as he entered the league has not gone away – his coverage needs work. Try as the Giants might to shield him in passing situations, he still sees a number of targets, even being replaced in nickel situations by Deon Grant. His completion percentage allowed of 68% was pretty good, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Goff gave up 178 passing yards (117 of them after the catch) for an average of 10.5 per reception and a particularly example of his struggles was in the season finale against Washington.
As with most players, Goff isn’t polished in all areas of play, but in 2010, his numbers leapt forward. For his sake, and that of Giants fans, that was a hopeful sign that he may be settling in and feeling more at ease with this level of competition. If this is a trend that continues for him, there’s no telling where Goff can go from here.
He’s rarely asked to rush the passer (just 36 times in 2010) but his run defending qualities may translate well if he saw an expanded role there, especially with his ability to shed blocks. Already at the top of his game against the run, if he finally finds a way to step it up in coverage, he could become one of the league’s better interior linebackers and more than a two-down option.
And it would be a surprise to most as Goff’s 2010 success was a widely-held secret.