Why Jared Goff is the best QB prospect in the country
Jared Goff is PFF’s top-graded college quarterback, a Heisman candidate and the leader of an undefeated Cal team — but perhaps most importantly, he’s arguably the best available quarterback prospect for the 2016 NFL draft.
Can he legitimately become the face of an NFL franchise, or is he emblematic of the relative lack of NFL-ready quarterbacks that are coming out of college at the moment? We’re going to take a look at the tape to pinpoint exactly where he excels — and where he falls short.
The first point to note is that Goff does run a dreaded spread offense at Cal. He won’t get any automatic “pro-style” bonus points the way Jameis Winston did or Christian Hackenberg seems to at the moment when it comes to evaluators. The system Goff plays in will be used by some as a knock against him, because how well he’ll play if plugged into a “vanilla” pro-style offense will remain a question mark until the time comes. That’s the same issue people had with Marcus Mariota.
When I dug into Josh Rosen’s incompletions last week, the single biggest reason for incomplete passes was him throwing high and missing his receivers on the play. Obviously Rosen is a freshman, so he isn’t going to be as polished, but the top reason for Goff’s incomplete passes are drops (10) and passes defensed (10). Though there will be some questionable decisions in that latter group, generally those plays are more about coverage defenders making a play on the ball than quarterbacks missing their targets. Passes thrown away is next (6), tied with the first real “QB-negative” incompletion type: overthrows (6).
Rosen had 15 overthrown passes alone. Of Goff’s incompletions this season only 30.2 percent have been poor quarterback accuracy or plays. If you adjust only for dropped passes, Goff has been accurate on 79.9 percent of his attempts, good for sixth in the nation. When you factor in the kind of pass-protection Goff is dealing with, that becomes even more impressive.
Despite getting rid of the ball on average in 2.28 seconds (33rd of 130 qualifying QBs in FBS), Goff’s offensive line has surrendered 52 total pressures in five games. He’s been sacked 12 times. He is under duress more than most quarterbacks but is as accurate as almost any of them. This is the key to both Goff’s grade and the Cal offense. They rely on him being able to reliably hit his targets and move the chains, and then strike over the top to keep teams honest.
Goff’s deep ball is among the best in football. If we look at just passes that travel 20+ yards in the air, Goff has completed 19 of 26 passes this season, and two of the incompletions were dropped. That’s an accuracy percentage of 80.8 on some of the most difficult passes in the game. That isn’t just the best mark in the nation — only eight other quarterbacks in the FBS can come within 20 percent of that figure.
Only two quarterbacks in the FBS have gained more yardage on deep shots this season than Goff, and both of those (Matt Johnson of Bowling Green and Dane Evans from Tulsa) have attempted almost double the number. Goff has more yardage on 14 fewer deep shots than TCU’s Trevone Boykin, and his accuracy percentage on them is more than 30 percent better.
That’s not to say that Boykin’s accuracy rate is poor – the NFL average is lower than his 50 percent figure, but rather to emphasize just how stratospheric Goff’s number is. The figure is in fact unsustainably good, and if we look at 2014 we see it back down at human levels, but his deep ball numbers remained excellent and plays like that are clearly one of his biggest strengths. Take a look at this play and the window he fits this ball into against Cover 3 from the defense.
Goff has two receivers split to his left, and the Washington defense is going to be running a Cover 3 look with the corner to the bottom of the picture dropping out to cover the deep third while the free safety has the middle of the field. Goff needs to split those two defenders on a skinny post and get the ball in before either one can get to make a play on it, and he does so to perfection. Making the play even more impressive is the fact that he does it with a defender in his face about to deliver a hit.
That in fact is a theme of Goff’s game — he is willing to stand in the pocket and wait, knowing he is going to take a hit if it buys his receiver the time to uncover. He will happily take the big hit if it allows him to make the big play down field. With the blocking he’s getting from Cal it’s often not much of a choice on the matter, but the fact that he’s able to accept that trade off and excel under those circumstances is impressive.
Goff’s numbers under pressure this season are also vaguely otherworldly. Last season as a sophomore he threw six touchdowns under pressure to just one interception and this year he has yet to throw a pick when pressured. His passer rating under pressure is actually higher than his passer rating when kept clean — something no quarterback ever sustains long-term and is remarkable enough even in a sample size of five games.
Take the above play as an example. Goff knows he has free-rushers coming from the right side, and he also knows he has a receiver breaking in on that side of the field, but in order for it to be complete he needs to hang on to the ball to buy his receiver time to run his route – he has not adjusted hot to the blitz. Goff delays his pass just long enough to make the pass viable and still delivers an accurate strike despite pretty good coverage and two free rushers about to bury him to the turf. This doesn’t look like much, but it’s really high-level decision making and execution all going on within split seconds of the ball being snapped.
So with all that in mind — what’s the knock on Goff?
When watching the tape the only real struggles that showed up were when Goff was presented with a zone defense. Against man coverage he is almost on autopilot within that offense, delivering accurate passes to receivers who can consistently beat man coverage easily enough to move the chains and then complete a big play over the top seemingly at will.
When he was shown a zone defense like Washington State deployed this week it throws a glitch into his programming. Suddenly, the spaces his receivers are used to running to are hazardous areas with additional defenders lurking and likely to appear from another area.
Goff could easily have been picked off three times in the first quarter in this game, and was picked off once, being baited into a throw against Cover 2 with the cornerback showing flat coverage before sinking and getting his hands to the pass Goff was trying to get over his head. This was a great play by the defensive back but a poor read by Goff, compounded by a rare poorly-thrown pass that could have been saved had it a little more air under it.
One legitimate issue with a lot of spread offenses is that it is all predicated on pre-snap reads. You line up, you see what it has caused the defense to do, and you know right away where you are likely to go with the football. The NFL is all about post-snap reads. Defenses will show you one thing before playing something else. Playing quarterback in the NFL involves processing so much information post-snap that it’s incredibly difficult to see if quarterbacks are capable of doing it until they are asked to. Goff stumbled badly early in this game when he was asked to read what the Cougars defense was doing, but did rebound later in the game and grew comfortable with it.
This is not the first game he has been fooled by zone concepts, and threw a very similar interception to the cover 2 corner against San Jose State earlier in the year.
Right now Goff is the best quarterback in the country, and likely the best quarterback prospect for the 2016 NFL draft. His game is full of positives, and he has all the physical traits you look for. The only pause for thought will be the influence of the offensive system he comes from and the question surrounding his ability to translate his game to the pros once he has to incorporate much more post-snap diagnosis. He has faltered at times this year when that has been asked of him, and that will get noticed.