What to expect from Jared Goff’s first NFL start

With Rams QB Jared Goff set to start against the Dolphins, Mike Renner previews the rookie's first meaningful NFL outing.

| 7 months ago
Rams QB Jared Goff

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

What to expect from Jared Goff’s first NFL start

When the Los Angeles Rams traded up to select Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick last April, this is exactly the start to his career they envisioned.

Wait…that’s not quite right.

It’s been the year of the rookie quarterback, but the top-overall pick has so far been the odd man out. Second-overall pick Carson Wentz and fourth-rounder Dak Prescott aren’t just playing well for rookies, they’re leading their respective teams towards the playoffs. If the Rams could realistically trade Goff for either straight up, it’s difficult to believe they wouldn’t at this point.

That being said, there’s a pretty significant silver lining for Los Angeles. There is strong evidence from our grades that performance as a rookie quarterback isn’t the end all, be all for one’s careers. Our grades have borne that out even in a small 10-year sample size; Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III, and Teddy Bridgewater all burst onto the scene with strong rookies seasons, and have yet to develop into much more than that, while Matt Stafford and Derek Carr were among the lowest-graded quarterbacks in the league as rookies before turning into the players they are today. Simply put, there’s no set learning curve for what a franchise quarterback looks like in the NFL.

So when Goff takes the field for the first time in a meaningful pro football game against the Dolphins on Sunday, what can we expect? In the short term, it’s impossible to say, but there’s a reason he was the near-consensus top quarterback in the draft. The rookie can throw the ball downfield with timing and accuracy. In his final season at Cal, Goff was accurate on 50 percent of his balls targeted 20+ yards downfield, and threw for more deep yards than any other quarterback from a Power-5 conference. He also routinely kept his poise under duress. Only eight quarterbacks in the entire FBS had more dropbacks facing pressure than Goff’s 172, and he would finish in the top-12 for accuracy under pressure (64.7) and quarterback rating (87.1).

The problem with both of those stats is that they rely heavily on comfort level. Accurate deep balls require intimate knowledge of a receiver’s speed and route breaks. Staying cool under pressure speaks to a quarterback’s mastery of a playbook, knowing precisely what routes are breaking open in the split second before a potential sack. In Cal’s offense, that was a given. He was a three-year starter with all three seasons coming under spread offensive guru Sonny Dykes. The reads he was making were simple, and the defenses he faced were unsophisticated.

When making the jump to the NFL this preseason, though, it’s safe to say that Goff was anything but comfortable. On 56 dropbacks, he only managed to attempt two deep balls, both of which fell off target, and his 20 pressured dropbacks resulted in a measly four completions for 41 yards to go along with an interception.

This is why it’s silly to criticize the Rams for their decision to have Goff ride the pine as long as he has. If a quarterback is uncomfortable in an offense, not only will the results on the field be subpar, but you run the risk of him developing bad habits to try and cope. With 10 weeks to prepare for the Dolphins, I fully expect both of those areas to improve, even if he won’t yet be at the levels Wentz and Prescott have displayed this season.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Always enjoy your articles Mike. Your learning curve point is valid but there is no denying that economic considerations that exist nowadays put incredible pressure on coaches to move those recently high drafted QBs forward on the curve at a much quicker rate than in years past. Much hype surrounded the Rams move back to Los Angeles and management obviously would like to prolong the “honeymoon” effect as long as possible. Would Goff have already seen action had the team still been based in St.Louis? I guess we can have fun speculating about that another day.

  • Larsch

    He can only improve if he plays ala Derek Carr – realistically the Rams aren’t going anywhere so why not give him 6 weeks of learning -Kennum is at his peak – this is all your going to get from him-

  • ramsfan

    wentz and prescott hit the ground running, the other rookie qbs who have played have had some success as well, to say it made sense for the rams to keep goff on the bench as long as they have, based on your evaluation of 56 preseason dropbacks with jags, is just comical. also, discomfort is the life of an nfl qb, more than a third of nfl passes are thrown under pressure, one in five passes result in a hit or sack, the only way goff is going to get used to this is play.