Los Angeles Rams rookie QB Jared Goff has to find a way to protect the ball better in the pocket.
Coming out of college, the young Cal product was lauded for his awareness and his ability to navigate in the pocket. Goff was often said to be a savvy, veteran-like presence in the pocket. While he showed flashes of being able to manipulate the pocket at Cal, those moments came too few and far between to be able to cement him as a great pocket presence.
Goff’s problems there have carried over to the NFL.
In the Rams’ first preseason matchup versus the Dallas Cowboys, Goff threw an interception as a product of failing to recognize a blitz, resulting in Goff being popped as he threw and the ball flying up into the air. To be fair, the blitzer was not picked up by the offensive line or the running back, but Goff didn’t notice the pass rusher at all until it was far too late.
Later in that game, Goff took a sack that he did not necessarily need to. The pressure was once again overwhelming, but Goff had his feet glued to his spot in the pocket failing to react to the rushers in time and move off of his spot. Goff instead crumbled to the ground in the face of defenders.
In just his second preseason game, Goff coughed up the ball as a result of a sack. Even worse, Goff sacked himself on the play.
But Goff’s questionable awareness in the pocket is only half of the equation. Goff does not hang onto the ball well when he gets hit. In his three years as the starting quarterback at Cal, Goff fumbled 23 times. He only fumbled four times throughout his junior year (his final season), but the overall number is still largely concerning.
Part of the problem for Goff is how slight he is. It’s clear that there is room left to be filled out in Goff’s frame. Given his weight, Goff naturally does not absorb hits as well as others, and it can lead to him being severely jolted upon impact. That might be fine for a quarterback with large hands to grip the ball, but Goff does not have that benefit either.
According to the league’s official site, Goff measured in with nine-inch hands at the NFL Combine. The generally accepted threshold is around nine and a quarter inches (maybe nine and an eighth, depending on the leniency of the team), putting Goff just below that. The threshold is there to gauge how easily a quarterback can grip the ball, a trait that affects their ability to throw a spiral and how well they can hang onto the ball. Goff having sub-optimal hand size in addition to his other issues is going to lead to turnovers in the NFL, much like it has in the past.
For reference, Marcus Mariota also caught flak for fumbling in the pocket. Like Goff, Mariota had some issues with awareness in the pocket and would leave himself prone to big hits. There was more to the story with Mariota, though. When Mariota measured in at the NFL Combine, he was as tall as Goff, weighed seven more pounds and his hands were larger by nearly a full inch.
Mariota’s alarming total of 27 fumbles in his three-year career was problematic on the surface, but was less so when considering that Mariota often scrambled and declared himself a runner. Of course, turnovers are turnovers, but the problem for Mariota was not necessarily fumbling as a passer in the pocket. Rather, it was fumbling in general as a result of his play style. He had issues determining when and when not to kill plays, leading to a number of his fumbles.
Since entering the NFL, Mariota has not improved in that regard. There are still moments where he takes too long to read pressure and the result is a fumble. As a rookie, Mariota fumbled ten times, six of them which he lost.
Jared Goff not being able to hold onto the ball is not a deal breaker by any means. Mariota proved to be a top notch rookie quarterback in spite of his shortcomings as a ball protector. It means that Goff needs to improve his awareness in the pocket and reaction time to pressure in order to avoid situations in which he might fumble. Packing on a few extra pounds wouldn’t hurt him either.
Adjusting to the NFL is going to be a major learning curve for Jared Goff. There are plenty of things he needs to work on, as is the case with any young quarterback. Holding onto the ball in the pocket should be on the forefront of skills for him to improve on. The NFL community may not generally think of fumbles in the pocket being as bad as interceptions, but the bottom line remains the same.
Turnovers are turnovers.