In 2016, Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff played out one of the worst rookie seasons for a QB in history. He did so as the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He did so with the knowledge that the Rams had sacrificed their 2017 NFL Draft first-round pick to acquire him. He did so in the Rams’ first season since relocating back to Los Angeles. He did so to such a degree it motivated the team to fire long-time Head Coach Jeff Fisher.
As it stands, Fisher is the black hole scapegoat. Every criticism lobbed at the 2016 Rams, at the offense, at Goff is being sucked up by the black hole beyond an event horizon somewhere in Montana.
In 2016, Goff averaged 155.6 yards per game, 1 interception per and less than a touchdown per. He’s 0-7 as an NFL quarterback. As a recent post from ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez suggests, “Goff should be better as a second-year player, but by how much?”
At TST, we tend to take things from the fan’s perspective above all else. So I’d tweak that question a bit.
Goff should be better as a second-year player, but how much will be enough to satisfy fans?
The biggest injustice of the 2017 offseason has been the understating of how bad the offense was in 2016. Or thought of another way, it has been the lack of responsibility for the scope of the failure assigned to the personnel. It allows fans and media to unfairly set a bar for the offense this year that doesn’t do new Head Coach Sean McVay any justice. Acting as if everything was Jeff Fisher’s fault creates the fantasy that McVay can come in and touch Goff, RB Todd Gurley and a cast of offensive lineman and passing game targets with a magic wand and undo everything prior to his arrival.
You see this line of thought often from Rams fans on social media manifested in the form of support based on whether or not a player simply is a Ram.
Last year at this time, Greg Robinson was going to be the 2016 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Fans would give specious backing as to why, but the real reason was simply that he was a Ram. Brian Quick would prove to be a credible red zone threat,
because he’s got the size because Offensive Coordinator Rob Boras knows how to use him because he was a Ram. The perfect example? WR Tavon Austin. There’s still a chorus claiming this is finally the year Tavon breaks out. Perennially held back by Fisher or QB play or poor offensive creativity or any excuse passing by on your screen, 2017 is indeed the year he breaks out some would have you believe. All this while now decrying Robinson and Quick and any other failed past investment. Why? They’re no longer Rams and Tavon remains in uniform.
What it leads to is the sense that Goff, for all his failures in 2016, is somehow inherently good simply because he’s a Ram. Don’t let your eyes and all those numbers deceive you. Jared Goff is a good QB maligned by the lack of surrounding talent and coaching. That has all been fixed. Unless it hasn’t. But it’s not Goff’s responsibility.
That’s all well and good when there’s no (meaningful) football to be played. But that time ends on Sunday. Fisher’s ability to pull every barely credible line of argument into his scapegoat orbit ends. And I do wonder how much fans will demand of Goff once the football takes over for the specious arguments.
Start with just an improvement in the most basic metric: yards gained. Of the last five QBs taken #1 overall in the draft (Matt Stafford, 2009; Sam Bradford, 2010; Cam Newton, 2011; Andrew Luck, 2012; Jameis Winston, 2015), all but one saw their yards per game decrease. The only one to see an increase was Winston who went from 252.6 yards per fame to 255.6 per, an increase of 1.2%.
If you’re looking for optimism, there are legit reasons for it. The lowest first year output of the group was Bradford at 219.5. So Goff has the most room to grow at 155.6, for whatever that’s worth.
There’s also Stafford’s three-year start to his career. Stafford threw for just 226.7 yards per game in 10 games in his rookie season before going on IR with a knee injury. The next year, he played just three games averaging less than 180 yards in each before shoulder injuries shut him down for the year. In his third professional season, Stafford exploded for nearly 315 yards per.
Perhaps a more rational comparison for Goff? Blake Bortles. The Jacksonville Jaguars took Bortles with the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. In his 13 rookie starts, he threw for just 206.5 yards. His sophomore output? 276.75, an increase of more than 33%.
Is that a mark Rams fans could tenuously accept out of Goff? It would see him out of the bottom tier of NFL QBs, but into a tier still below the halfway mark.
Would it depend on wins entirely and/or late game performance? If the Rams hit the bye at 3-4 and Goff is playing horribly, will Rams fans (and the coaching staff...) still hold out faith in some kind of mid-season improvement? Or conversely, if the Rams are 2-5 or 1-6 and Goff is playing “well” overall, will Rams fans take solace in his individual improvement?
Season previews for the Rams are, understandably, focusing on Goff’s second year as a marker for where the franchise is headed. I think that’s perhaps misguided, but football is a complex team sport that we often try to distill down to single players or platitudes for the sake of easing comprehension.
So with some respect for the complexity of both the sport and fan demands, what does Jared Goff have to do to satisfy fans and his coaches in 2017?
Can Jared Goff earn another year as the assumed starting QB just by being...bad?