Hope For Jared Goff?

Hope For Jared Goff?
Hope For Jared Goff?
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Guest column by Damon Gulczynski

Jared Goff, to put it diplomatically, did not have the rookie season he was hoping for. The first overall pick in the 2016 draft, it became clear early in the preseason to the Rams' coaching staff (and to people watching HBO's Hard Knocks) that Goff was not going to be the type of quarterback to start in the NFL right away. Although that must have been slightly concerning to Rams fans (assuming they still exist), sitting on the bench for a while is certainly not a death knell for a young quarterback. Plenty of good quarterbacks have struggled early to adapt to the pro game.

As the season progressed, however, and the Rams' playoff chances began to quickly spiral down the drain for the 11th year in a row, the decision not to play Goff became more and more curious. The Rams were foundering on the field once again; their current starting quarterback (Case Keenum) was a replacement-level filler; they were back in Los Angeles and surely wanted to give their new/old (hypothetical?) fans some hope for the future; their head coach was on the hot seat and likely needed to showcase something positive from the team's large investment at quarterback to save his job. How unready could Goff possibly be to not get a chance under these circumstances?

We found out the answer in Week 11 when Goff finally made his first start: very. He was very unready.

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Goff played the remaining seven games of the season without picking up a win. Much more disconcerting than his record was his performance. Goff was a disaster, so much so that if Rams management wanted to give up on him and start looking for a new quarterback of the future after the season, it would have been tough to criticize them for doing so. I'm not saying they should have done so, but if they had, it would be a completely reasonable decision. My rationale for this is illustrated in three tables below.

First, I gathered data for all quarterbacks drafted in the top ten overall since 1987. I took the first season in which each of these quarterbacks recorded at least 200 pass plays (by Football Outsiders' numbers -- counting sacks and defensive pass interference penalties, but not clock-killing spikes), and sorted all these seasons by DVOA from worst to best. All seasons with a DVOA below 20.0% are listed below.

Worst Debuts as Starting QB, Top-Ten Draft Picks, 1987-2016
Rank Player Team Year* DVOA Pass Yards TD INT C%
1 Jared Goff LARM 2016 -74.7% 230 876 5 7 54.9%
2 Kelly Stouffer SEA 1992 -73.1% 218 678 3 9 48.4%
3 Ryan Leaf SD 1998 -51.8% 269 1131 2 15 45.9%
4 Donovan McNabb PHI 1999 -51.6% 246 737 8 7 49.3%
5 Akili Smith CIN 2000 -51.4% 303 998 3 6 44.7%
6 David Carr HOU 2002 -47.4% 529 2108 9 15 53.3%
7 Blaine Gabbert JAC 2011 -46.5% 457 1888 12 11 51.1%
8 Blake Bortles JAC 2014 -40.7% 530 2554 11 16 59.1%
9 Matt Stafford DET 2009 -36.6% 394 2091 13 20 54.5%
10 Trent Dilfer TB 1995 -31.0% 461 2435 4 16 54.2%
11 Tim Couch CLE 1999 -28.4% 457 2067 15 13 56.1%
12 Troy Aikman DAL 1989 -26.7% 311 1565 9 17 53.4%
13 Mark Sanchez NYJ 2009 -26.5% 390 2249 13 20 54.6%
14 Eli Manning NYG 2004 -25.4% 208 946 6 9 49.2%
15 Kerry Collins CAR 1995 -23.8% 461 2529 14 19 49.8%
16 Jake Locker TEN 2012 -23.6% 341 2004 10 10 56.9%
17 JaMarcus Russell OAK 2008 -21.6% 400 2217 13 8 54.3%
18 Joey Harrington DET 2002 -20.9% 436 2226 12 15 50.2%
19 Jeff George IND 1990 -20.3% 371 1772 16 12 55.2%
* First season in which player had at least 200 pass plays.

As one would expect, this list contains pretty much every quarterback bust of the last 30 years -- Gabbert, Russell, Smith, Leaf, they're all there. It does contain a few very good players, notably Hall of Famer Troy Aikman. But this isn't all that comforting for Goff fans, when you consider that although Aikman is on the list, his bad first season was still better than Goff's. And that's an immediate corollary of the fact that everybody's bad first season was better than Goff's. Goff is at the very top of the bad first season list, and he's markedly worse than everybody from No. 3 (Ryan Freakin' Leaf!) down. His only close companion at the top is Kelly Stouffer, and as you will find out shortly, that is not great quarterbacking company to keep.

In the next table, in an attempt to find at least one positive comp for Goff, I considered the first season with at least 200 passes of each quarterback since 1987 who had achieved some success, defined in this way:

  • He had five or more NFL seasons with 12 or more starts each, or is currently a starting quarterback in the NFL.
  • He ranked in the top half of the league in passing DVOA at least two seasons.
  • He was the primary starter on a team that made the playoffs

I figure this is very close to the absolute minimum level of achievement Goff would need to attain in order to have his career be deemed somewhat of a success. I then sorted the seasons of each quarterback who fit these criteria by DVOA from worst to best. In the table below I include all those with a DVOA less than -10.0%.

Worst First Seasons by "Successful" QBs, 1987-2015
Rank Player Team Year DVOA Pass Yards TD INT C%
1 Donovan McNabb PHI 1999 -51.6% 246 737 8 7 49.3%
2 Kirk Cousins WAS 2013 -42.6% 160 820 4 7 52.9%
3 Matt Stafford DET 2009 -36.6% 394 2091 13 20 54.5%
4 Troy Aikman DAL 1989 -26.7% 311 1565 9 17 53.4%
5 Eli Manning NYG 2004 -25.4% 208 946 6 9 49.2%
6 Kerry Collins CAR 1995 -23.8% 461 2529 14 19 49.8%
7 Vinny Testaverde TB 1988 -17.8% 500 2941 13 34 47.7%
8 Matt Hasselbeck SEA 2001 -17.8% 360 1760 7 8 55.2%
9 Jake Plummer ARI 1997 -17.7% 346 1892 15 14 53.8%
10 Alex Smith SF 2006 -16.0% 477 2694 16 16 59.0%
11 Derek Carr OAK 2014 -14.9% 622 3071 21 12 58.9%

This table is even worse for Goff. Now there is nobody particularly close to him. Worse, there are only 11 names, illustrating just how unlikely it is to go from even a moderately bad first season to even a moderately successful career. And Goff's first season was much worse than moderately bad, which brings me to Table 3. Here I list all seasons since 1987 for a quarterback with at least 200 passes and a DVOA below -45.0%. These are the very worst years in the FO database.

Worst Single-Season Passing DVOA
Rank Player Team Year DVOA Pass Yards TD INT C%
1 Jared Goff LARM 2016 -74.7% 230 876 5 7 54.9%
2 Kelly Stouffer SEA 1992 -73.1% 218 678 3 9 48.4%
3 Brian Hoying PHI 1998 -68.3% 265 763 0 9 51.1%
4 JaMarcus Russell OAK 2009 -62.0% 278 1081 3 10 49.0%
5 Trent Dilfer SF 2007 -55.4% 244 983 7 11 52.6%
6 Alex Smith SF 2007 -52.8% 208 779 2 4 49.5%
7 Ryan Leaf SD 1998 -51.8% 269 1131 2 15 45.9%
8 Donovan McNabb PHI 1999 -51.6% 246 737 8 7 49.3%
9 Heath Shuler NO 1997 -51.6% 225 1133 2 14 52.7%
10 Akili Smith CIN 2000 -51.4% 303 998 3 6 44.7%
11 Jimmy Clausen CAR 2010 -48.2% 336 1295 3 9 53.0%
12 Jay Fiedler MIA 2004 -48.2% 215 1021 7 8 53.2%
13 Chad Hutchinson DAL 2002 -48.1% 281 1317 7 8 51.4%
14 David Carr HOU 2002 -47.4% 529 2108 9 15 53.3%
15 Blaine Gabbert JAC 2011 -46.5% 457 1888 12 11 51.1%
16 Andrew Walter OAK 2006 -46.2% 326 1399 3 11 53.5%
Minimum 200 pass plays.

Again, we find Jared Goff at the top the list -- the worst of the worst. Somehow Goff was less efficient than a quarterback who threw nine interceptions and no touchdowns. Even more troubling, he was worse than Kelly Stouffer.

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Although few fans probably remember Stouffer, he occupies his own little nook in NFL history for being one of the quarterbacking costars (along with Stan Gelbaugh and Dan McGwire) of the 1992 Seahawks -- arguably the worst passing team since the forward pass became a thing as we know it. As an avid Seattle sports fan since the mid-'80s, I can tell you first-hand how bad the 1992 Seahawks were. My favorite stat about them is that even though they a decent running game and a very good defense, they never scored more than 17 points in a game. I couldn't even win with them on Madden -- they were too dreadful for even virtual success. And Jared Goff last season was worse than their worst primary quarterback.

The most encouraging name in the table above for Rams fans is definitely Donovan McNabb. The ex-Eagle had a legitimately terrible first season (which was still nontrivially better than Goff's) before putting together a near-Hall of Fame career. But the thing about McNabb is that it took him many years to develop into a top-notch passer. In the interim, however, he was still able to generate value on the field in large part by running the ball and by scrambling to keep plays going… and going… and going. Being that Goff is a pocket passer who ran for a total 16 yards last season, any McNabb comp feels like a big stretch.

Alex Smith -- the only other guy on the last table who was or has been a good quarterback over a sustained period of time -- is also an imperfect comp for Goff, but he's a better one than McNabb. And Smith was actually once worse than Goff. His rookie 2005 campaign came up a bit short of the 200-pass threshold, but it's still worth considering:

Rookie Seasons: Alex Smith vs. Jared Goff
Rank Player Team Year DVOA Pass Yards TD INT C%
1 Alex Smith SF 2005 -88.9% 194 696 1 11 51.2%
2 Jared Goff LARM 2016 -74.7% 230 876 5 7 54.9%

Precedent has been set! There is still hope for Goff. If everything goes exactly right for him, he might someday get benched for a quarterback who in turn will get benched for Blaine Gabbert!

Snark aside, this does show at the very least that it would not be totally unheard of for Goff to develop into a useful quarterback. But that is essentially the case for optimism for Jared Goff: 192 passes from Alex Smith 12 years ago, and the truism that anything can happen. There's just not a lot there to hang one's hat on.

Damon Gulczynski is a life-long Seahawks fan who writes about sports as a hobby; his recent work has also appeared at Football Perspective.


35 comments, Last at 28 May 2017, 11:19pm

1 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

The Alex Smith comparison shouldn't give Rams fans all that much hope, either. Smith looked like a total bust until his fourth season. If Goff also takes until his fourth season to show signs of life, it would be too late for LA to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. So they would end up in an awkward situation of having to decide whether to throw an Osweiler of a contract at a guy who's only had one decent year, cut bait on a promising QB, or end up in Kirk Cousins Infinite Franchise Tag Purgatory.

2 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

Betteridge's law of headlines states that "any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'no'."

3 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

It has to be profoundly discouraging to Jaguars fans to see two of their quarterbacks have bottom-10 rookie seasons...separated by only 3 years.

10 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

Two other reasons for not-total-pessimism about Goff based on the first table.

First, looking at the "below -20% DVOA debut season" QBs, there seems to be little relationship between how bad they were in their debut and whether they managed to have some success. The average debut DVOA of the 5 QBs who had some success (McNabb, Stafford, Aikman, Manning, and Collins) is -32.8%, which is only slightly better than the -36.9% average debut DVOA of the 12 QBs who did not (all the rest except Bortles & Goff, for whom it is too soon to tell). Being worst on the list of bad rookie seasons is still a bad sign, but it's probably not as strong a sign as it seems.

Second, the QBs who wound up being successful all had their awful debuts as rookies (Alex Smith as well as McNabb, Stafford, Aikman, Manning, and Collins). I haven't checked all of the others, but at least some of them (like Akili Smith and Trent Dilfer) had more time in the NFL before their awful 200+ attempt debut.

4 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

I believe there is hope for Goff under the simple reason that Jeff Fisher was a terrible coach for most any QB. I don't know how McNair managed to have a decent career with Fisher as his coach other than sometimes transcendent talent will overcome all odds.

11 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

That is the bit of hope for Goff. On the other hand, if you sit for 11 games, attended the whole of training camp and then look awful - it's worrying. As bad a rap as we give Fisher his teams were still hitting close to average in a tough division - they weren't complete flameouts.

It's not like the days when Jamarcus Russell held out for a huge contract and then came in to play for a rookie HC and looked awful. Or Troy Aikman was the opening day starer for a team coming off 1-15 that decided to trade its star running back.

12 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

The Rams offence - specifically the pass offence - was a trainwreck and had been for several years under Fisher. It was a terrible situation for a rookie QB to be thrown into. Still, you would have liked to have seen something from Goff, as a no.1 pick, that transcended his surroundings.

5 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

I took a similar brief look at Goff's rookie season here (using Pro Football Reference's Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt Index, where 100 is league average that season). Goff is just so far behind everyone else, and that much further behind any QBs who were eventually successful, that I see no reason for optimism there.

6 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

The formatting on that comment broke on mobile. (Side note, when will FO go mobile-friendly?) Anyway, link to the data is here:


7 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

Change the cutoff to 150 attempts and he's right next to Alex Smith. Smith started the same number of games as Goff and was involved in just 15 fewer plays (40 fewer passes thrown, 3 more sacks, 22 more rushing attempts), so their workloads were pretty comparable too.

9 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

I don't know. I mean, what if he hadn't played at all? What about the successful QBs who didn't play on year 1, presumably because they would've been terrible? Granted, that sort of thing happens less and less often now and the list might not be very long. But McNabb and Alex Smith prove there's at least some hope.

Even as I type this I feel the strength leave my fingers as if they don't believe it themselves, but you never know, the sample sizes are so small in football you never can be quite sure.

20 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

I was trying to make a joke (not a good one, apparently), about Goff's appearance in Hard Knocks (he literally didn't know which direction the sun rose and set in).

Even then, I'm not holding out much hope for him.

24 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

What about mermaids?

To me, being a conspiracy theorist about paleontology is somewhat more forgivable than not possessing elementary school-level knowledge about astronomy/planetary science. Sure, that has nothing to do with quarterbacking...but it could be an ominous sign about Goff's ability to learn and process new information (i.e. about offensive systems, reading defenses, learning from mistakes, etc.)

31 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

pretty sure sun goeos under horizon to sleep for a whiel just like people and antelopes and bears amnf stuff. then sun does in fact rise around 6, 7, 8 am or so for new day of brightening landscape for 12-14 hours or something

13 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

For anyone who was strong enough to endure a Rams game last year, what did Goff actually look like on the field? These numbers are bad, but I can't tell if it's miss-by-four-feet bad or hold-onto-the-ball-until-you-get-sacked bad.

17 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

For my sins, I watched the Thursday Night game against the Seahawks, and the entire Rams offence was so dysfunctional and overmatched that it was simply impossible to evaluate Goff. The best I can say from the evidence of that game is that he took some scary looking hits and kept managing to get up.

14 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

Without disagreeing with the general gist of the thoughts in this piece, I don't find the argumentation especially compelling. Do we really know what the statistical value is of the difference between -75% DVOA and -40% DVOA? Although DVOA columns tend to focus on "best" and "worst" ratings historically, I have tended to imagine that the rating system's greatest power is in determining the relationship between, say +15% and -20% where you are talking about positive vs. negative play. Once you are horrifically inefficient, does it actually make that much of a difference if you are -25% vs. -38%?

It's a zero-sum game, football, so if you throw 2 picks and try to hold down the margin the rest of the way, you suck. But if you throw 6 picks and flame out just trying for all your worth, you probably look worse, but where is the statistical power in that evaluation?

Essentially, DVOA looks poorly on Goff, which suggests he will not rebound and have a promising sophomore season or career, but DVOA also looked poorly on McNabb, Collins, Aikman, and Eli Manning, all Super Bowl quarterbacks.

The worst season passing table seems more compelling to me, but even there you have some serviceable names. The strongest conclusion I would draw from this data is that Goff had a terrible season and that players who play as poorly as he did are usually, but not always, bad players.

15 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

Don't get me wrong, Goff had a horrendous year, but something stats won't give you is context. The LA Rams were a dumpster fire of coaching. Between moving to LA and all the cameras around (not just Hard Knocks, but also All or Nothing) it was always going to be a tough season for the organization. That's not an excuse, it's just a factor.

The Rams promoted their TE coach (Rob Boras) to OC (technically "Assistant Head Coach Offense") and brought in Mike Groh from the Bears as the "Passing Game Coordinator". Boras and Groh brought their two systems together, which was likely a lot of gobbledygook. The Rams' prior OC was Frank Cignetti who was promoted from QB Coach after no one wanted to work with Fisher. As best as I can tell, Brian Schottenheimer is the last OC the Rams had with prior NFL experience at the position. And Schotty's system, a variation on Air Coryell, is reknowned for complicated language.

So, Schottenheimer to Cignetti to Boras/Groh. This is all Jeff Fisher wanting to keep continuity on the offensive side. And it was all terrible. Hell, Groh was QB Coach under Marc Trestman who is rightfully out of the NFL. Groh is on record as saying he blended his concepts with Boras to create the 2016 Rams offense. Something tells me that didn't work out well.

The hardest thing for Goff was always going to be the language of the NFL and he got thrown into the deep end, which is why he sat for so long. I don't think he was ready to start and the coaching staff was likely forced into starting him. Goff was their hail mary to save their jobs and they all obviously flunked.

Take all of this together and, well, I'm gonna give everyone on the 2016 LA Rams a pass. They were in the worst situation possible with Fisher as their head coach with BS piling up as high as it can go. Their new coach, Sean McVay, might still use some of the more complicated and antiquated aspects of NFL offenses, I'm not sure, but he coaxed the best from Kirk Cousins and reportedly did so through effective communication. That's important because by all reports Fisher's staff was speaking Chinese to Goff and he played like it. McVay is supposedly running more of a spread type offense and that's great news for Goff as McVay will be speaking English to him.

Side note: The Rams OL is trash. Any line starting Greg Robinson at a Tackle position is going to get their QB killed. Perhaps Goff is already in David Carr territory. We'll see.

16 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

Reports suggesting that Goff is picking up the new offense quickly. Of course take that with a pinch of salt given that the Rams have no alternatives at QB.

But I can imagine there being some stubbornness on the part of the Fisher regime to force Goff into a system he couldn't pick up rather than simplifying it so they could get the best out of him even if it was limited.


18 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

I don't know if a pinch of salt is enough to cover it. Preseason optimism never means anything. Here's one from this time last year, talking about how quickly Goff is picking things up and how easy the coaching staff is making it for him:


22 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

Good find.

That article is almost a word-for-word copy with a few cut & pastes to get rid of Fisher for McVay. Clearly the Rams PR dept aren't having to work too hard.

19 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

Looking at the list of QBs who started terribly and became at least decent, it's a list largely full of teams that surrounded the QB with somebody to throw to. Exactly who is Goff throwing to this year? His top three WRs are presumably Tavon Austin, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. Also, his offensive line is largely a dumpster fire, and, Wade Philips bounceback notwithstanding, the defense largely sucks once you get past the defensive line. So . . . optimism?

25 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

Lets think in terms of probabilities - what is the probability given the evidence we've seen, that goff turns into a probowl level player ? What about average? How likely is he just an outright bust.

Considering the list and comparisons - if the most likely upside is Alex Smith, then I would think his chances of any kind of prolonged success couldn't be any higher than 30%(and that's being optimistic). If that's the case and you were running the team having just taken over a mess from your predecessors - would you consider already cutting bait and looking for another qb later on and hosting a true competition for the qb?

26 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

I think it's very probable that Goff is a bust. As far as what I would do next if I were the Rams? I guess that depends on what you think of next year's quarterback class. I would not hesitate to draft a good prospect in the first or second round if given the opportunity to do so. The biggest mistake teams make is giving their obviously failing highly drafted QB too many chances, and passing up the chance to replace him. The odds are against him getting better before you get fired.

30 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

I was shocked that Eli was only 14th on this list; I'd have assumed higher. His 2004 felt worse than that.

But looking at the PFR game log, his last three games were surprisingly decent. 61% completions, 6.1 Y/A, 5-3 TD-INT, 1 sack per game. Not great by any stretch of the imagination, but if he had done that all year he wouldn't even sniff this list.

But he didn't. :)

32 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

loo0kign at these charts, see acocorindg to DVOA j. goff weorst quartervback rookie seasojn since 1987. didn;'t realize he was THAT pathetic. did not see moist of his games. so only really looked at raw stats. of course, passing stats are through roof now. so gjuy can be stinky and still have better numbers than a good passer form 1971 or 1965 or 1986.

34 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

FYI Kirk Cousins is listed with 160 attempts in one of the 200-minimum tables (PFR has 155 attempts for him in 2013, he didn't hit 200 until 2014)

Unless I'm misunderstanding the job of that table, in which case maybe that's not clear

35 Re: Hope For Jared Goff?

It's FO's pass stats, which means sacks and DPIs do count, but spikes and a handful of other plays don't. But you're right, it's a mistake that he is listed in the table. We should have listed his 2014 season, which was much better, with a DVOA of 4.6%.