Jared Goff, Best Available Quarterback
Back in 2011, a film called The Artist won the Oscar for Best Picture. It wasn’t your typical victor. The Artist was a black-and-white, silent film set in the 1920s. Not the type of film that draws in a wide demographic but one that is always likely to draw critical acclaim if created correctly.
Even considering the quality of the film, The Artist was only able to win because it wasn’t a great year for film makers.
No matter the quality of films made in a given year, the Oscars is always going to be held. There will always be a winner for each award so there will always be one film that becomes tied to Forrest Gump, the Gladiator and The Departed as a Best Picture winner, even if there isn’t actually one that deserves that mantle.
That is what happens in the draft.
Every year has to have a first overall player and 32 first rounders, at least every year when the Patriots aren’t caught deflating footballs. It doesn’t mean that every year has prospects who are on par with those who have preceded or who will follow them. That is why the Trade Value Chart is built on a flawed premise, though it’s uncertain if Jimmy Johnson was expecting it to be used the way it is used today.
It’s possible to be the best player at a position in a given class without being a good prospect. When you conflate best available with quality prospect is when you overpay at draft time and over-expect afterwards.
Jared Goff is the best quarterback available in the 2016 draft. He’s also not a particularly impressive player.
Goff isn’t close to the quality of Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota from last year’s class. He wouldn’t have been close Teddy Bridgewater as the best prospect in the previous class. Each of those three quarterbacks had obvious traits that would translate to the NFL, each showed off poise in the pocket, intelligence breaking down coverages and consistent accuracy.
Any quarterback who enters the draft needs to have shown off his strengths on a consistent basis against inferior opponents at that level. You can make mistakes, everyone does. How often you make mistakes and how much you need to develop will ultimately determine if you deserve to start in the NFL though.
It didn’t matter that Jameis Winston turned the ball over too much, his intelligence and process in the pocket were prevalent in every game he played. It didn’t matter that Marcus Mariota played in a supposedly simple scheme, his skill set could transcend his situation. It didn’t matter that Bridgewater couldn’t throw the deep ball, he consistently played to the greater strengths of his skill set.
Throughout his time at California, Goff made plenty of mistakes. Instead of acting as exemptions, those mistakes highlighted flaws that were consistent throughout his play.
Goff will make some very impressive throws. He throws the ball with high velocity and an arc that makes for a very catchable ball when it’s placed correctly. He is able to threaten the defense at every level while also pushing the ball to both sidelines.
The way Goff throws the ball allows him to arc it over defenders lingering in passing lanes, something that can be seen in the above play.
If you just take Goff’s best throws and isolate them, he appears to be an extremely talented passer. He can fit the ball into tight windows and lead his receivers to space on downfield throws. He just doesn’t do it anywhere near consistently enough.
This throw against Utah highlights his arm talent, Goff is able to push the ball more than 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage from a relatively tight pocket while leading his receiver outside of the numbers.
Isolating plays and using small samples to gauge a quarterback’s arm talent is dangerous because of plays like this one. You would presume because he can make this difficult throw that he can make any throw you ask of him. That is not the case.
Both of these throws are completions. They are catchable passes on simple throws. Both have less-than-ideal ball placement though. In Cal’s offense, Goff was able to throw a lot of screen passes and one-option plays to the flat like these. They are not difficult throws but he routinely made them more difficult than they needed to be for his receivers.
The issue is the same on both plays. Goff’s throws are limp, low and too far infield. Pick plays like this work in the NFL, but rarely with the same success as these did.
Goff wouldn’t have completed either of these passes if they had been anywhere close to well defended. He needs to throw the ball with velocity outside of his receiver, allowing him to turn upfield more comfortably in the first and to catch the ball more comfortably in the second.
This may seem like nitpicking, but the the standard for sloppy lowers in the NFL. Furthermore, this is only one issue that Goff has.
On more than one occasion, Goff threw slant routes straight to defenders. Those passes looked like they led the receiver too far infield and were throws that he likely shouldn’t have attempted based on how the cornerback had approached, however, it’s tough to fully blame him for those types of plays because he may have simply been expecting his receiver to win in his route when he didn’t.
The above play is completely Goff’s fault though. He misses the shallow crossing route, throwing the ball straight to the arriving defender.
It was a pass that should never have been thrown, but if it was going to be thrown it needed to lead its intended receiver further towards the sideline. Throwing receivers open isn’t something Goff does very often, if at all. He doesn’t show off the precision and understanding of a top-tier quarterback prospect.
Worsening matters, when he does miss he can often miss wildly.
On this play, Goff is attempting to throw a touch pass to his fade route on the left. He releases the ball as his receiver is coming out of his break. The receiver has run a very impressive route so he is wide open, but Goff’s pass sails over his head, landing far out of bounds.
He never even gave his receiver a chance to make a play on the ball despite having time to set his feet and deliver the ball in the pocket.
On this play you actually see Goff make a good read while stepping up in the pocket. That is rare for him as he typically rushes to get rid of the ball and will drop his eyes more often than not when a defensive end has gotten level or behind him.
This would have been a really impressive play if Goff simply hadn’t missed the receiver. It could also have been a huge gain for the offense if he had led him infield and controlled the velocity of his pass.
Controlling ball placement and velocity is very difficult. It’s why there are so few precision passers playing in the NFL. Most quarterbacks miss in specific ways. They will miss specific routes against specific coverages, miss to certain depths of the field, miss throwing left or throwing right or miss when they have to throw against pressure.
Goff doesn’t miss in a specific way, he misses in many ways.
It’s typically better to overthrow deep routes than underthrow. The logic is simple, the further you throw it, the less likely there will be a defender in place to catch it. Because Goff struggles to throw touch passes, plays such as the one above are always a threat.
Once again he moves his feet in the pocket while coming off his first read. He gets rid of the ball at the perfect time and has found multiple receivers who could be thrown open.
At first I presumed Goff was trying to throw the ball to the post route going into the endzone, but he may have been trying to find the seam route that was close. Whenever you can’t tell who the pass was intended for, it’s a problem. A major problem.
Goff either horrendously overthrew the seam route or horrendously underthrew the post route. Either way, it was a horrendous throw.
Because he often rushes to get rid of the ball and because the offense is often designed for him to get rid of the ball quickly, Goff doesn’t spend a lot of time delivering the ball against pressure. When he does, it’s typically not pretty.
This gif has been slowed down so you can see exactly how Goff shifts his weight and moves his feet through his throwing motion. He is clearly disturbed by the arriving defender, initially setting his feet but then resetting so his lower body is moving backwards as the ball comes out of his hand.
Unsurprisingly, the ball arrives nowhere near his receiver in the endzone.
Delivering the ball against pressure consistently is a requirement in the NFL. You might land behind a great offensive line that can protect you, but history suggests that won’t be sustained from season to season. Goff has some impressive throws from tight pockets but his footwork is a greater concern than those are a comfort.
It’s not just how he delivers the ball. He also lacks subtlety in his movement, preferring to escape left or right with longer, harder steps rather than making short shifts in tight areas. His athleticism allowed him to scramble when the threat of a tight pocket engulfing him came, but he’s not a spectacular athlete so that won’t be something he can rely on against world class athletes on the next level.
Being a quarterback prospect with accuracy issues isn’t always a death knell. You need to be able to mitigate pressure in the pocket and consistently make good decisions to counter it though.
Goff doesn’t project as someone who can mitigate pressure in the pocket, while his mental process leaves a lot to be desired. Goff will linger too long on his first read, disrupting the timing of his route combinations and allowing defenders more time to react to his actions.
More importantly, he doesn’t show awareness in the pocket to understand how much time he does have.
That was the issue in the above play. He held the ball in the pocket and his footwork was good, if a little choppy, but he rushed the throw once he couldn’t find anyone who was open. He had time to step forward or stay where he was to give his receivers another opportunity to come open.
On this play, you get an opportunity to see how Goff responds to a well-designed blitz. The quarterback quickly recognizes the pass rusher coming off the edge as well as the two defenders coming up the middle. He reacts properly, understanding that he needs to get rid of the ball quickly.
Goff finds the right area of the field to attack, but chooses the wrong option.
He has two receivers running downfield against press coverage. His slot receiver had immediately put the defender covering him with a quick movement at the line of scrimmage. He had turned the defender around so he would have had an advantage playing the ball in the air. Finding this receiver should be relatively easy for Goff because off all the space he was in.
Instead of throwing the ball to his slot receiver, Goff defaults to his sideline route, a much tougher throw and a throw that the quarterback can’t make. This play highlights his accuracy as well as his acumen.
No team has to take a quarterback in this draft. No team is in a position where a rookie quarterback is the difference between winning a Super Bowl and not in 2015. The market may be inflated at the position, but it’s better to show patience and be prudent rather than force a selection in the first round just because of the frustration that comes with having no good options.
You don’t want to end up with the next Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert or Jake Locker while missing out on a potential J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn or Tyron Smith.
The Oscars will pick a winner in each category each year. NFL teams don’t have to. Being the best available only matters if you force yourself to take a quarterback. Nobody wants to wait, but it’s better to wait than force a choice early in the first round when a good choice isn’t actually there.