Finding a franchise quarterback in the NFL draft is one of the most difficult tasks that general managers must do. The draft is an inexact science to begin with, and the margin for error at the most important position makes evaluating college football quarterbacks incredibly difficult. Some draft classes offer zero potentially franchise signal-callers, while others may have a handful.
The 2016 class is shaping up to be deep with developmental talent at quarterback but short on potentially elite players. There is one who clearly outplayed his competition this season and has the ability to be a top-10 NFL quarterback. California Football quarterback Jared Goff is the next franchise quarterback to emerge in recent years.
While I’m defining a franchise quarterback as a top-15 player at the position, an elite quarterback is one of the top handful. The ascension into an elite quarterback is randomly based on their draft status and where they came from.
Guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Tony Romo certainly lacked the pedigree of an elite quarterback, while Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers fit the bill. Thus, my expectation is never for a quarterback to become one of the very best in the world at their profession.
After watching every snap of Cal’s offense in the 2015 season, Goff thoroughly impressed me with his advanced passing prowess. This article will break down and explain why he is clearly the top quarterback in the class. It will also cover in which areas he can improve as he transitions to the NFL.
Let’s start with a broader view of who Goff is as a player and then narrow down the impressive traits that make him special.
Who is Jared Goff?
Goff was a four-star, pocket-passing quarterback recruit out of Marin Catholic High School in 2013. He had a 6’4”, 205-pound lanky frame, according to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. He’s gained around 30 pounds in the 18 or so months since he had surgery for a separated shoulder injury in late 2013.
Goff is still tall and appears skinny like Teddy Bridgewater did, coming out of Louisville in 2014. But his work in the weight room is apparent and shows his dedication to improvement. As his body continues to mature, expect more bulk to be added to his frame.
Matt Miller had this to say about Goff after speaking with scouts familiar with the Cal product:
Goff is a smart, analytical film nerd and it shows on the field. A three-year starter, he's developed well in the Bear Raid offense (a progression-based offense featuring plenty of run/pass options and largely based on downfield throws). Goff loves the game and spends his time off the field immersed in football.
This is a ringing endorsement for Goff’s character and football intelligence. He continually made strides in what he can do at the line of scrimmage for Cal in three seasons. His improvement is as evident statistically as it is on tape.
Despite working with a very limited supporting cast, Goff’s numbers have continued to improve. As he took on more responsibility, the offense improved. Take a look at his numbers below.
|Year||Completions||Attempts||Completion Percent||Yards||Yards per Attempt||TDs||INTs|
The only area where Goff did not improve was in his interceptions total. We’ll get into that a little later, but it’s not necessarily a red flag. One thing we certainly know is the Cal coaching staff fully trusted Goff by the time he was a junior, according to Sean Wagner-McGough of CBS Sports:
"I trust him with my job," Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said. "When you're letting a guy do that, then you're putting it all in his hands."
For the first time in his career, Goff can change anything and everything he wants at the line of scrimmage. From routes to the protection scheme, he can call whatever he wants.
Goff had control of everything from read-option plays to improvising on routes with receivers. He even had some protection schemes. His mental advancement from a spread system isn’t the same as your typical spread-system quarterback that just reads the pre-snap look and makes the call with little information. He’s already much more than that.
A captain for two consecutive seasons, Goff has a pedigree and background that should satisfy NFL teams. While the Bears’ 14-23 record with Goff is unimpressive, this program was 1-11 in Goff’s first years, and the defense allowed over 30 points per game all three years. This was a program severely lacking defensive talent during Goff’s tenure.
Goff’s off-field improvement from his sophomore to junior seasons was noticeable, and so was his on-field play. While he flashed the ability to make jaw-dropping throws, his lack of bulk really made him seem like a younger player. Below is an example of a terrific throw in Goff’s sophomore year.
It’s that throw that really put Goff on the top of my must-watch list, entering this season. As 2015 unfolded, Goff continued to make Sunday-level plays. Everything from reading a defense to his ability to extend plays improved. We’ll look at his ability to extend plays later, but let’s focus on the nuance of Goff’s passing ability.
The first thing to mention is Goff’s exquisite footwork. Similar to Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, Goff chops his feet while he progresses through his reads. This allows him to stay balanced when pressure enters the pocket and also keeps his passing motion ready to go on a moment’s notice. Here is an example:
Goff not only sees three receivers on this play, but he is physically ready to release the ball. While manipulating defenders with the eyes is an effective method, actually sweeping his body with his eyes is extremely advanced to even see at the NFL level.
Also notable in this clip is the timing and zip of the pass. Goff delivers the pass to the outside shoulder of his tight end, where the closing safety cannot reach. This placement helps convert the first down and protects his receiver from being walloped by the tackler.
We see this type of pocket movement often from Goff. He is incredibly comfortable amongst chaos in his surrounding areas. He feels pressure better than most young quarterbacks, moving up and around the pocket while keeping his eyes up. See below for a tremendous example against Washington.
Goff works through to his third read while the defensive tackle quickly bears down on him. His efficient feet make everything possible, and his ability to hang in despite pressure is frustrating for a defense. He’s able to win by cutting to death a thousand times, or going for the jugular in one play.
This is an area that separates quarterback prospects from being the next Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston (two very good prospects) as opposed to Geno Smith, Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert. The confidence, poise and natural feel for the pocket is incredibly valuable. An elite quarterback, let alone a franchise quarterback, is able to deliver a catchable pass in the face of pressure or consistently extend plays to buy time.
Goff certainly does so from the pocket consistently.
While Goff shows a slight hitch in his throwing motion, he is consistently quick in releasing the ball. He has great arm strength while working in stride, in which a vast majority of his passes take place. This comes back to his footwork. He’s put in the work to create a repeatable motion. You won’t hear about Goff needing to work with a quarterback guru to fix any of his passing mechanics.
Accuracy to all levels
One reason I chose to watch all of the top quarterbacks’ snaps in 2015 was to compare what types of throws they were attempting and see in which areas they excelled or struggled. To help quantify what I saw, I created accuracy charts that track catchable passes. Any pass that I found to be reasonably catchable was chalked up as accurate.
This means that some completions were also marked as inaccurate. If a pass required a diving, one-handed grab, or the ball bounces off a defender, then it was not deemed reasonably catchable. The quarterback shouldn’t be rewarded for luck or just a tremendous play by the receiver.
With that out of the way, take a look at Goff’s accuracy chart below. I didn’t include throwaways or shovel passes in the formula. Most notable is that he delivered a catchable pass on a whopping 77% of his passes, and 49 of them were dropped.
Jared Goff's full accuracy chart in 2015 pic.twitter.com/0AKhMHpPv3— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) December 31, 2015
I have the data available for his peers as well. Goff was easily the most accurate passer between Paxton Lynch, Connor Cook and Carson Wentz. That data is here.
One accuracy number doesn’t encompass everything, but it helps show where a player is performing well. Goff is not only efficient on short and intermediate passes, but he is deadly on deep-ball throws. His ability to drop the ball into a bucket is actually his biggest strength.
In Cal’s 2015 bowl game against Air Force, Goff had a career game. One of his best throws of the day was his deep pass to Bryce Treggs that traveled almost 60 yards in the air. This ball reached Treggs perfectly in stride, while Goff was clobbered as soon as he let go of the pass.
While deep passes are less efficient than passes under 15 yards, they’re important to use to keep the defense off balance. Goff uses his eyes at times, but is crafty enough to use a pump fake on the throw below.
Every bit of time the quarterback can buy for his offensive line to block, for his wide receivers to get open or for himself to execute his roll is invaluable. Goff’s willingness to take a hit is also important, as he’s somewhat likely to go to a bad team that cannot adequately protect him in his first few seasons. His toughness and ability to stay healthy is another positive trait.
The hardest throw to make is the hash mark to far sideline throw. It requires timing, arm strength and velocity. Goff sometimes lacks the velocity on these throws when he is out of rhythm, but we have enough examples throughout 2015 that suggest he can make this throw consistently in the NFL. Remember, the NFL’s hash marks aren’t nearly as wide, so the ball travels less distance than in college.
On deep outs and comebacks, Goff can be a reliable passer. These passes are risky in nature. If the cornerback plays it correctly, the throw can be an easy interception. But Goff has hit this throw in college, and should continue to be successful as he adds bulk in to NFL.
Although the next throw is on the short side of the field, it still highlights excellent accuracy from Goff. He gets the ball out quickly and with plenty of zip. Only his receiver can catch this ball on the back-shoulder fade.
The defender is helpless.
These throws are critical when the offense needs points. When paired with a dominating receiver, Goff can be unstoppable so long as he is throwing such well-placed sideline throws.
Winning outside the pocket
What really makes the top quarterbacks in the NFL special is their ability to avoid the pass rush to extend plays. By either moving within the pocket or rolling out completely, receivers have more time to force an error by their defender.
Whether it be Tom Brady, Manning, Brees, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, these are players who are incredibly good when pressured.
Goff has not only flashed the ability to stand tall when defenders close on him, but many of his best throws come on broken plays. This is the top reason he should be viewed as a franchise quarterback.
On one hand, it is a shame the Cal offensive line was so porous because it subjected Goff to many hits. But it forced him to be instinctive and resilient or flounder. As seen above, where he shakes off NFL prospect Hassan Ridgeway from Texas, he can create touchdowns from would-be sacks.
Whether facing average teams or top competition, Goff showed the ability to be a playmaker at the quarterback position. He’s a good-enough athlete to scramble and gain yards, but he is far from dependent on his legs. He’s at his most dangerous state while running with his eyes up.
Arguably, Goff’s worst performance of the season came at Oregon. Cal’s offense was simply overmatched, and Goff had his struggles as well. But that didn’t mean he had a bad game or that we didn’t see strokes of brilliance painted in between the rougher edges.
Below is a third-down play in which Goff avoids two rushers, then delivers a strike for a conversion:
Let’s break down what exactly happened during those six seconds.
The left guard immediately gave up inside-shoulder penetration, which is the most direct route to the quarterback. Goff doesn’t overcompensate with his movement, which would have led to a sack from the right defensive end. Instead, he fills the lane and dodges a second rusher. After all of that, he draws inside linebacker Joe Walker closer to his body to ensure he has a passing window to Kenny Lawler.
This type of athleticism and suddenness is rare to find. He’s not the fastest player, but he tends to see things before they happen. One extra step in any direction and he would have been sacked by any of the four Oregon defenders he avoided.
Against Stanford, Goff did it again. His first read is the corner route on the strong side of the field. He rolls to his right but quickly finds his man isn’t open. He creates some pressure for himself because he moves the pocket, but he quickly atones for his mistake.
As he drifts back to the center of the tackle box, he notices his receivers are moving to the open field. He improvises and rolls to the left hash mark to find his wide-open man. He hits him in stride after squaring his shoulders, moving the chains for a first down. Goff never seemed out of control and didn’t lose his composure when his first read was smothered.
The most impressive play of Goff’s season came on the game-winning drive against Arizona State. Goff and the Cal offense needed a field goal to win, with less than two minutes on the clock. On 1st-and-10, Goff hit his tight end, who drifted free after Goff survived for ten seconds.
This is ridiculous by Goff on a pressure play to set up a winning field goal pic.twitter.com/UkXhbPcGRp— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) November 29, 2015
Goff originally tried to move up in the pocket when it was closing rapidly but found a defensive tackle lurking. He then bounces outside, which cuts off the angle from the closing end. He finds space and breaks two tacklers. He then adjusts his arm angle to quickly rifle the ball out to his open receiver.
These are the types of plays that made Tony Romo and Rodgers elite players. The pressure was on, and the big play was made. The Bears ended up winning after a subsequent throw got them safely into field-goal range.
Where he can improve
As much as Goff impresses fans, he has areas to improve as well. The same can be said for every quarterback. But Goff’s areas to improve may turn off potential suitors just like the 31 teams that passed on Teddy Bridgewater in 2014.
Goff’s frame is slight, and although he survived the Pac-12, he needs to add more bulk before playing in the NFL. Ideally, he would have the opportunity to sit and mature during his first year. While Rodgers had the benefit of sitting three years, his body changed from the time he entered as a 22-year old rookie until he was named the starter as a 25-year old.
Adding weight will not only help the odds of Goff staying healthy, but it will also his arm to fill out. He has a solid arm, but when he is out of rhythm, he can lack velocity on his throws. A stronger upper body and core can certainly help this.
As far as traits go, Goff is a gunslinger at times. Like Jay Cutler at Vanderbilt, Goff didn’t have much help around him on the Cal roster sans a couple of players. He sometimes pressed too much with this in mind and tried to carry the team. That’s not a good thing, and he forced some bad interceptions against Utah, USC and Oregon, specifically.
Goff recovered from the Utah and Oregon games with a tremendous six-game stretch to finish his Cal career. Teams want some sort of risk-taking from the quarterback, especially the willingness to test tight windows and allow playmakers to be do their thing at the catch point. But there’s a very fine line between what great quarterbacks do, and what bad quarterbacks consistently do.
Goff’s five-interception game vs. Utah was eye-opening, but only two of the interceptions were directly his fault. Three others came from either drops or tipped passes. Still, whether he can excel when the speed and size of defenders increases is a question.
He’ll see more responsibility in terms of huddling, assigning protection duties, calling audibles and working under center a little more often. Those are normal transitions for most of the quarterbacks that have entered the NFL in the last five years. We cannot assume that Goff will fall into even a great situation where patience will be afforded to him while he learns and adjusts to a different, possibly more difficult, playbook.
Transitioning from the Bear Raid offense will bring some challenges, but a good offensive coordinator will bring some of those concepts to the playbook. We know that Goff excels on downfield throws, so working in a vertical offense can limit immediate transition issues.
People love comparisons, but Goff is a difficult one to peg because he blends many styles together. His ability to extend plays but also occasional recklessness draws visions of Romo. His throwing motion and ability to drop the ball into tight windows remind me of Derek Carr. He has the frame of Matt Ryan.
Goff’s talent level is significantly higher than anyone else’s in the class, not only right now but also projecting forward. He wins with intangibles in the pocket and has the physical tools to match what his mind processes. There are risks with drafting Goff. Every quarterback has a “bust” factor, but the lack of great quarterback play across the league should have teams willing to invest into him.
I think Goff will fall into the middle of the first round because teams will be worried about his frame and experience with the spread offense. Those same knocks didn’t stop Bridgewater or Mariota from having excellent campaigns early in their careers.
Who transcends from a franchise quarterback is very difficult, if not impossible, to tell. At his worst, Goff could be a Sam Bradford- or Matt Ryan-type quarterback. If Bradford had stayed healthy, and if we’re talking about the pre-2015 version of Ryan, that level of quarterback is certainly worth a top-five investment.
Teams that Goff would fit perfectly on from a need and personnel standpoint would be the Cleveland Browns, the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Jets, the New York Giants, the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints. A team that could provide an older quarterback who can mentor Goff and bridge the gap for one year would be ideal. The potential pairing with Sean Payton, wherever he coaches, is particularly intriguing.
Unless otherwise specified, all stats used are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.