NFL Preseason Week 1 Roundup: Goff Offering Signs of Hope as Rams' Star QB
When a team uses its first overall pick on a quarterback, as the Los Angeles Rams did with Goff, it needs him to be a franchise-altering player fast. There can be some patience at first, but that wears thin quickly.
Any rope Goff had to justify his draft status will run out early in 2017. He can't be the quarterback who was indecisive while getting sacked 26 times over only seven starts in 2016. And he definitely can't be the quarterback who completed only 54.6 percent of his pass attempts.
He needs to adjust in his second year, a season when excuses are running out already. Goff has a young offensive guru on his sideline in new head coach Sean McVay. And the Rams also just completed a trade to give him another weapon, bolstering the wide receiver depth chart by acquiring Sammy Watkins.
Goff can't look like a rookie out of his element anymore. But maybe, just maybe, we were given a brief glimpse Saturday night of the 22-year-old starting to put that part of his NFL existence behind him.
Let's dive deeper into his performance and the other highlights from preseason action Saturday.
Jared Goff's Appearance Was Brief, but Still Promising
We can't draw grand, sweeping conclusions from Week 1 of the preseason. That annual reminder is necessary because there's often early giddiness about a young player turning the corner in August, and then he promptly crashes into a wall come September once the intensity is cranked up.
But even if we were only given the tiniest glimpse of Goff in a new offense, it was still a good sign that he checked off some basic though important boxes.
He simply looked comfortable in McVay's system. That comfort allowed him to accomplish a fundamental task. Goff took advantage of the prime field position he was given after a muffed punt.
He took his first dropback to pass on the Dallas Cowboys' 32-yard line. He rolled left, then stood strong against pressure while throwing on the move, completing a pass into a narrow window to wide receiver Cooper Kupp for 19 yards.
Then a few plays later, Goff faced a moment when he needed to make a clutch throw on 3rd-and-6. He calmly let the play develop and hit wide receiver Robert Woods in stride as he cut across the middle. Once again, Goff zipped a difficult throw into a quickly closing window, with one defender trailing just behind Woods and another charging in to lay the hit. That hit came and Woods fumbled, but the ball was recovered by Kupp in the end zone for a touchdown.
Goff exited after just that drive, making up for the three-and-out moments before. He took a baby step forward, and now the hard part of building on it comes next.
Robby Anderson Is Still Dangerously Fast
The 2015 season seems like it took place about a decade ago for the New York Jets. The descent from being a borderline playoff team to fielding a stripped-down roster has especially been felt on their wide receiver depth chart.
In 2015 the Jets had two wideouts with 1,000-plus receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns. One season later, both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are long gone. Decker was even on the opposite sideline Sunday night for the Tennessee Titans, watching as his Jets replacement shined.
That's Robby Anderson, and the 24-year-old looked poised to capitalize on the many opportunities he'll receive in 2017.
We've known Anderson is unfairly fast for a while now. We saw it when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds during his pro day workout. And we witnessed his turbo gear again when the undrafted rookie logged three straight games with a 40-yard catch in December 2016.
But for good measure, Anderson reminded us yet again that, yes, he's rather fast. He didn't wait long to do it either, blasting off past Titans cornerback Logan Ryan deep for a 53-yard reception in the first quarter Saturday. That set up a touchdown, and Anderson finished with 71 yards on three catches.
There will be plenty of dark, trying times for the Jets offense in 2016. That feels inevitable as they prepare to start journeyman Josh McCown at quarterback and likely also give significant playing time to Christian Hackenberg.
But Anderson has the speed and athleticism to provide a glimmer of hope for 2018 and beyond.
Christian Hackenberg Played Low-Risk, Low-Reward Football
If there's ever a time to take a few chances and experiment, it's in mid-August during games that function as glorified practices against actual opponents. But New York Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg was content with his dinking and dunking.
The Hackenberg experience from the Jets' preseason opener left observers ever so briefly encouraged by the flashes of arm talent he showed. But mostly, we were left with questions that went unanswered.
Questions like this one: Is he capable of connecting consistently on throws that go beyond the short and intermediate levels?
Prior to Saturday night, Hackenberg could only be judged on what he did during the 2016 preseason. That was the only time he set foot on an NFL field as a rookie, and the 22-year-old landed with a thud while averaging 3.4 yards per attempt.
That average improved Saturday against the Titans, though only slightly. On his 25 pass attempts Hackenberg averaged 5.1 yards and finished the night with 127 passing yards overall.
Much of his playing time came against Tennessee's second- and third-team defense, which made the lack of downfield push even more alarming. Only two of Hackenberg's throws traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage through the air, according to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus. Predictably, all eight drives he led ended with no points.
In 2017, the Jets will likely be thinking about and playing for the future. That will probably mean trotting Hackenberg out often to see what he can do in a meaningful game against a first-team defense.
So far, the future is still dimly lit at best with him.
Taco Charlton Went into Wrecking-Ball Mode
The Cowboys drafted defensive end Taco Charlton with their first-round pick in 2017 for one clear reason: to give their pass rush a pulse.
In 2016, the Cowboys struggled to get consistent pressure, which left their secondary exposed. They finished with a respectable total of 36 sacks (13th). But then key sources of pass-rushing muscle on the front seven were suspended, with defensive ends Randy Gregory (one year) and David Irving (four games) set to miss significant time.
So injecting life into a sluggish defensive front now largely rides on the rookie's shoulders, and he passed his first test against the Rams.
In the first quarter, Charlton executed a smooth swim move to blow by Rams left tackle Pace Murphy. Then he accelerated to penetrate the pocket and took quarterback Sean Mannion down at the Rams' 1-yard line.
That blend of power and speed is what made Charlton such an enticing prospect, albeit on a small sample size. He started only one season at Michigan but exploded during that time, finishing with 10 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss in 2016. And now in his first NFL preseason game, he's already tallied three tackles and one sack.
The Cowboys need Charlton to be an immediate-impact rookie. It's early yet, but he might be headed in that direction.
Brittan Golden Could Be a Late Bloomer for Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals need to find more depth and speed among their wide receivers in the preseason. And it would be convenient if both could come from the same guy.
Brittan Golden made his case to be a preseason riser and another needed piece for the supporting cast behind Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. The seeds may have been planted for his ascent as a late bloomer when the 29-year-old caught three passes for 44 yards and a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders on Saturday.
The touchdown came early in the first quarter on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Carson Palmer. Golden ran a technically sound route toward the middle of the end zone. Then he corralled the throw amid chaos, with one defender draped over his back, and another closing in to lower the boom. Later Golden also escaped deep for a 26-yard reception.
Fitzgerald is still a highly effective pass-catcher at his age. But he's primarily a possession option now, and there's an opening for a No. 3 receiver to provide a safety net if Brown struggles again. Golden made his coaches, and everyone else, take notice Saturday as he pushed for that role.
Taywan Taylor Can Give the Titans Another Deep Threat
The Tennessee titans knew what they were getting when they made Taywan Taylor their third-round pick in the 2017 draft. They were adding a blazing-fast wide receiver who can run ankle-busting routes from the slot.
That's how he recorded 3,197 receiving yards over his final two years at Western Kentucky. He has the speed to get deep in a hurry and the leaping ability to make low-percentage catches.
The Titans are surely hoping Taylor will develop alongside first-round pick Corey Davis, and the two can then form a young pass-catching core for many years. Davis didn't play Saturday because of an injury, but the early returns on Tennessee's investment in Taylor are encouraging.
He recorded four receptions for 56 yards against the Jets. Much of that production came on a deep heave for 42 yards as Taylor showcased his ability to separate with ease while gliding downfield, elevating to finish the job with a spectacular leaping grab.
The future is blindingly bright in Tennessee, both in the short term and long term. Taylor could add that extra little twinkle right away.
Rico Gathers Is Already the Best 2016 Preseason Underdog Story
Not long ago Rico Gathers was best known for throwing his weight around in the paint. He was a standout basketball player at Baylor and hadn't played football in years.
Then he began his journey as the latest basketball-to-football transition project at tight end. Those skids have been thoroughly greased by the likes of Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham. Gathers was similar in that he showed incredible athletic promise but was a complete unknown as a football prospect.
The Cowboys took a chance on him, selecting Gathers with a sixth-round pick in 2016. Any team that takes on a project like him would need to have patience, and the Cowboys showed it by keeping Gathers around on a futures contract.
Essentially, Gathers was a lottery ticket for them, just as Gates was for the Chargers years ago. And there are signs Dallas might be able to cash that ticket in real soon.
Gathers has shined during the Cowboys' first two preseason games. Against the Rams, he finished with four receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown. That came after his 59 yards and another touchdown during the Hall of Fame Game.
The Cowboys need to look toward the future at tight end with Jason Witten entering his age-35 season. And the future just might be Gathers.