Meet Jared Goff, the 2016 NFL Draft's Top QB Heading into Next Season

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIMay 28, 2015

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As preparation for the 2016 NFL draft gets going within scouting departments throughout the league, teams with a potential need for a franchise quarterback should start by taking a close look at Jared Goff.

The California Golden Bears football program has fallen on tough times the past few years, and the 2015 draft reflected that. It was the first draft since 1986 in which Cal-Berkeley did not have a single player selected.

The 2016 draft should be a different story, however, if Goff declares after his junior season.

Entering 2015, he projects as the most NFL-ready signal-caller in the nation. At 6’4” and 210 pounds, he has already started to exhibit advanced pocket-passing skills needed to succeed at the professional level, despite the fact that he will not turn 21 until October.

Most teams looking to draft a quarterback early will be searching for one who can improve the offense right away. If Goff can continue his development this season while elevating Cal back to its winning ways, he could end up being the top passer next spring.

 

Why Goff Is a Top Quarterback Prospect

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While NFL draft discussion typically manifests itself around physical traits, the mental side of the game is just as important—if not more important—for a quarterback.

The latter capacity is where Goff could stand out above his peers in the 2016 draft. He is not going to be one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the class, but he is already showing the skill needed to maximize his natural talent.

What stands out is his ability to go through his progressions and find open receivers. While most quarterbacks of his youth tend to stare down their targets and miss other receivers who become open, Goff consistently keeps his eyes moving to make active reads and decisions before throwing the ball.

Goff can make successful progressions to complete throws to all levels of the field. That helps keep completion percentages high and interception totals low, as defenders can't lock in on a target.

The following clip is one such example from California’s game against College Football Playoff runner-up Oregon last season. Off play action, Goff initially looked left before working his eyes across the field to the right sideline, where he connected with an open receiver who was coming back to the ball 14 yards past the line of scrimmage.

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When Goff has time to work in the pocket, his ability to find open receivers can lead to big plays. A prime instance of that occurred in Cal’s victory against Northwestern last season.

On the following play, he looked left off the snap and pump-faked that way before working his eyes over the middle of the field to launch a deep ball, hitting Trevor Davis in stride for a 76-yard touchdown.

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Reading defenses is a teachable ability, but it’s not easy to learn. Goff’s proven ability to do so will significantly decrease his learning curve as he makes the jump to the pros.

His ability to find open targets and make smart decisions has led to impressive production on the field.

For a California program with a decorated list of quarterback alumni, including Aaron Rodgers, Steve Bartkowski and Craig Morton, Goff set a litany of school records in 2014: passing yards (3,973 yards), touchdowns (35) and most consecutive passes without an interception (185).

Jared Goff's Passing Production at California
YearComp-Att (Pct)YardsTDINTRating
2014316-509 (62.1)3,973357147.59
2013320-531 (60.3)3,5081810123.18
CalBears.com

Critics will harp on the fact that he plays in a spread offense, just as they did for Marcus Mariota prior to the 2015 NFL draft (in which Mariota ended up going No. 2 overall). To some extent, there is merit to the argument that transitioning out of a spread system could present challenges. Specifically, Goff will have to learn how to drop back from under center, as he works exclusively out of the shotgun at California.

To dismiss his statistics as only being a product of Sonny Dykes’ Bear Raid offensive system, however, would be a mistake. Goff regularly makes plays happen with his own decision-making, not by simply throwing to his first read. Additionally, he has not had much NFL-caliber talent to work with around him, unlike some of the other quarterbacks who project as potential top picks in 2016.

While Goff does not work from under center as he will be expected to at times in the NFL, he regularly makes effective reads off play action and is good at using ball fakes to buy time in the pocket.

Another strength of his game, as shown in the clips above, is his composure under pressure. Although charting shows that Goff’s accuracy declines against the pass rush—as is the case for most quarterbacks—he demonstrates a willingness to stand tall against oncoming heat, step up through collapsing pockets and deliver confident throws even when he has defenders in his face.

The following highlight from last year’s game against Oregon is one of Goff’s most impressive examples of making a play under pressure. Hit by Ducks defender Tony Washington as he threw, Goff was still able to rifle a pass over the middle of the field, in front of tight coverage, for a 27-yard completion.

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There is nothing spectacular about Goff from a physical standpoint, but he also has no major physical deficiencies that should keep him from being a successful NFL quarterback.

His arm strength is only average by NFL standards; when he throws the ball more than 30 yards downfield, his lack of ability to drive it deep can be apparent. On throws to the intermediate level, however, he consistently throws the ball with enough velocity to fit passes within tight coverage windows.

No one should mistake Goff for being a dual-threat quarterback—passing from the pocket will have to be his forte in the pros—but he does have quick enough feet to extend plays as a passer and occasionally gain yardage as a runner.

The following example from last year’s Northwestern game was one of Goff’s most impressive displays of mobility. After starting the play moving left, he was able to spin away from a rusher before running out to the right side, finally cutting back inside another defender and stepping toward more pressure while delivering a deep completion up the right side.

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Goff has not been and will never be a consistent rushing threat; he finished last season with a net loss of 44 rushing yards, sacks included. However, he is good at recognizing occasional opportunities when he has them.

As the following 3rd-and-9 conversion against Northwestern exhibits, Goff does have enough burst and agility to make something happen when he has open space in front of him.

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The biggest reason for concern about Goff from a physical standpoint might be his weight, as his wiry frame will give NFL scouts reason to question his durability. That said, he should be able to continue putting on weight.

His footwork leaves something to be desired, but his throwing mechanics when he sets his feet properly are sound. He has an occasional tendency to throw off his back foot, which can affect his accuracy, but for the most part, he transfers his weight effectively when he throws and gets the ball out of his hand for a quick release.

One more trait NFL coaches and scouts should love about Goff—especially if it leads to more wins for the Golden Bears in 2015—is that he tends to play at his best in clutch situations.

To some extent, that statement is a double-edged sword; he could be more consistent early in games and on early downs. That said, he never appears to be fazed by the necessity to make plays on third and fourth down, and he works efficiently in end-of-half and end-of-game clock-management situations.

Goff has a well-rounded skill set that should make any team looking for a quarterback in the 2016 draft—assuming he enters it—give him consideration. He might not necessarily be the first passer off the board depending on how things play out this fall, but he belongs at the top of the conversation.

 

Could Goff Be the No. 1 Overall Pick?

We have to ask that question any time a potential top quarterback prospect is in discussion. The team holding the No. 1 overall pick in each draft is typically one that needs a quarterback (i.e the most important position on the field).

Still, it’s more likely that another quarterback will vault Goff and be the No. 1 overall pick—or the selection at whatever pick the first signal-caller is drafted.

He is not the same caliber of prospect that Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were for the 2015 NFL draft, and he’s not going to be. Winston has more size and arm strength than Goff, while Mariota is a better athlete. Both players had illustrious, Heisman-winning careers in which they showed advanced playmaking abilities.

Although Goff is the quarterback a team should feel most comfortable drafting to be a starter, he does not project as a transcendent talent. Other QB prospects in the 2016 draft class have that potential, but none of them are there yet.

Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson might have the best tools of any quarterback in college football, but he has only seen limited action and is entering his first year as a starter.

Ohio State’s Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett both have first-round talent, but we don’t know who will start this year. Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Michigan State’s Connor Cook both have the tools to be No. 1 quarterbacks and have been hyped as such, but they need to improve upon their consistency this upcoming season.

Beyond his physical limitations, Goff still has a few areas to improve to secure his status as a top pick.

Although he is typically accurate to all levels of the field, he tends to have a few misfires each game on short throws, especially when throwing to his left. NFL scouts and decision-makers will want to see him improve his consistency and completion percentage in 2015.

Additionally, Goff will need to overcome his fumbling problem this upcoming season. Through his first 24 starts at California, he has fumbled 19 times, including 10 fumbles that were recovered by the opposing defense, according to CBSSports.com.

He has already demonstrated impressive polish at his age, but his potential will only remain tantalizing if he continues to get better. The good news is he already has improved. He's coming off a strong spring football season, according to his head coach.

“I thought he was a completely different player,” Dykes said of Goff following spring football, according to Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group. “To me, the biggest jump I’ve seen from Jared was this spring. He ended the fall as a really good quarterback. He finished spring practice as an elite-level quarterback.”

If Goff can justify that “elite” label this upcoming season, he should have a good shot at being one of the first players off the board in the 2016 draft.

This article is part of a series on the projected top prospects at each position for the 2016 NFL Draft. Also read:

Meet Ezekiel Elliott, the 2016 NFL Draft's Top RB Heading into Next Season 

Meet Tyler Boyd, the 2016 NFL Draft's Top WR Heading into Next Season

Meet Evan Engram, the 2016 NFL Draft's Top TE Heading into Next Season

Meet Ronnie Stanley, the 2016 NFL Draft's Top OL Heading into Next Season

Meet A'Shawn Robinson, the 2016 NFL Draft's Top DT Heading into Next Season

Meet Joey Bosa, the 2016 NFL Draft's Top DE Heading into Next Season

Meet Jaylon Smith, the 2016 NFL Draft's Top LB Heading into Next Season

Meet Vernon Hargreaves III, the 2016 NFL Draft's Top CB Heading into Next Season

Meet Jalen Ramsey, the 2016 NFL Draft's Top Safety Heading into Next Season

All measurables and statistics courtesy of California's official athletics website unless otherwise noted. All GIFs were made at Gfycat using videos from Draft Breakdown and Dailymotion.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.