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Once Thought a Bust, Jared Goff Changing a Lot of NFL Minds with Super Bowl Run

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 25, 2019

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 20: Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams celebrates a pass against the New Orleans Saints during the third quarter in the NFC Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 20, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Who's the best young quarterback in football?

Ask coaches and team officials around the NFL, and they respond with one name that's pretty obvious, but also one that may not be quite so apparent.

The obvious name: Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes.

The not-obvious one: the Rams' Jared Goff.

It wasn't so long ago that Goff was seen by many in the league as a bust. Drafted first overall in 2016, Goff lost all seven of his starts as a rookie while throwing more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (five). A coaching change, 24 regular-season wins and an upcoming appearance in Super Bowl LIII later, Goff has flipped that perception around completely.

While Rams coach Sean McVay gets much of the credit for transforming Goff's career, coaches around the league say Goff is now crafting his own path without the help of McVay's brain.

This postseason, so far, has changed everything for Goff.

"Look at the [Saints] game," one NFC head coach said. "Big throw after big throw. I don't think Dak [Prescott] or Baker [Mayfield] could do that."

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Indeed, as coaches and personnel men have watched Goff this January, a quarterback they hadn't seen before has emerged. 

"He's not a system quarterback," one AFC East scout said. "He's a star that a lot of us overlooked."

In the second half and overtime of the NFC Championship Game, Goff was 13-of-20 for 183 yards, one touchdown, no turnovers and a 111.0 passer rating.

Goff threw so many dimes in the second half against the Saints he could pay off the national debt. Most importantly, he made clutch throws to keep the Rams within sight of the Saints on the scoreboard. He was mobile and calm. During the Rams' first possession of overtime, when the Saints blitzed Goff, he calmly completed a pass into the flat.

The Athletic @TheAthleticLA

In the deafening Superdome against a very good Saints defense, Jared Goff kept making big throw after big throw in the Rams' NFC title game win. From @FB_FilmAnalysis https://t.co/1Hy3m1QXGW https://t.co/pK7G4UPK2U

If it wasn't for one of the worst non-penalty calls in NFL history, many of us would still be talking about Goff's second-half performance.

But should we consider Goff ahead of young quarterbacks like Mayfield or Prescott? Some people in the league think so.

On NFL Network's Good Morning Football, former wide receiver Nate Burleson expressed what many people in the league are thinking: If Goff and the Rams somehow beat the Patriots, and Goff plays well, it will put him in an entirely different category.

"Goff, at one point, they said this dude was a bust," Burleson said. "How many people [can have that said about them], and then move on and have a successful season last year [and] this year play amazing.

"But still, even within this season," Burleson added, "we wanted to give every other player on the Rams team credit, except for Goff. Like, we just didn't mention his name. There are so many better quarterbacks. Now imagine what happens if Goff goes and beats Brady. I know this will be Planet McVay, but it's going to be Goff's world as well."

Some players who've faced Goff say they believe he was destined to become this good. Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon, who played against Goff two years ago, said the talent was apparent back then.

"Oh, for sure, you could see the intangibles," Harmon said, according to a transcript from the Patriots. "The throws he made on film and in the game. I remember he threw a nine-route to the sideline, and it was on a rope, and you realize why he was the first overall pick [in the draft]."

One scout ranked the NFL's young quarterbacks this way: Mahomes, Goff, Prescott, Mitchell Trubisky, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield. (Please don't yell at me—this isn't my list.)

Two years ago, the scout said, Goff would have been near the bottom of that list. That's how far he's come in most people's eyes.

What's changed? Simply, his skills and his maturity.

First, and most importantly, he's throwing a more accurate football, which was clear to anyone who watched the NFC title game.

To personnel people around the NFL, Jared Goff has shown an ability to process the game at a faster clip than he did in his first two seasons.
To personnel people around the NFL, Jared Goff has shown an ability to process the game at a faster clip than he did in his first two seasons.Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Perhaps just as important is that the wheels in Goff's head seem to be turning less as he reads defenses. He's faster on his reads and calmer under pressure. He's always maintained a level of California cool about him, but now he's as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Goff has even grown comfortable enough to display a deadpan sense of humor that is part of who he is. During his postgame news conference after beating the Saints, he was asked about the crowd noise. 

"It was disoriently loud, but we fought through it," Goff told reporters. Then he added: "It wasn't loud enough I guess."

The new-look Goff will be tested against Bill Belichick, who specializes in getting players out of their comfort zone. But this is the best Goff that we've seen and he's as ready as he'll ever be.

One way or another, the next chapter in Goff's legacy will be written. If he wins, he joins Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Nick Foles and Joe Flacco as active quarterbacks with one Super Bowl win. That would be a nice club to join.

But there's another group that also offers membership, one that isn't so glorious, populated by the likes of Matt Ryan and Cam Newton—active quarterbacks who played and lost in a Super Bowl and haven't been back since.

Super Bowl trips are not a given, unless you play in New England. Considering his age (24) and recent trajectory, Goff wouldn't be out of line to keep his early February plans open for the next few years.

                           

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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