Jared Goff Can Bounce Back From a Rough Rookie Year

The Los Angeles Rams first overall pick flunked his rookie season. Can the coveted quarterback ace the follow-up?

One of the cutting-edge theories in the field of education is helping students discover their “grit," an educational approach that focuses on process over product. Instead of trying to turn all students into geniuses, teachers instead help them develop coping mechanisms, resilience, and learning habits. This process is truly freeing for students who are not innately adept at school, but have the drive to learn and grow.

I love to teach this way, and playwright Samuel Beckett’s words remind me of this: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Young people in the classroom aren’t the only ones who need to steel themselves with resilience, though; Los Angeles Rams quarterback and 2016 first overall draft pick Jared Goff found out the hard way that the NFL is one pop quiz after another -- and there’s no grading on a curve.

By any measure, be it data or film, Goff had one of the worst rookie quarterback seasons in NFL history last year. Yet I still think there’s a chance for him to bone up and ace his pro football tests with flying colors in year two.

Here’s why.


Just like proper teaching is critical to student success, so is proper coaching to the growth of a quarterback.

Under the “tutelage” of former head coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Rob Boras, Goff floundered in his first taste of the NFL. In a rare smart decision, the Rams set out to slowly coax along their first overall pick, rather than toss him into the fire. They started veteran journeyman Case Keenum for the first nine weeks of the 2016 season, but when the year was completely lost, they panicked and tossed Goff into the fray for Week 11.

It went about as you’d expect. The table below shows Goff’s box score production in his seven starts.

Jared Goff Att Comp % Yd/Att TD % INT % Sack %
Weeks 11-17 205 54.63% 5.31 2.44% 3.41% 12.68%

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that such a poorly constructed offensive unit and poorly conceived game plan led Goff to throw more interceptions than touchdowns, nor should we be shocked he was sacked a whopping 3.71 times per game.

Still, when throwing short, one should at least complete passes -- and this one didn’t. Goff had a sub-6.00 yards per attempt rate, while still somehow completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes.

In no uncertain terms, it was bad. In fact, we can see how badly the passing attack performed by looking at numberFire’s Net Expected Points (NEP) analytic to see how much – or little – value the Rams created.

NEP is an analytic that describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to the box score, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

When we look at the team Passing NEP per play (adjusted for strength of opponent) for Jeff Fisher-led teams, a startling trend becomes clear.

While the league average in adjusted Passing NEP per play has risen steadily over the last decade and a half, offenses on teams run by Fisher have gotten worse and worse. In fact, since Kerry Collins’ outlier 2008 leading Fisher’s Tennessee Titans, not one Fisher-run offense has been above league-average in the passing game.

With new head coach Sean McVay, however, all that should change. From the time he was promoted to Washington offensive coordinator in 2014 to the end of this past season, McVay took a mess of an offense and made their passing game one of the best in the league. Excepting Robert Griffin III's tremendous rookie year, Washington was well below league-average until McVay had had his hands on them for two years, and 2015 and 2016, they produced more than double the league average adjusted Passing NEP per play.

Can McVay work the same magic with the Rams and Jared Goff?


A big first step that the Rams have undertaken already is upgrading the players around Goff.

To give their young passer a chance of surviving, that started with the offensive line. The Rams moved oversized turnstile Greg Robinson out of the left tackle spot this offseason (eventually trading him) and signed three-time Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth. Having a veteran left tackle like Whitworth to protect Goff is a major gift for the young passer, since much of the value lost last year was due to the ridiculous 49 sacks allowed by the Rams. As a matter of fact, if we subtract the -48.99 Sack NEP, Goff’s season ends up with a still not-so-pretty -15.57 Passing NEP, a much more palatable mark for development. At that rate (-0.07 Passing NEP per drop back), we’re talking about a level of production similar to Derek Carr's rookie season.

Why is that important? The Oakland Raiders signal caller, as we now know, was one of very few quarterbacks to post a bad rookie year mark in Passing NEP per drop back, and ultimately develop out of that into a very good passer. Our own JJ Zachariason did a study on why rookie year success or failure is predictive of the future for quarterbacks, but Carr has been one notable player since 2000 to buck that trend.

What changed to make Carr successful? The Raiders started building around him, and scheming for his strengths. But it wasn’t just loading up the line with All-Pros; they also brought in a big-time possession receiver (Michael Crabtree), a dynamic tight end (Clive Walford), and properly used a deep threat (Andre Holmes). It’s fascinating how closely the Los Angeles 2017 offseason acquisitions of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Gerald Everett, and Josh Reynolds (slash fixing Tavon Austin) match up with this blueprint.

With this much talent around him -- and with a head coach who knows quarterbacks and thrives on offensive development -- it seems impossible that Jared Goff won’t take a step forward in his second season in the league. By 2018, if all goes according to plan, he could be a Pro Bowler himself.

A bounce back is coming for the young Rams passer, if he continues to develop and believe in himself. Get in that growth mindset, kid. You'll need it.