#1 best-selling author Mark Schofield reveals his list of the top quarterback prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft. Schofield, who wrote 17 Drives – a chronicle of the 2015 college football season – has ranked Jared Goff as his top ranked prospect. Click here to look at all of his work on the 2016 QB class.
The top quarterback on my board was thrown to the fire early in college, trials that may have prepared him for life in the NFL. Recruited by a number of west coast schools, including Boise State, Washington, and Fresno State, Jared Goff enrolled at the University of California. He entered the school in mid-year, and still managed to win the starting quarterback job during spring practice as a rising freshman. That first year was a rocky one for the Golden Bears, as they finished with a 1-11 record, losing every game on their Pac-12 schedule and earning their only victory over Portland State of the Football Championship Subdivision. Goff’s numbers were decent for a true freshman, as he completed 60% of his passes for 3,508 yards and 18 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions.
Things improved for both Goff and California in 2014. The team finished with a 5-7 record, a decent jump over the previous year, and earned wins over Northwestern, Colorado, Washington State and Oregon State along the way. Goff’s own numbers made a big jump, though, as he completed 62% of his throws for 3,973 yards and 35 touchdowns, against only seven interceptions. He threw for a touchdown in every game except one, a 31-7 loss to Washington, and threw for three or more scores in seven of the team’s games. His sophomore year campaign led some to tab him as the top quarterback in this class heading into the 2015-2016 campaign .
The QB lived up to the high billing as a junior and the Golden Bears enjoyed success as a team, earning a post-season berth. California finished the year with an 8-5 record, including a win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. They started the season with five-straight victories and found themselves nationally ranked heading into a game against then number five Utah. In the road loss, Goff threw five interceptions, although he did have California in position to take the lead late before throwing his final interception of the night. The loss to the Utes triggered a four-game losing streak, during which Goff’s risen draft stock was questioned. But with wins down the stretch over Oregon State and Arizona State, as well as the impressive performance against Air Force, Goff came out of the season atop many draft boards. On the year he completed 66% of his passes for 4,719 yards and 43 TDs, with 13 INTs.
Watching Jared Goff in the pocket is like watching a prize-fighter work his way around a ring. Goff is tremendously adept at sliding away from pressure with his feet, creating just enough space for him to release a throw down the field. He can sense and anticipate pressure very well, and only bails from the pocket when absolutely necessary. Goff prefers to stay in the pocket and fight for every inch of space needed to complete the task of getting the ball out to a receiver in the passing game. His footwork is solid, fluid, and precise. At times, and perhaps on a first viewing, it might seem as though he has “happy feet.” When you dig deeper into the film, though, and watch how things come together on each play, there is more nuance to be found. On many throws, he is simply ahead of the route structure and is chopping his feet to keep moving while waiting for the precise moment to unleash the pass.
This play is a great example of his presence in the pocket, and of many of the traits just described:
Here against Washington State, the Golden Bears face a 3rd and 13 late in the first quarter, trailing by 7. With the football on their own 31-yard line and near the right hashmark, California sets up with Goff in the shotgun and 10 offensive personnel in the game in a 3X1 formation, with the trips alignment set to the right – short – side of the field. The Cougars have their 4-2-5 sub package in the game, and show Cover 4 in the secondary before the play, with the nickel cornerback splitting the difference between the inner two trips receivers:
California uses a vertical concept on this play. On the weakside, the single receiver runs a vertical route while the running back runs a flat route. Strongside, the inside two receivers run deep curls while the outside receiver runs a vertical route:
Washington State rolls into Cover 6 at the snap:
On the weakside, the cornerback drops into the deep quarter zone while the linebacker rotates to the flat. Strongside, the two safeties drop into quarter-half zones while the cornerback sets up on a flat zone even with the two linebackers. Given the down and distance, the underneath defenders plant their feet at the first down marker. This gives the defense four defenders to cover the trips receivers.
At the snap, as the linebackers and defensive backs drop into coverage, the running back releases into his route. Goff knows that he has five linemen to handle the four rushers. But a twist is coming, literally and figuratively:
The right defensive tackle aims his rush at the inside shoulder of the left tackle, while the right defensive end loops behind the DT aiming for the left guard. On the other side, the left DE cuts inside for the A gap while the left DT loops behind him, aiming for the right tackle.
As Goff drops, he can see the cross stunt in front of him, and he can feel the pressure start to mount on the right edge, as the LDE has cut between the RT and RG and poses a threat:
But given the down and distance, the QB knows he needs to buy a few more seconds so this play can develop. Watch as Goff slides and glides in the pocket before delivering this throw:
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The feet are a window into the mind and comfort level of a quarterback. On this play Goff demonstrates supreme confidence in the play structure and the blocking around him, as he uses quick bounce steps to glide ever so deftly in the pocket, ever so slightly to the side as the LDE comes around the corner, and then forward toward the line of scrimmage and his eventual target.
On the end zone angle you get a clear view of his mental process, illustrated by the feet:
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Goff sees the dual cross stunts, and the RDE crashing inside and the LDE knifing between the RG and RT. That is when the QB slides just a bit toward his LT, before gliding forward in his pocket, trusting that his big left tackle will hold protection, and firing the ball into a very narrow throwing window for a first down.
Goff is also very accurate with the football, not only in the short– and intermediate-range of the field, but also down the field. On shorter throws, Goff has the ability to place the football in the right spot based on route design, coverage, position on the field, and situation. Out routes are thrown low and away or to the appropriate shoulder. Curl routes lead receivers to safety. Slants or skinny posts are placed to the upfield shoulder. Goff can also put the football where it needs to be on deeper throws, finding the target and, in most instances, leading him down the field and away from coverage.
Unlike some of the other quarterbacks in this class, Goff also is adept at delivering well-timed throws with anticipation. This, like many of his solid traits, starts with his footwork. Because he is often timed up very well with – or even ahead of – routes, he sees the breaks before they come, and gets the ball out to put his receivers in position to pick up yardage after the catch. He can throw receivers open at all levels of the field, and can anticipate the breaks on routes in both the short and the deep passing game. He is very skilled at throwing the corner route – a tough route to throw because of distance, coverage, and the sideline acting as an extra defender, but Goff handles these throws with ease.
Because of the offensive style utilized by California, there is a notion that Goff was not tasked with making a lot of progression reads. When you watch the film and pour through Air Raid and Bear Raid playbooks to get a sense of the responsibilities Goff bore on each play, you can begin to see how this is a misleading claim. The QB was asked to make progression reads on a large number of throws and, when you incorporate the fact that many plays utilized a run / pass option structure, it becomes clearer that, on each snap, Goff was making a number of reads and decisions. These might not, at first glance, seem to be the kinds of reads that people expect to see on a Sunday, but a progression read is a progression read.
Goff is a more complete and ready quarterback than most in this class. But if there are two areas that he will need to address in the NFL, they are: 1) play speed; and 2) reading / reacting to the complexity of NFL offenses and defenses. This is not to say that Goff needs to speed things up tremendously, but rather to underscore the fact that the difference in facing Pac-12 defenses and NFL defenses will loom large as he transitions. So he will need to make decisions at an even a faster rate than he ever has before. Every rookie states that the biggest difference between the NFL and the college game is the speed. As a QB, that means coverages are tighter, secondaries roll coverage more crisply and disguise schemes better, the rush gets home quicker, and throwing lanes become more constricted. As such, Goff will need to adjust as well.
With respect to offensive and defensive style, Goff has the foundation to transition to a more complex offensive structure. While at California, he was given the freedom to make calls at the line and adjust the protection and, as such, I believe he has the tools in place to handle this part of the professional game as well. As with every rookie, of course, there will be a learning curve.
Watching Goff play, you can see how he could possibly fit in near any offensive design. He has the vertical passing ability suited for a Coryell / Arians scheme. He has the intermediate accuracy and precision required of an Erhardt-Perkins scheme, but he also has the ball-placement, timing, and anticipation needed for a West Coast system. He could fit in any of the three, but I think a West Coast offense would be best suited to his talents.
On this play against San Diego State, the Golden Bears face 2nd and 10 at the Aztecs’ 34-yard line. Goff is in the shotgun with 12 offensive personnel in the game in dual slot formations. On the right, tight end Stephen Anderson (#89) is in the slot while WR Maurice Harris (#3) is to the outside. TE Raymond Hudson (#11) is in the slot to the left while WR Kanawai Noa (#81) aligns outside. The defense has 3-3-5 personnel in the game, using radar alignment up front and showing Tampa 2 coverage in the secondary, using the fifth defensive back in the deep LB drop zone in that scheme:
California uses two passing concepts on this play. To the right, the Bears implement a drive concept, with Anderson running a deep in cut while Harris runs a short in route. On the left, they run a triangle concept, with Hudson running a corner route while Noa runs an in route and the running back swings out of the backfield:
Before the play, the Aztecs show blitz:
The QB does something prior to the snap, perhaps resetting the protection or even just making a dummy call. But at the snap, the defense rotates to Cover 1, sending two linemen and two linebackers after the quarterback. The two linebackers attack the left edge of the offense, with the first crashing inside on the guard while the second delays, before aiming for the inside shoulder of the LT:
Goff takes the snap and executes a three-step drop while reading the coverage against the triangle concept. He initially wants to throw the underneath in cut to Noa, but pulls this down because he sees a better option, for which he moves ever so slightly to his left before firing:
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What Goff saw was the slot TE breaking open on a deep corner route against man coverage. What he also saw – felt – was the stunt up front that was stressing the B gap between the LT and the LG. The QB ever so slightly adjusts to the outside, seconds before the delaying blitzer steamrolls the left tackle deep into the backfield. Had Goff climbed the pocket in this instance, California might have a Butt Fumble II on their hands. Instead, they have first and goal. Again, Goff shows an understanding of the coverage, the blitz scheme, and the protection up front as he slides, glides, and then fires.
Mid 1st (10-20)
One- to Three-Year Projection
Goff is almost ready to start Week 1 of his rookie year, and his first preseason camp will go a long way toward determining that fact. But whether he should start Week 1 is a different issue. If, as is projected, he lands in Los Angeles with the Rams, I’d hesitate to force him into action early. That offense needs a few more weapons before being ready for a rookie QB, even one of Goff’s abilities. True, they have Todd Gurley and some pieces on the outside, but a few more playmakers in the passing game would reduce the number of eight-man boxes the offense faces, and would allow LA to rely a bit more on the running game. If his transition is handled correctly, Goff should develop into a mid- or upper-tier starting quarterback by at least the time of his second contact, if not sooner.