As the NFL season enters its twilight, the 2016 NFL Draft looms large over the horizon. Among this year's crop of promising young signal callers emerges Jared Goff from the University of California Golden Bears. The junior quarterback entered the 2015 collegiate season with high expectations and by nearly all measures, he met them. Goff's 2015 campaign secured an impressive stat line that had him throwing for 4,719 yards, 43 touchdowns, and only 13 interceptions. Although numbers only paint a small part of a much bigger picture, it's easy to be impressed by Goff's empirical credentials.
Still, Goff hasn't quite been ordained the defacto top quarterback in his class. Names like Paxton Lynch, Carson Wentz, and Connor Cook are all vying for the distinction of being the first quarterback taken. In such a crowded field, it will be important that teams acutely evaluate each's strengths and weaknesses, and decide who will represent their franchise best moving forward.
Cal head coach Sonny Dykes instituted the cleverly coined "Bear Raid" offense in tandem with fellow former Louisiana Tech staffer, Tony Franklin. Characterized by typical spread elements along with a pro-style route tree, the Cal Bear offense hid many of its flaws thanks to the talents of Jared Goff. Four and five wide receiver sets are a common occurrence when reviewing Goff's games, but this isn't an offense without substance. Goff is asked to maneuver a pocket, make quick decisions, manipulate safeties, and deliver accurate passes into coverage regularly.
As a passer, Goff has natural ability to deliver the football on time and on target. Because of the pro-style route tree present in Cal's offense, Goff often had to identify open receivers among a web of defenders while throwing the ball with anticipation and zip. In fact, it quickly becomes clear that accuracy is something that comes very naturally for Goff. He regularly hit receivers in stride or protected them from oncoming defenders whether from the pocket, or rolling to his left or right. Even though Goff operated in a high pass volume offense, bad or errant throws from Goff could easily be accounted for on one hand, per game.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a modern quarterback prospect is his ability to escape pressure within the pocket. Despite Goff not being an exceptional athlete, he very easily finds space in the pocket to buy time and make plays. Given Cal's porous offensive line, Goff was required to regularly evade defenders while keeping his eyes downfield.
Plays like the above were routine for Goff in 2015. Goff often extended plays when defenders had him dead to rights.
Russell Wilson and Drew Brees have made the 6' and under quarterback trendy, but teams still are built around taller passers given the average size of an offensive line. Physically, Goff possess the desired height for a quarterback and is listed as a believable 6'4". Goff rarely sees his passes tipped at the line and his length gives him a clear view of the field of play.
Athletically, Goff is as mobile as he needs to be by picking up yards with his legs when they're there. From the front office's perspective, teams will find it refreshing to see a quarterback who is as interested in protecting himself as they are.
Even though Goff played in a spread style offense with pro concepts, there will still be at least some growing pains when he enters the NFL. While many teams have adopted some spread concepts, Goff will still need to adapt taking snaps under center and turning his back to the defense on play action. To call Goff's inexperience in a pro-style offense a weakness may be a bit premature and unfair considering all rookie quarterbacks--no matter how exposed they are to an NFL system--will need to adjust to the pace and intensity of the NFL.
Beyond the obvious learning curve, Goff does have some mechanical errors that do show up enough to consider them habitual. Even though his ability to throw off platform should be praised and a necessary skill in the NFL, Goff does suffer from hurried, or sloppy, footwork. Goff's arm strength and accuracy suffers when he doesn't commit to stepping into his throws. Because Goff does not posses elite-tier arm strength that many teams covet in a quarterback prospect, Goff should be more conscious of making sure he engages his lower body more consistently into his throws.
The above play highlights Goff's lapse in footwork in the face or pressure. Although Goff generally handles pressure well, he will sometimes make bad decisions and confide in his average arm strength.
Lastly, Goff will likely need to fill out his lean 215 lbs. frame if he wants to avoid serious injury in the NFL. Even though he isn't runner, many of the most vicious hits quarterbacks suffer will be inside the pocket.
To most observers, it's easy to see why so many consider Goff the cream of the crop when it comes to quarterbacks entering the 2016 NFL Draft. There's a lot to like in him as a player, and he did more NFL "things" in college than some will credit him for. Even though the race for the first quarterback taken doesn't align with the race for first player taken overall this season--that is, if the Tennessee Titans remains at number one--teams like the Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers, and San Francisco 49ers will all be doing their homework on Goff and his peers before draft day. To make a quick and easy comparison, Goff shares a lot of likable traits with Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, and Matt Ryan who, despite not having elite tier arm strength, have made it work in the NFL with mental aquity, pocket savvy, and pin-point accuracy.