To put it nicely, Jared Goff‘s rookie season with the Los Angeles Rams went less than swimmingly. The No. 1 overall pick lost all seven of his starts — far too often looking insecure in the pocket, unable to display the rare arm talent which made him such a commodity entering the NFL. The result was an NFL-worst total QBR of 22.2.
Five games into the 2017 season, however, Goff has become a completely different player, flipping the narrative from monumental bust to quality NFL quarterback.
Armed with new head coach Sean McVay’s sparkling new offense, it’s not only the surprising 3-2 start that has changed the perception, but the confident manner in which Goff is executing as well. The best example is the marvelous Week 4 comeback he engineered in Dallas when the Rams — whose playoff drought extends back to 2004 — twice trailed by double-digits. Time and time again, Goff connected on pressure throws in tight spots, correctly changing the play after identifying the defensive scheme. In connecting with running back Todd Gurley II for a 53-yard touchdown, he threw a dart which only Gurley could catch. In other words, the worst-case scenario would have been an incomplete pass. No damage done. And that is progress.
Few people are better equipped to judge Goff’s growth than his left tackle, Andrew Whitworth, who signed with the Rams during the offseason. The 35-year-old veteran is a three-time Pro Bowler and former All-Pro who has made a living protecting blind sides.
“He was running on and off the field like high school football,” Whitworth said following the 35-30 win over Dallas. “And he just never flinched. That’s a great characteristic of him and who he is as a quarterback. There’s a stubbornness to good quarterbacks, guys who don’t listen to all the junk around them and just go out and play their game. He seems to have a really good resolve to do that right now.”
Unlike Whitworth, Rams wide receiver Robert Woods experienced Goff’s woes last season. Following the season-opening 46-9 thrashing of the Colts, Woods said: “Expected of him. We see it at practice. We see him making these throws, calling these plays. Very poised and confident.”
With that in mind, Goff’s two significant improvements this year have been in play-action and the deep ball, often two elements that go hand-in-hand.
In 2016, Goff posted a 65.0 passer rating and a miserable 30.3 QBR on play-action passes, which was 41st in the league, per ESPN. This season, however, he has consistently ranked in the top 10, and his 8.29 yards per attempt is fifth-best. That is a sensational increase in efficiency for any player, let alone a first-year, full-time starter. Better yet, Goff’s average of how far the ball is traveling downfield before it’s caught, is up from 5.5 yards last year to about 7 this year, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Rams, as a result, rank second in points and fourth in total offense.
Of course, possessing the ability to go vertical is huge, but it won’t matter much if your quarterback turns the ball over. One of Goff’s bugaboos as a rookie was forcing throws that simply were not there. He became a turnover machine as a result, tossing seven picks — along with five fumbles — in just seven games. This season though, Goff — who turns 23 this week — has thrown just three interceptions, prompting a compliment from Seattle Seahawks all-world safety Earl Thomas, who actually intercepted him in Seattle’s Week 5 win.
“Hats off to Goff,” Thomas told Deion Sanders. “He’s way better than last year. He even looked me off a few times.”
McVay added: “What I respect about Jared is he made a couple big-time throws at the end, gave ourselves a chance to try to tie that game up and then see if we kick the extra point to win.”
The learning curve for any NFL quarterback is an immensely challenging process, and one that most guys will never master. Goff, to be sure, is a long way from mastering the position, but he has displayed a remarkable level of improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. Moving forward, the combination of him under center, flanked by a dominant running back in Gurley, along with McVay’s creativity makes the Rams one of the most intriguing offenses in the NFL.
– – – – – – –
Follow Jordan Schultz on Twitter @Schultz_Report
Read more NFL coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys aren’t the same team this year
• President Trump attacks NFL’s ‘massive tax breaks’ on Twitter
• Reports: Saints trade Adrian Peterson to Cardinals