32 for 32: Jared Goff and the Tale of Two Seasons
Jared Goff or Carson Wentz? That was the question the Los Angeles Rams faced after trading a massive package of picks (Nos. 15, 43, 45, 76) along with their 2017 first- and third-round picks for Nos. 1, 113, and 177 in the 2016 NFL Draft. It’s the type of splash a franchise in a new city felt the need to make after years of mediocrity. Drastic times call for drastic measures.
The Jeff Fisher-led Rams selected Jared Goff first overall and went with Case Keenum for the first nine games of the season. Goff proceeded to go 0-7 in his first seven starts, tallying a lowly five touchdown passes to seven interceptions, while only completing 54.6 percent of his passes. Meanwhile, Carson Wentz started all 16 games, going 7-9 with a positive TD:INT ratio (16:14), with a completion percentage of 62.4. On the surface it looked as if the Rams had made the wrong decision.
Good things come to those who wait, however.
A New Vision, A New Era
Following Jeff Fisher’s late-season departure, the Rams decided to go with young blood in former Washington offensive coordinator Sean McVay. Being 30 years old at his time of hire, his three-year tenure as OC in D.C. gives us a much smaller sample size as compared to the elder coaches in the league. Regardless, his work with Kirk Cousin was impressive. Cousins’ production following the transition from Robert Griffin III in 2014 was nothing short of spectacular.
Kirk Cousins’ Yearly Fantasy Scoring Under Sean McVay (Week 17 Excluded):
As you can see with this snippet of Kirk Cousins’ QB Card, Captain Kirk produced a top-10 scoring week in 17-of-36 (47.2%) games and avoided basement-level production by posting at least top-20 scoring 69.4 percent of the time.
The question as he entered L.A., was whether or not McVay could duplicate this type of production with Jared Goff. To do this, however, a near-complete overhaul of the roster would be needed on the offensive side of the ball. First, let’s take a look at what Jared Goff was dealing with during his rookie year, and where it is heading into 2018.
The first order of business in Project Takeover, was providing Jared Goff with a more competent, higher-upside pass-catching group. It’s amazing what a team can do with one free agency period and a single draft.
McVay wasted absolutely zero time giving his young quarterback something to work with. The Rams promptly added both Bills starting wide receivers through two separate sources — Robert Woods in free agency and Sammy Watkins via a preseason trade. The draft also proved plentiful with the additions of rookie standout Cooper Kupp and athletic tight end Gerald Everett. That’s a massive improvement over the course of one offseason.
2018 Supporting Cast
It appears that McVay has been working to formulate a very similar group to that of his 2015-2016 Washington group that included DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, and Jordan Reed.
In Brandin Cooks, he has a speedster deep threat, who has the sixth-highest yards per reception over the last two seasons (15.77). This is nearly identical to DeSean Jackson’s 15.78. Coincidence? Cooks has nailed off 20 plays of 40+ yards during his four-year career. Pro Football Focus’ second-highest graded rookie receiver from 2017, Cooper Kupp, worked from the slot nearly 60 percent of the time in his first year (58.7%). Robert Woods posted career-bests in nearly every receiving category after working in a Buffalo offense that never truly utilized its receivers to their full potential. Gerald Everett heads into 2018 looking to overtake Tyler Higbee for more than a 28.8 percent share of the offensive snaps. Everett’s athletic profile from Player Profiler is spectacular, as seen below. The second year progress of Everett and involvement in the offense will be interesting to see its impact on Goff’s week-to-week success.
Another item on the checklist heading into 2017 was bolstering the offensive line. The Rams quickly went to work by adding veterans Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan in free agency. Those offensive line additions proved extremely successful from a pass blocking perspective in 2017, when you consider that Goff’s blindside was at serious risk with former secnd overall pick LT Greg Robinson. Robinson allowed eight sacks and a combined 72 hits, hurries, or pressures in 2016. In comparison, Whitworth allowed two fewer sacks, and 30 fewer hits, hurries, and pressures in 2017.
PFF Pass Blocking Grades by position from Left to Right in 2017 (min. 600 snaps):
LT Andrew Whitworth: 81.1 (6th)
LG Rodger Saffold: 74.8 (25th)
C John Sullivan: 74.2 (15th)
RG Jamon Brown: 61.9 (49th)
RT Rob Havenstein: 66.6 (39th)
The Rams return all five starters along the offensive line in 2018. Los Angeles spent three of their 10 draft picks on offensive linemen in this year’s draft for added competition as well as prepping for the contract years of three of their current starters. Where familiarity and cohesion are largely talked about in prognosticating a unit’s success, this is a big deal for Goff’s 2018 prospects.
How Jared Goff Gets It Done
First off, it’s obvious that the Rams prefer a particular personnel grouping a vast majority of the time. L.A. operated out of 11-personnel (1-RB, 1-TE, 3-WR) on a league-leading 81 percent of their plays in 2017 (Source: SharpFootballStats). Goff threw 26 of his 28 touchdown passes from this grouping last season.
Secondly, Todd Gurley’s resurgence in McVay’s offense was the catalyst in allowing L.A. to run play action. His near-30 percent play-action rate on his yearly dropbacks was the second-highest in the league. Goff’s yards per attempt when utilizing play-action was an outrageous 10.6 yards (second to only Marcus Mariota’s 11.2). Goff had far and away the most passing yards from play-action in 2017 with 1,446 yards.
Percentage of deep balls thrown (20+ yards – min. 30 deep ball att.): 11.7% (19th)
Average Depth of Target (min. 25% of snaps): 8.5 (24th)
Intended Air Yards Thrown (min. 128 att): 8.1 (21st)
Completed Air Yards (min. 128 att): 5.8 (20th)
Avg. Air Yards to the Sticks: -0.8 (21st)
These metrics show that Goff worked the short-to-intermediate levels of the field far more frequently than pushing the ball downfield. This is also reinforced by looking at the average depth of target and run after the catch statistics by Goff’s pass-catchers:
Watkins was far and away the only player to work consistently downfield. It’s pretty remarkable that the Rams’ top four wide receivers all finished within the top 36 at the position in RAC, the most of any team within that threshold. It’s quite clear that Goff’s production was highly reliant on the effectiveness of his weapons to create yards after the catch.
Defensive/Special Teams Favor
A defense now sporting seven former first-round picks, the Rams will look to continue to provide the league’s highest-scoring offense with the most optimal situations possible. In 2017, Wade Phillips’ defense ranked fifth in takeaways (28) and were inside the top 10 in nearly every statistical category within Football Outsiders’ defensive drive statistics. Paired with the league’s best return game, the Rams offense was awarded with the most drives starting in opponent territory (27). These factors proved to be extremely beneficial to offensive production as 15 of these drives resulted in touchdowns. The 2018 D/ST units are stacked, and should supply the Rams with above-average field-position and opportunity.
Factors Working Against A Repeat Performance
The Anti-Konami Code
Dubbed by Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar back in 2013 on numberFire, the Konami Code interprets the heightened advantage of quarterbacks who utilize their legs. It’s obvious that Goff rarely, if at all, tucks the ball and runs. I dug into the numbers for standard scoring (4pt PaTD, 1pt/25 PaYds) leagues since the article’s writing through FantasyData. I was surprised to see the list of quarterbacks who failed to reach the 60 rush attempt minimum along with throwing fewer than 500 pass attempts, while finishing inside the top 12 of fantasy quarterbacks. Here are the results:
To start, Dak Prescott is the common outlier of this group. He missed the Konami-60-rush-attempt mark by only three attempts in both of his first two seasons. The three others? All vastly outperformed their career TD% by large marks and ranked at the top, or near the top in TD% for that specified year. Do we really see Goff’s pass attempts increasing barring an injury to Todd Gurley? Simple answer? Likely not.
Red Zone Passing
Jared Goff absolutely shredded in the red zone in 2017, completing 23 of his 81 (fourth-most) pass attempts into touchdowns. T.J. Hernandez of 4for4 just recently completed a series looking into touchdown regression candidates for 2018 that displays just how much Goff took advantage of his opportunities in the red zone. His detailed analysis can be found here. For Goff to counter what T.J. outlines, he’ll need a colossal emergence of someone like Gerald Everett, or an improvement in career red zone touchdown rates as a whole from the group of wide receivers he’ll be targeting.
Production to Draft Position — Target Goff?
Though Goff took a major step forward in his development and produced low-end QB1 numbers, the second year quarterback flipped his four top-10 finishes into 40.7 percent of his yearly fantasy production. The other 11 weeks of the season Goff averaged a meager 13.75 fantasy points. As seen in Goff’s QB Card above, five of his 15 games played resulted below top-20 finishes.
After taking into account the various topics outlined here and Goff’s low-end QB1 production that was fueled by an unsustainable touchdown rate versus volume, it seems unlikely that Goff will mirror his 2017 totals. Where Goff is currently going in 2QB drafts (63.4 overall ADP/QB11), there are far too many quarterbacks who provide more spike weeks with similar, if not better, floors. The choice is yours whether to bet on Goff repeating his 2017 breakout performance.