Dougherty: How Jared Goff's game shares Aaron Rodgers' traits
Without prompting, an NFL scout this week was about to offer the name of an NFL quarterback that Jared Goff brought to mind.
The scout started with several caveats but couldn’t deny seeing a similarity in throwing talent and mechanics with none other than Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback Goff will be facing Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“I know they’re both Cal guys, which is the part that bothers me as much as anything,” the scout said. “’C’mon man, the same school and you’re going to lump them together?’ And comparing anybody to Aaron is unfair to them, especially in their second or third year in the league.
“(But) just the way (Goff) delivers the ball sometimes. The quickness of the release without setting his feet, combined with the accuracy, I think is pretty special.”
The Los Angeles Rams drafted Goff over Carson Wentz with the first pick overall in 2016, and after the ’16 season, it looked like they’d botched the pick. As a starter in the final seven games of his rookie season Goff was winless and looked horribly overmatched with a 63.6 rating, whereas Wentz, who went No. 2 overall, won the starting job with the Philadelphia Eagles and showed great promise while going 7-9 with a 79.3 rating.
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But two seasons later Goff is the toast of the NFL, whereas Wentz is still getting back to form after the torn ACL that ended his fantastic 2017 season early. The Rams are the NFL’s lone undefeated team and rank third in the NFL in scoring (33.6 points). Goff ranks No. 6 in the league in passer rating (112.8), ahead of Wentz (108.1) and Rodgers (100.2).
The scout knows Goff’s game especially well because his team was looking hard at the quarterbacks at the top of the first round in ’16. He watched 12 college games each of Goff and Wentz.
To the scout it was clear Wentz was more ready-made for the NFL. Though he’d been the starter for only 1½ seasons in college at a lower-level school (North Dakota), he played in a pro-style offense and had an NFL physique (6-5¼, 237 pounds). In a pre-draft interview, Wentz blew away the team’s coaches when quizzed on identifying defensive alignments, protection calls and play changes.
Goff, on the other hand, had never even huddled in college at Cal. Play calls came from the sidelines after the team had lined up, as did audibles. Goff didn’t even have to identify the Mike linebacker.
But what jumped out to the scout was Goff’s throwing talent and ability to keep his eyes downfield in the face of an unrelenting pass rush. Cal had a bad offensive line, and Goff usually couldn’t step into his throws because of rushers in his face. Yet he got the ball out with a quick, compact delivery and still put it on the money.
After that rocky rookie year, Goff has become a most promising quarterback the last two seasons playing for the NFL’s prodigal coach, Sean McVay. Last year Goff went 11-4 and had a 100.5 rating, and this season he’s gashing defenses with the second-best average per attempt (9.77 yards) and sixth-best completion percentage (69.7 percent). McVay has accelerated Goff’s growth by often running a no-huddle offense and helping his quarterback with audibles before the coach-quarterback headset cuts off with 15 seconds left on the play clock.
Still, comparing any young quarterback’s throwing talent to Rodgers is saying a lot. Rodgers ranks among the great pure passers in league history with his quick delivery and accuracy regardless of whether he sets his feet.
“There are some similarities from a mechanical standpoint between the two guys,” the scout said. “Aaron does the same thing, very seldom does he step into a throw. Everything he does is from the hips. Jared is the same way. It’s almost a flick of the wrist rather than load it up and throw it. Jared is very similar. Watch it and you tell me if I’m full of it. There are some similarities there, and none of it has to do with the fact that they went to the same school.”
In Rodgers’ media session at his locker this week, he didn’t note any similarities with Goff, but he did mention the quality that jumps out most.
“He’s got some weapons to throw to, but he’s been extremely accurate (throwing),” Rodgers said.
The biggest difference between the two is athleticism, at least in how they tested at the NFL scouting combine. Rodgers is a little shorter (6-feet-2 to Goff’s 6-4) but ran a faster 40 (4.71 to 4.82) and jumped higher (34 1/2 inches to 27 inches). Goff was a little quicker in the three cone (7.17 seconds to Rodgers’ 7.38).
Rodgers is a more athletic quarterback than scouts thought he was coming out of Cal. His ability to make plays outside the pocket is what separates him from the increasing number of good pocket passers in the league.
Goff can’t do that as well as Rodgers, but the pocket presence he showed with those undermanned Cal teams has carried over to the NFL.
“His feel allows him to move his feet around enough to get out of the way,” the scout said, “and he has enough vision to scramble as he needs to. The one intangible that’s going to make him elite, I think it will be that. Just the feel and maneuvering him in the pocket.”
Goff also was thin coming out of college (215 pounds; he’s now listed at 222 pounds), and at least some members of the Rams’ football staff in 2016 were concerned about his durability.
“He was accurate (as a thrower), and on the move he was accurate,” said a source who was on the Rams’ staff when former coach Jeff Fisher drafted Goff. “The big thing was we were worried about him, when he gets hit he’s fragile. If you can get after him a little bit, it will be tough on him, because he’s not a strong guy.”
While Rodgers had an advantage in not having to start for a bad team early in his career – he famously sat for three seasons behind Brett Favre – Goff ended up playing as a rookie and going 0-7. He had a tougher transition because he didn’t even know where to stand and whether or not to kneel in the huddle when he joined the Rams for their first offseason practices that year. He didn’t have to audible until he came to the NFL as well.
But Goff also has had something that makes life much easier for a young quarterback, and that’s a great running back in Todd Gurley. Gurley leads the league in rushing yards (686) and is averaging 10.8 yards per reception, which is second-best among backs with 25 or more catches.
With Gurley occupying defenses, Goff doesn’t have to carry his team like Rodgers has to carry the Packers, or Wentz has to carry the Eagles for that matter.
The Goff-Wentz debate is hardly settled in only their third NFL season. But the parameters have changed.
“When it’s all said and done, they might both be in the Hall of Fame, I don’t know,” the scout said. “Who knows? Staying healthy and all that stuff. … (But) if you’d have asked me last year I’d have said Jared Goff (over Wentz). The learning curve was just bigger for him, it was going to take him a while.”
The Packers will get a first-hand look at just how far along that curve Goff is.