Jared Goff is no stranger to the word “bust.” That word has floated around the first overall draft pick ever since he shook the hand of Commissioner Goodell. It only increased after a dismal 2016 showing from the Rams, from which Goff took most of the heat. Yet he has, to a degree, been through this ridicule and failure before during his time at Cal. Rather than crack under the pressure, Goff shined in his last two years in college, and he is ready to do the same in the NFL.
Goff’s first year in Berkeley was not a pretty one. The true freshman was thrown into the starting quarterback role without the necessary tools around him to help him succeed. Subsequently, the team finished 1-11 (0-9 in Pac-12 play) in one of the worst seasons in Cal football history.
Despite his team’s lack of success, Goff had a satisfactory year. He broke freshman school records with his 3,508 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also seemed to be a perfect match for the Bear Raid offense: a Sonny Dykes creation that is almost identical to the Air Raid attack, just with a cooler name.
Goff’s season came with its fair share of struggles, however. In a week four contest at Oregon (a game that many refer to as the “Rain Game”), Goff fumbled four times in the first quarter before being replaced by Zack Kline. He finished with just 11 passing yards in the rain-soaked loss to the Ducks.
Like any young quarterback, Goff just needed time to develop. And develop he did, posting jaw-dropping seasons in his last two years at Cal. More comfortable under Dykes’ offense, Goff threw for 3,973 yards and 35 touchdowns on 62.1% passing in his sophomore year. He also commanded a more experienced receiving corps and much improved offensive line.
In his junior year, Goff broke his own career records, posting 4,719 yards and 43 touchdowns. He near-singlehandedly brought the Bears to a bowl game, in which they defeated Air Force for their first bowl win in seven years.
During his time at Cal, Goff turned into the best quarterback in the nation, while also leading his team from out of the basement of the Pac-12. Coach Dykes and the offense was exactly what he needed to develop. He also received the much-needed help from his teammates, something that was lacking during his first year in Berkeley.
Goff’s first year in Los Angeles was near identical to his freshman year at Cal. After being taken first overall by the Rams, Goff was thrown into adverse conditions. The Rams’ management was a mess, Jeff Fisher’s offense did not play to Goff’s strengths, and he had little talent around him. Goff also had to deal with the pressure that came with being the number one overall pick.
Unsurprisingly, the season was a disaster. Fisher ignorantly played Case Keenum for the first nine games, denying Goff of valuable NFL experience. When Goff finally touched the field in week 10, the team was in total disarray. The run game was non-existent due to the one of the worst offensive lines in the game. The unreliable receivers were also no help to the young quarterback. To top it off, Fisher was fired after week 13, effectively ending Goff’s hope of a valuable season. In the midst of all this confusion, Goff had a subpar season, throwing just five touchdowns against seven interceptions, and finishing 0-7 in his rookie year.
Just two preseason games into his “sophomore” season this year, the changes in his play are already evident. New head coach Sean McVay is starting to utilize Goff’s strengths in his play calling, something that was severely lacking in his rookie year. Goff also has the likes of Sammy Watkins and other talented receivers to work with. With the new additions, Goff has already started to perform better in games, which should translate to the rest of the season.
Goff seems to be following the same transition that he did in college. Starting from a failure-filled first year, Goff has already begun the next transition to a NFL-quality quarterback, just as he became a Pac-12-quality QB in his sophomore year. While the process will be longer in the NFL, Goff was able to turn around his play, as well as his team’s play, in just three years under almost the same circumstances.
Goff’s next step will be the leap to NFL stardom, where he will finally be able to shake the shadow that follows him and prove to everyone that he is not a “bust.”