There have been plenty of positives about Jared Goff’s rookie season. Eight games into the season, he has yet to throw an interception, and he hasn’t made any of those “rookie mistakes” we often hear about with inexperienced quarterbacks.
However, the bigger problem is that he hasn’t taken a snap. The Rams traded away two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and two third-round picks so they could have the no. 1 pick in the NFL draft, and they used it on Goff. After Sam Bradford turned out not to be a franchise savior and Nick Foles turned out to be worse, Goff was supposed to be the answer to the team’s problems.
Instead, he’s sat on the bench as the Rams have sputtered offensively, mired in a four-game losing streak that might make it hard for them to even attain the 7–9 record everybody has made fun of them for achieving year after year after year. Nobody has ever accused Jeff Fisher of being an offensive genius, but even for him, this offense is dreadful: It is dead last in points, second-to-last in total yards, and third-to-last in offensive DVOA. Rather than playing Goff, the team has chosen to play Case Keenum, who is 28th in QB rating and pushing for the league lead in interceptions.
Monday, the team announced Keenum would start Sunday against the equally bad Jets. The Rams’ decision to keep Goff glued to the bench has looked particularly silly as other rookie quarterbacks selected below Goff prosper. The Cowboys are the best team in the NFC with Dak Prescott under center. Carson Wentz has been shaky at times, but he’s generally played quite well for a rookie and has the Eagles in shouting distance of a playoff berth. Jacoby Brissett managed to win a game for the Patriots when called upon, and the Browns have looked as good with Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan as they did with veteran quarterbacks on the field. All of these quarterbacks have been better than Keenum, and yet Goff apparently isn’t.
There are a few possible reasons why the Rams aren’t playing Goff, and they all reflect poorly on the team.
Perhaps the Rams aren’t playing Goff because they feel they need to win now, and that Keenum gives them the best chance for success. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Goff would not play until the team is eliminated from playoff contention or Keenum gets injured.
But the Rams are not winning with Keenum. They have a pretty decent defense, and in a league watered down by parity, the Rams would probably be in the hunt for a playoff spot if their offense was merely bad instead of horrendous. But with Keenum, their offense is horrendous. If this season isn’t going to result in a playoff berth, the Rams are probably best off letting Goff grow. It’s one thing to keep a talented rookie on the bench if you’re in “win now” mode; it’s significantly dumber to keep a rookie on the bench because you’re in “go 7–9 now” mode.
Or perhaps the Rams think that keeping Goff sidelined is best for his long-term development. Many people, including a variety of coaches and players quoted last week by The MMQB, seem to believe that playing Goff at this early juncture could hurt his career trajectory. Failure could mess with his head, and he might pick up bad habits as he tries to succeed in the short term. After all, what works for one quarterback might not work for another. It is possible that the Rams do need to build Goff into an NFL quarterback over the course of months and years.
Except, in every other position in every other sport, it’s assumed that game experience is a good thing. It seems foolish to assume that because some quarterbacks who played early didn’t pan out, other quarterbacks need to be protected from early playing time. If the Rams want Goff to develop into the best quarterback he can be, they’ll need to start putting him in positions where he can use the talent they saw from him in college. He could be figuring out how to do the things he’s good at against NFL competition right now. I’m not sure how shielding him from that opportunity helps.
By the way, wanna know the last six first-round quarterbacks to make it to November of their rookie years without starting an NFL game? Johnny Manziel, Jake Locker, Tim Tebow, Josh Freeman, JaMarcus Russell, and Brady Quinn. I don’t think I could’ve hand-selected a funnier group. If starting early ruins quarterbacks, every other first-round quarterback in the NFL since 2007 has been ruined, and Manziel, Tebow, and Russell are among the untainted few.
Of course, there’s the question of cause and effect. Did Tebow, Manziel, and Russell fail because they didn’t start in the first eight weeks of their career? Probably not. It seems more likely that they didn’t play because they were bad — and that’s where things should get scary for Rams fans.
Maybe Goff isn’t playing because he’s really bad. If Goff is just slightly worse than Keenum, it would make sense for the Rams to play him to aid his development. But considering their playoff ambitions — misguided as they might be — continually picking Keenum over Goff seems to signify that Keenum is significantly better than Goff, despite Keenum being one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL.
That terrifies me. What does a quarterback significantly worse than Case Keenum look like? Does he know what a football is? Can he hit a stadium with a football?
In college, Goff gave us plenty of evidence that he was good, or at least competent. But then again, so did Keenum, as he set college football records in Houston’s Air Raid system, which was nearly identical to the one Goff played in at Cal.
The Rams didn’t need to draft Goff. They could have drafted Wentz. They could have held onto their first- and second- and third-round picks and selected Prescott, who apparently came ready to play. But who knows if the franchise would’ve played Prescott or Wentz, either. If they weren’t eager to move on from Keenum, they could have waited a year and used a high draft pick on a more NFL-ready talent in next year’s draft. DeShone Kizer and Deshaun Watson both seem like better prospects, and they play in systems that are more pro-friendly than the Air Raid.
If Goff joins Manziel and Russell on the list of failed first-round quarterbacks, the Rams won’t be able to deflect the blame. They gave away a lot of opportunities to have this one, and if it doesn’t work out, that’ll be more damning than a century of 7–9 seasons.
Then again, maybe Goff is really good right now, but the Rams won’t let us find out.