While many rookies will be facing the most pressure of their football lives when the NFL’s regular season begins next month, few will feel the squeeze quite like L.A. Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
Chosen by Los Angeles as the top pick in this past June’s NFL Draft, Goff’s transformation from college standout to NFL starting quarterback is only beginning, and he’ll have plenty of eyes on him as he competes with Case Keenum and long-shot Sean Mannion for depth chart superiority during training camp.
But unlike fellow rookie quarterback Carson Wentz in Philadelphia, the player that Goff indirectly competed against to become the draft’s top pick, the Rams’ young gunslinger will be attempting to fulfill some pretty lofty expectations for a franchise that’s trying to seduce an entire city it once called home.
Adding to those expectations is the high price that the Rams paid to acquire the draft’s first overall selection. In exchange for the highly-pursued pick and a pair of later round draft picks, the Rams sent two first, two second, and two third round draft picks to the Tennessee Titans.
Considering how crucial the draft is to a struggling organization such as the Rams, the price paid for the rights to draft Goff reflects a serious commitment to the young quarterback. And after being burned by the decision to draft quarterback Sam Bradford with the top overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, skeptical members of the team’s fan-base are expecting Goff to be nothing more than another big-time bust.
Regardless of how well Goff does in training camp, fans will have a front row seat to the trials and tribulations of the NFL’s most watched rookie thanks to HBO’s decision to use the Rams as the subject of this summer’s edition of Hard Knocks, an annual reality series based on NFL training camp.
Of course, if the lights get too bright for Goff, the presence of second-year running back and budding superstar Todd Gurley should provide the youngster with some shade. As a rookie, Gurley totaled 1,106 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns in 13 games while proving that he can be the franchise’s offensive focal point of the future.
”I think I’m a good fit,” said Goff. ”I think how I felt with them and how they felt with me, I think there was similar thoughts about the way the game works, and I’m just excited to go down there and get a chance to work with them.”
In March of 2015, both the franchise and its fan-base thought that they’d finally found the answer to their struggles under center when the Rams dealt Bradford and a fifth-round pick to the Eagles for starting quarterback Nick Foles and a pair of draft picks.
Following six seasons of injury-plagued performances from Bradford, the arrival of a Pro-Bowler who’d gone 14-4 as a starter under former Philly bench-boss Chip Kelly almost seemed too good to be true. But despite signing him to a two-year contract extension before he even took the field for the Rams, Foles was a complete flop in St. Louis and was released from his contract last week.
Although there’s no way to tell if Goff will be able to provide his employers with the player they thought they were getting in Bradford and Foles at this point in his pro football journey, Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher certainly sounded confident in Goff’s ability to fulfill his potential when speaking to ESPN in June.
”Jared has a skill-set that is special,” said Fisher. ”He’s got a quick release, he understands the quarterback position, he’s going to get rid of the football, and he’s competitive. Once you look at his body of work in the red zone, it’s impressive. He keeps drives alive. Nothing is too big for him.”
Last season, St. Louis was arguably the league’s weakest at the quarterback position and finished dead last in total quarterback rating, passing yards, passing yards per attempt, and passing touchdowns. And although there’s some concern over Goff’s ability to hang on to the football, he’s the best solution right now for a team that’s owned the NFL’s worst quarterback rating since 2007 and threw only 11 passing touchdowns in 2015.
But other than Gurley, Goff will be hard-pressed to find any dependable targets on a team that’s currently very weak at wide receiver. Heading into training camp, wideout Tavon Austin is the team’s top deep target after finishing 2015 with 52 receptions for 473 yards and five touchdowns, and Kenny Britt and Brian Quick follow Austin on the food chain.
It won’t be enough for the Rams to mark their homecoming with a return to the playoffs, but it doesn’t have to be. This team sold 70,000 season tickets in six hours for a reason, and in order for Goff and the Rams to find success in 2016, they just have prove that their moving in the right direction.
[Photo By Harry How/Getty Images]