Rams quarterback Jared Goff will make first NFL start

Rams quarterback Jared Goff will make first NFL start

THOUSAND OAKS -- Jared Goff is ready to show the Los Angeles Rams he was worth the wait.

Goff will make his NFL debut Sunday when the No. 1 pick faces the Miami Dolphins as the Rams' starting quarterback.

"I think it's time," Goff said after practice Tuesday. "I'm ready to move forward and play. I'm just going to work hard and hopefully win."

Goff watched the first nine games of his rookie season on the sideline for the Rams, who have scored an NFL-worst 15.4 points per game with one of the league's least productive offenses.

Veteran Case Keenum has started every game, passing for 2,169 yards with 11 interceptions and nine TDs.

Goff will debut in front of his home fans at the Coliseum, where Rams fans frustrated by a dismal offensive season chanted "We want Goff!" two weeks ago during a loss to Carolina.

"We're expecting him to play well and win games for us, so it's an exciting time for us," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.

After weeks of increasing scrutiny on the offense's struggles, Fisher finally decided to see what they've got in Goff. Los Angeles couldn't score a touchdown in last weekend's 9-6 victory over the New York Jets, failing to reach the end zone for the third time in nine games.

Los Angeles traded several high draft picks to Tennessee in April to move up to draft Goff, hoping to solve years of underperformance at the NFL's most important position. The Rams also traded up to make a splash in their return to Los Angeles after a 21-year sojourn in St. Louis, where they hadn't made the playoffs since 2004 or had a winning record since 2003.

But after Goff didn't beat out Keenum for the job in the preseason, Fisher repeatedly declined to promote the rookie over the past two months even while his offense struggled on almost a weekly basis, saying he wanted Goff to be in an ideal position to succeed.

It's increasingly clear that the Rams' offense doesn't provide an optimal opportunity for any quarterback, but at least Goff will now be learning on the job.

"It wasn't a spontaneous decision," Fisher said. "It was a progression. It's a gut feel. It's not an easy thing. It takes time, and we gave it time, and it was the right decision. We're looking forward to watching him play. ... He's going to have some moments, like all young quarterbacks do, but he's going to do well."

The Rams' offense is 31st in the NFL with just 308.0 yards per game. Their passing game is ranked 25th with 225.4 yards per game, increasing in recent weeks because of Los Angeles' profound struggles running the ball.

The Coliseum crowd has been eager for a change, booing the offense and chanting for the rookie while the Rams struggled through a 13-10 loss to Carolina two weeks ago. Los Angeles couldn't score against the Panthers until midway through the fourth quarter.

The Rams then failed to reach the end zone against the Jets, but the defense carried them to their first win since early October.

Fisher had finally seen enough on the field - and from Goff in practice - to warrant the inevitable change.

"It feels like a long time since I've got out there and played," Goff said. "I'm excited to get back out there. ... I saw a lot of stuff from the sidelines, as much as you can see during games, and learned from a lot of the things Case did, good and bad. It's been a long process, I guess, trying to pick up everything and get ready for it. I think I have, and I think I've been ready for a little while. I feel good, and I feel excited."

Goff, who turned 22 last month, was a three-year starter at California in a spread offense bearing little resemblance to the Rams' more pro-style schemes. That additional learning curve persuaded the Rams to be patient, but Keenum has struggled along with the Los Angeles offense, repeatedly failing to make big plays in important situations.

The veteran has thrown eight interceptions and five TD passes over the past five games for the Rams, who endured a four-game skid before last weekend's win.

Goff will get his first shot against the Dolphins, who have the NFL's ninth-ranked passing defense with potent pass-rushers Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake, who have combined for 12 sacks.

Goff is the first quarterback chosen with the top pick who didn't start his team's opener since JaMarcus Russell in 2007. Since then, Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Jameis Winston had all started their teams' first games.

Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in


Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in

The 49ers concluded the first wave of the free-agent signing period with the signings of players to fill the team’s biggest offseason needs.

--Cornerback. Aqib Talib would have been the answer in a trade with the Denver Broncos, but he wanted to play elsewhere. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Richard Sherman, whom the Seattle Seahawks cut a day earlier.

--Interior offensive line. Center Weston Richburg was the player the team had rated as their top target in free agency, and they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.

--Running back. The team decided Jerick McKinnon was a better fit than Carlos Hyde. They wrapped him up with a four-year contract.

--Edge rusher. Lacking many options in free agency, the 49ers signed Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract in hopes he will earn a spot on the team and make a contribution at the “Leo” position.

The 49ers can still use more help at a number of different positions, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and edge rusher. While the 49ers might add some role players in the second wave of free agency, most of the major acquisitions at this point are likely to come in the draft.

On the 49ers Insider Podcast, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters addressed what positions he believes are strong in this year’s draft.

“I think running backs, absolutely. It’s a deep position,” Peters said. “Quarterbacks at the top is deeper than it was last year. Secondary, corners, it’s not deeper than it was last year, but it’s a strong class of corners. Those are the main ones. The offensive line class is a little better than last year, too.”

The 49ers got major contributions from their rookie class last season. Tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Solomom Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert each played more than 300 snaps.

The 49ers feel good about Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, as a starter with Sherman on the other side. Peters said a lot of the team’s rookies played larger roles than expected in 2017, but Witherspoon might have been at the top of the list.

“I don’t think he was active for the first four games,” Peters said of Witherspoon. “And he ended up playing at a high level at the end. Really driven, conscientious player who wants to be great. 

"We were lucky we got a chance to play a lot of rookies because that’ll help us moving forward.”

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense


Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

The player Kyle Shanahan studied on video was a lot better than the player he saw on the stat sheet.

The 49ers coach said he places a lot more emphasis on how he projects a player in his offense than what the player did with his former team.

And that is why the 49ers placed a large priority on signing former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnonon the first day of the free-agent signing period. McKinnon comes to the 49ers on a four-year, $30 million contract with $11.7 million guaranteed.

McKinnon's stats might not suggest he is anywhere near a top running back in the NFL, but Shanahan sees it differently. And that is why the 49ers opted to pursue McKinnon instead of Carlos Hyde.

“I don’t know the numbers until I like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I always watch the guy first, and turn on the tape and get lost in it for a while. There were so many things I liked about him, visualizing how we would use him and stuff he would do. And even though there wasn’t a ton of it, you still got to see him do some stuff that we do a lot. Where he did it, he excelled a ton and was very good at it.

“Eventually, I look at the numbers and it did surprise me. Then you go back and you try to see why. I’m not going to get into all the whys, but I know all the stuff we liked about him, we cut up those numbers. I think they would’ve been good numbers.”

In four NFL seasons as a part-time player, McKinnon (5-9, 205), averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. The past two years, he gained 539 and 570 yards with rushing averages of just 3.4 and 3.8 yards.

Hyde (6-foot, 230) is a bigger back with more production in his career. He rushed for 988 and 938 yards in 2016 and ’17 with averages of 4.6 and 3.9 yards.

Shanahan said he looked at every player who was available, and McKinnon was the player he evaluated to be the best of all the free agents. Shanahan has long valued running backs who are versatile in the run and pass games with an ability to make defenders miss.

“A good run is when you get more yards than what it was blocked for,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, runs are blocked for negative 1 (yard) and the best run in the game was a 1-yard carry.

“Sometimes the one that most people could do is a 60-yarder because it was a busted coverage or a busted front and nobody was there. Numbers do tell stuff, but it’s never an absolute."

The 49ers signed McKinnon to be the starting running back with Matt Breida likely mixing into the action. The 49ers could also be in the market to add to the competition and depth through the draft.

Shanahan is likely to deploy multiple players, just as he did successfully with Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. McKinnon is expected to take Freeman’s role. In each of Shanahan’s two seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator, Freeman accounted for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 1,056 and 1,079 yards while catching 578 and 462 yards in passes.

“I’m just excited to be in the offense that I feel is a perfect fit for me,” McKinnon said on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“Things that coach Shanahan has done with the backs like he did in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, I see myself doing those kinds of things. For me, I feel like the scheme is right. The fit was just perfect for me. I feel like I can’t be in a better situation as a player.”

Shanahan said he liked McKinnon as a draft prospect in 2014 out of Georgia Southern but it was more difficult to evaluate him because he mostly played quarterback in college.

But in studying McKinnon while with the Vikings, he saw a runner who has speed and elusiveness while also exhibiting the strength to break arm tackles. He set the record at the NFL Scouting Combine for running backs with 32 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press in 2014. But McKinnon's best asset might be his ability to be a factor in the passing game in blitz pickup, while also being a dependable receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

“When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams,” Shanahan said. “I think this league, when it comes to third downs and things like that, you move the chains based off of matchups, which allows you to get points in the long run. I think Jerick is very versatile and we can do a lot of things with him.

“He’s good enough to make it as a runner alone in this league. He’s good enough to make it in the pass game as just a third down threat alone, but when you can do both of those, it gives you a lot of freedom as a coach.”