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The first year of the Jared Goff "era" was hysterically awful: seven games, seven losses, five touchdowns, seven interceptions and 26 sacks taken.
Then the Rams replaced Jeff Fisher with Sean McVay and suddenly Goff more-closely resembled a world-beating QB. We still didn't get many examples of Goff creating off-script magic, but he managed to join Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes as the only QBs to average at least 8.5 adjusted yards per attempt during the 2017-2018 seasons (min. 100 attempts).
2019 wasn't nearly as bad as 2016 for Goff, but it was a steep regression from the player we saw during the previous two seasons. He took most of the blame for the offense's disappointing effort ... as is the case with most signal callers from below-average teams. The Rams didn't exactly surround Goff with the league's best roster in 2019, and we have plenty of past evidence of the 25-year-old QB performing at a high level.
What follows is a breakdown on why 2019 went wrong for Goff and what we can expect entering the 2020 season.
Goff and pressure don't mix
Every QB in the league was worse when operating under pressure compared to a clean pocket in 2019 (PFF). This makes sense; the problem is that Goff has displayed Jekyll and Hyde-level splits between the two situations:
- Goff yards per attempt kept clean: 8.3 (No. 10 among 42 qualified QBs)
- QB rating kept clean: 99.5 (No. 22)
- Yards per attempt under pressure: 5.72 (No. 27)
- QB rating under pressure:60.4 (No. 26)
Overall, Goff was the ninth- and 14th-most sensitive QB to pressure in terms of difference in yards per attempt and QB rating, respectively.
Goff's 36% pressured dropback rate in 2019 was notably higher than 2018 (32%), although not too far removed from 2017 (35.7%). The issue was certainly more profound due to Goff's league-high 626 pass attempts.
The Rams were again one of the league's most-frequent play-action offenses in 2019. Goff's on those passes fell off a bit, but this was largely the case across the board. He was simply an average to below-average QB in nearly every metric:
- Yards per attempt: 7.4 (No. 14)
- Adjusted yards per attempt: 7 (No. 18)
- Adjusted net yards per attempt: 6.5 (No. 13 among 32 qualified QBs)
- Yards per completion: 11.8 (No. 11)
- Touchdown rate: 3.5% (No. 28)
- Interception rate: 2.6 (No. 23)
- Completion rate: 63% (No. 19)
- QB Rating: 86.5 (No. 22)
Goff finished the season as the fantasy QB13. It's tough to exactly expect a return to form after seeing the Rams' returns from free agency and the draft.
The Rams didn't exactly improve the offense this offseason
Goff is on the books for a cap hit between 13-16% from 2020-2023, so it's a bit hard to devote a ton of resources elsewhere. This reality doesn't mean the Rams are screwed; the idea that teams can't compete with a high-priced QB is a bit overrated. Note that the "x" in the following chart refers to each team's QB percentage hit on their salary cap.
It's plenty possible for great QBs to carry their comparatively underwhelming supporting cast to all sorts of playoff success. The problem is that Goff's aforementioned issues under pressure could continue to be magnified with the Rams' offensive line again looking shaky. Yes, they return all five starters from a season ago, but that group was far from dominant after being forced to replace C John Sullivan and LG Rodger Saffold. The decision to bring back 38-year-old LT Andrew Whitworth after he regressed in a major way seems questionable. Their only "real" addition to the unit was seventh-round G Tremayne Anchrum.
The Rams' porous effort at the line of scrimmage is particularly clear in the run game. The 2018 Rams offensive line averaged 5.49 adjusted line yards per rush – the single-highest mark from Football Outsiders since they began tracking the metric in 1996. The 2017 Rams o-line (4.7) wasn't quite as dominant, but still ranked third in the league. Then 2019 happened. Failure to replace multiple starters in the interior of the offensive line resulted in the Rams limping to a No. 19 overall finish in adjusted line yards per rush.
Perhaps continuity and improved scheme from coach Sean McVay will improve the Rams' chances of regaining their dominance at the line of scrimmage; it just doesn't seem like a particularly safe assumption considering their lack of additions to the unit.
Goff still has a fantastic foursome of pass-catchers in WRs Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods as well as TEs Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. Second-round pick Cam Akers, 2019 third-round pick Darrell Henderson and incumbent backup Malcolm Brown should be able to form at least a decent backfield.
Unfortunately, the decision to replace field-stretching maestro with either backup Josh Reynolds or second-round pick Van Jefferson seems suspect at best. The former WR functioned as the single-least efficient target of Goff's career among eight players with at least 50 targets, while the latter possess the same sort of skill-set and failed to ever reach 50 receptions, 700 yards, or 7 scores in a single collegiate season at Ole Miss and Florida.
Add it all up and ...
Expectations deserve to be meh for this offense
The Rams underwent a bit of an offensive transformation down the stretch of 2019, utilizing more two-WR formations and feeding TE Tyler Higbee. The results were generally good for Goff; he threw multiple scores in each of the final five games of the season. Overall, Goff was the fantasy QB5 during Weeks 13-17 last season.
Perhaps McVay gets back to looking like the NFL's brightest mind outside of New England and engineers another elite season from Goff. The problem with expecting this in fantasy land is none of the team's offseason acquisitions or 2019 performance point to a positive change in performance. Goff will need to make every last throw count in order to vie for fantasy excellence considering he's averaged a whopping four rush yards per game throughout his career.
Goff's average draft position currently has him flying off the board anywhere from the QB10-18 range. I personally have him lower in that tier at QB17. I'm more than fine with trusting Goff over QBs in run-first offenses like Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo, but I'd rather take my chances on the likes of Joe Burrow (serious rookie QB1 potential), Baker Mayfield (much improved offensive line) and Daniel Jones (only Lamar Jackson had more games with 30-plus fantasy points in 2019).
Goff generally needs everything to be perfect around him to thrive in order to ball out. This was largely the case in 2017-2018 behind the league's premiere offensive line and run game that also boasted three high-end WRs. There's still enough talent in the 2020 version of the Rams Offense for Goff and company to put up numbers, but don't expect them to again find themselves alongside the league's single-best offense.