This is the first entry in The Advocate’s position-by-position series taking a look at players who could be an option for the New Orleans Saints in the NFL draft at the end of April.
Jared Goff found out quickly that being mentioned as one of the top quarterbacks in any given draft class can be a double-edged sword.
Widely considered the top quarterback prospect in the 2016 NFL draft for most of last season as a junior, the California quarterback’s profile rocketed into the NFL conversation, making Golden Bears games appointment viewing even on the East Coast. Goff had the possibility of entering the NFL as the new face of someone’s franchise.
Then the scrutiny began. For the past six months, Goff has been peppered with questions about every potential flaw, from the worst performance of his season — a five-interception game against Utah just as the praise was beginning to hit a crescendo — to the size of his hands.
Goff remains confident.
“I think I’m going to improve a team the day I get there, honestly,” Goff said at the NFL scouting combine in February. “I think I can be the guy who can play right away, the guy who can sit if I need to and learn. Honestly I’m excited for whatever team wants to draft me.”
Now, with the NFL draft a little more than two weeks away, Goff is still widely considered one of the top two passers in the draft, along with North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. Until the draft opens, Goff will be visiting with NFL teams across the country, including a New Orleans Saints team that is bringing in a handful of quarterbacks for pre-draft visits, according to the NFL Network.
Goff could be long gone by the time the Saints pick at No. 12.
But the strength he counts on most also happens to be one of the key attributes Sean Payton looks for in a quarterback.
“I think my accuracy is one of my best attributes,” Goff said.
When Goff’s accuracy slipped, so did the rest of his game. Off his game against Utah, Goff also completed just 43.9 percent of his passes against Oregon and started slow in a loss to UCLA. In those moments, Goff believes, he let his fundamentals slip.
“Something I want to work on is kind of tying my feet to my upper body a little bit and staying a little more on balance when I’m throwing,” Goff said. “I was able to get away with some stuff in the past, maybe falling off throws or just kind of getting away with it because I was in college and had enough arm talent to do it. I don’t expect to be able to get away with that really much longer.”
Those hiccups have been the least of his worries in the draft process. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Goff has been questioned about whether or not he has the frame to hold up in the NFL; California ran a spread offense, a scheme that has sometimes made it difficult for young quarterbacks to translate their game to the next level; and then there are his hands, which measured nine inches at the combine, far below the 10 inches the league desires.
That last one makes Goff laugh a little.
“I’ve played football my whole life and never had any problem with that,” Goff said.
His teammates have heard the criticism, too.
“Some say Goff isn’t that athletic, but he’s got the ability to extend plays,” his top receiver, Kenny Lawler, said. “He’ll stand in the pocket; he’s tough. He’ll take that hit if that’s what it means to get the ball off. ... And he can sling it when he’s got the time.”
Goff’s best attribute might be his ability to handle adversity.
The first true freshman to open his first season as Cal’s starting quarterback, Goff had to battle through a 1-11 season, the kind of season the top quarterbacks in the draft often have to endure.
“I learned you’re going to have to start from the ground up. And honestly, it starts with hard work,” Goff said. “We were terrible. We lost every single game besides the game against Portland State. We had to really start from the floor and build everything up, and we were able to go 8-5 and win a bowl game (in 2015). It was tremendous.”
And after finding a way to bounce back from that, it’s hard for a little nit-picking to leave much of a mark.