Ten games into his NFL career, a prospective franchise quarterback is showing why his team traded up for the chance to draft him. Twice now this season, he has been marvelous, displaying his command of the offense, demonstrating how much he learned and how sharply he honed his throwing mechanics over the offseason. His team has gotten off to an encouraging start, and there are fewer reasons now to have doubts about his future.
This quarterback, of course, is the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff, and his performance through his first three games this season has started to make the comparison between him and the other quarterback selected at the top of the 2016 draft, Carson Wentz, a little more interesting. The Rams are 2-1, and Goff has completed more than 70 percent of his passes — for 817 yards, five touchdowns, and just one interception — and he has averaged a robust 10.1 yards per attempt. It was natural last season — while Wentz was starting all 16 games for the Eagles and Goff was languishing with the Rams, losing all seven of his starts and generally looking tentative and lost — to assume that Goff would be a bust and that the Eagles had targeted the right prospect. But Goff’s improvement reaffirms how much of a role circumstances and surroundings play in any quarterback’s development, production, and accomplishments.
Linking quarterbacks by their draft years and tracking their progress over time is a favorite pastime among those who follow the NFL. It’s a familiar story line and discussion topic: Peyton Manning-Ryan Leaf in 1998, Eli Manning-Philip-Rivers-Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, Alex Smith going No. 1 overall in 2005 while Aaron Rodgers plummets to No. 24. Often, the easiest part of such debates is holding up one quarterback’s skill set against the other’s and making an obvious judgment. You don’t have to be Sid Gillman to look at Rodgers and recognize that he is more physically gifted than Smith (and every other quarterback in the league). Similarly, Wentz has a stronger arm and is more mobile than Goff. But quarterbacks don’t compete in vacuums, and the appropriate comparison isn’t necessarily, Is this quarterback better than that one? Actually, the better comparison is, Is this quarterback better here than he otherwise would have been in another environment — with a different team, with different coaching, with different teammates, with perhaps a different time line for development?
Take, for instance, Rodgers, who rode the bench for three years behind Brett Favre before becoming the Green Bay Packers’ starter in 2008. Two other members of his draft class, Smith and Jason Campbell, started as rookies. Were they “ahead” of Rodgers then? Did the three years of waiting hurt or help Rodgers? Is there any way to tell?
“I think any quarterback would prefer to play right away, but what’s best for the development depends on the situation and the makeup of that quarterback,” Rodgers said during a conference call last year. “In general, I think you’re seeing some better coaching starting at the younger levels. Guys are more prepared to play. They’re doing more in college with protection adjustments, run-pass options at the line of scrimmage, and checks than we probably were 12 years ago, when I was coming out of the draft.
“So it’s been fun to see that development of quarterbacks coming in. but it’s also situational. Any quarterback needs a good supporting cast around him.”
Now, consider Wentz and Goff from last season to this season. Wentz had all the advantages last season. He had played in a pro-style offense at North Dakota State, and with the Eagles, he had a triumvirate of coaches — Doug Pederson, Frank Reich, John DeFilippo — who had played quarterback in college and/or the NFL and who were regarded as having expertise in teaching the intricacies of the position. Goff had to cleanse his system, to a great extent, of the spread offense he ran at Cal, and his head coach was Jeff Fisher, who is regarded as having no expertise in teaching the intricacies of the position.
This season, though, Goff has a head coach, Sean McVay, who is a former offensive coordinator. He has Todd Gurley, who is better than any running back on the Eagles. He has Sammy Watkins, who is as talented or more than any Eagles wide receiver. He is in more advantageous and comfortable surroundings. Everyone will get a truer sense of how good he might yet be, and whether the Rams were really so wrong to take him instead of Wentz.
In their attempts to replace Peyton Manning, the Broncos selected a quarterback, Paxton Lynch, in the first round of last year’s draft, and they even gave Mark Sanchez a shot at their starting job. But Trevor Siemian seems to have a stranglehold on the job, at least for now. He has thrown six touchdown passes in leading Denver to a 2-0 start.
At a time when defenses appear to be ascendant around the league, the Saints are bucking the trend. Through two games, they have given up 65 points and more than 1,000 yards of total offense, and will be without cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Sterling Moore on Sunday against the Panthers. Remember when Roger Goodell was fining and suspending Saints defensive players and coaches for being too nasty? Those days are gone.
TOP EARLY AFTERNOON GAME
Atlanta at Detroit
Both teams made the playoffs last season. Both teams are 2-0 this season. Both teams have terrific, productive quarterbacks: the Falcons’ Matt Ryan, the Lions’ Matthew Stafford. This one could go a long way to shaping the standings and postseason race in the NFC.
TOP LATE AFTERNOON GAME
Kansas City at L.A. Chargers
Forget Alex Smith’s hot start and the Chiefs’ big-play ability on offense and the chance that Andy Reid might get back to the Super Bowl. Given the indifference in Los Angeles toward the Chargers, the big question for this game is: Will there be more people on the sidelines or in the stands?
Oakland at Washington
After all those wacky years during the twilight of Al Davis’ ownership, isn’t it still difficult to think of the Raiders, off to a 2-0 start with a budding superstar in quarterback Derek Carr, as a respectable NFL franchise? After all these wacky years during Daniel Snyder’s ownership, isn’t it difficult to think of the Redskins as a respectable NFL franchise?
Dallas at Arizona
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has been criticized for allegedly quitting on his team during a loss last week in Denver. If Elliott were on the Cardinals and had pulled a similar stunt, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians would have flung his trademark Kangol hat at him like a ninja star.