Allen Park — There’s only so much sympathy you’re allowed to have for a rival, but as a fellow quarterback, one drafted in the first round who weathered the storm of falling short of early expectations, Jared Goff feels the pain of Chicago Bears rookie Justin Fields after his tumultuous first start last week.
And in explaining why he feels a young quarterback shouldn’t be pressed into action too early — an assessment shared by another pair of quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall during a segment on “Monday Night Countdown” — Goff unintentionally makes the case for the Detroit Lions sticking with him as their starter in 2022, even if they do decide to invest in the franchise’s future at the position in the first round of next year’s draft.
“We do this every year where these kids get drafted in the top 10 and we expect them to be the best player in the league right away,” Goff said. “It’s rare. I think you look around the league and, how many guys have done that in the last 20 years? I don’t know, one or two. (Chiefs quarterback Patrick) Mahomes may have ruined it for all of these guys being as good as he was in Year 2.
“It’s a tough game,” Goff continued. “It’s a different game (than college). It’s tough and I remember my transition was hard and you’re learning a lot. You’re learning on the fly, and I remember they always ask you, ‘Are you ready to play? Are you ready to play?’ No, you’re never ready to play as a rookie.”
Unlike Fields, who was forced into a starting job two weeks into the season due to an injury to Andy Dalton, Goff spent nine games behind Case Keenum before the Rams inserted the No. 1 overall pick of the 2016 NFL draft into their lineup. Still, even with a half of season to learn from the sideline, Goff proved he wasn’t ready.
Starting the final seven games that year, Goff completed just 54.6% of his passes with more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (five). Most importantly, the Rams went winless during that season-closing stretch.
And even though Goff’s performance took off his second season, he admits it wasn’t until midway through that Pro Bowl campaign that he finally started to feel comfortable. Now, when he looks back on that year, he realizes he still knew very little.
“Probably about halfway through that second year where you start to get your feet wet a little bit,” he said. “I don’t know, call it 15 games, 10 games maybe. 12 starts. Once you get there, then you’re like, ‘OK, I know how this works a little bit.’ And then I look back at myself in that year and I go, ‘I knew nothing,’ right? And that’s kind of the way it goes for your whole life and hopefully I look back at this right now and look at, ‘Oh, what an idiot he was in Year 6 doing that type of stuff.’ That’s just the way it goes.”
Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick in 2005 who recently retired and took an analyst job with ESPN, echoed Goff’s sentiments about not being ready to start as a rookie during a segment on “Monday Night Countdown.”
“I think it’s tough, and there’s obviously great debate,” Smith said. “These teams spend a lot of draft capital moving up and getting these guys in the first round. We had five (quarterbacks) going this year. … Do you play them early? Is it just baptism by fire and they’re going to learn from their mistakes and grow and develop?
“I’m someone who feels like they experienced that and I really felt like it set me back and took me years to overcome,” Smith said. “My first start was a disaster. I felt like I had no business being out there. I threw four interceptions my first start and it didn’t get much better after that.”
Smith, having also experienced the other end of the spectrum, is an advocate for allowing a rookie quarterback to sit and develop behind a veteran starter for a year. He served as that place holder/mentor two times during his career, first with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and later with Mahomes in Kansas City. Both led their teams to 12-4 records their first full season as a starter after sitting behind Smith.
Smith’s colleague, Steve Young, another former No. 1 overall pick, emphasized the support system put in place for young quarterbacks is also a key factor.
“That’s the problem, if the Jets aren’t going to get better, if the Jaguars aren’t going to get better, it doesn’t matter whether you play or don’t play,” Young said. “In the end, the Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes watched a great team and he took over a great team. To me, if you get the help, Troy Aikman, 1-15 (as a rookie), got the help. Peyton Manning, 1-15, got the help. All of a sudden, it wasn’t that bad. Your experience, the posse never came, the reinforcements never came. That’s what’s hard.”
Eventually, the Lions will face a similar decision at quarterback, but the team’s coaching staff seems to share Goff’s views about rushing a rookie into action. Earlier this offseason, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said he prefers to sit a young player for at least a season, once again citing Mahomes as the reason why.
“I’d love to see that rookie sit and watch for a little while,” Lynn said. “If he could go watch for half a season, or watch for the first year like Patrick Mahomes did, I think you can learn so much from the right veteran quarterback because a lot of rookies come into this league and they’re not ready. The speed of the game is twice as fast as it was in college. And if they don’t have success in today’s environment, with social media, things get out of whack and some of these guys lose the confidence and, hell, they never get it back. If I can sit a rookie, I will. If I can.”
It’s worth noting that Lynn’s opinion remains unchanged even after coaching Justin Herbert last season, one of those rare exceptions to a quarterback succeeding as a rookie.
And Lions head coach Dan Campbell, ahead of the draft, talked about the importance of building up the rest of the roster before adding a young quarterback, mirroring what Young was talking about on “Monday Night Countdown.”
And you probably won’t find this difficult to believe, but Campbell pointed to Kansas City to make his point.
“There’s no question, man, a quarterback can somewhat make or break you,” Campbell said. “But that’s not always entirely true. For example, think about Kansas City, right? Think about when Andy Reid went out there and they started building that thing, man, with building blocks. Now they had Alex Smith, they had kind of this bridge quarterback. He’s kind of bridging the gap, but in the meantime, oh boy, they’re building pieces, right? Their O-line man, their tackles, the defensive tackle, D-end and cornerback. So they’re starting to build this nucleus and it’s like they go the playoffs and ah, it doesn’t work out. Then, all of sudden, this young gunslinger out of Texas Tech (Mahomes) shows up and they move up to get him and now look what’s happened.”
At the very least, the Lions seem to be on the right track there. It’s part of the reason why they drafted offensive tackle Penei Sewell ahead of Fields in the draft, solidifying the blocking before trying to throw a young quarterback into the mix. That’s something Fields didn’t have Sunday, when he was sacked nine times.
“Nine sacks, I’m not sure how much development is going on when you throw for one net yard,” Smith said. “And I mean that in fairness for him. That’s something you’re not playing through and I think you can develop bad habits, you can develop some scar tissue as a young player.”