Five games into the NFL season, my fears have come true about Jared Goff.
It’s not that the Detroit Lions are 0-5 under their new quarterback. Or that he doesn’t have the same arm strength — or flair for dramatic late-game comebacks — as Matthew Stafford.
My fear is founded in what seemed inevitable from the moment the Lions acquired Goff. Through nearly a third of the season, it’s clear Goff isn’t a great quarterback — he hasn’t shown the ability to dominate and singlehandedly win a game.
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That doesn’t mean Goff is a bad quarterback. He isn’t. But he also flirts with the definition of being merely good, based on what he has done in five games.
And that’s what I was afraid of, that we would judge Goff based on an unfair situation, considering his list of quality receivers to target goes one deep (T.J. Hockenson).
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This is why I was critical of general manager Brad Holmes’ decision to ignore the receiver position until the fourth round, when he used his fifth pick of the draft on Amon-Ra St. Brown. With the receiver cupboard bare, it was clear Goff would need help, even after the Lions signed Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman in free agency.
Let’s not forget Stafford never dealt with this issue. Less than 24 hours after Calvin Johnson announced his retirement in 2016, the Lions agreed to a deal with Marvin Jones, the top free-agent receiver; they also already had Golden Tate and then added Anquan Boldin a couple months later.
Goff doesn’t have anything like that cast. Perriman never made the roster and they’ve lost Williams and Quintez Cephus to injury. So Goff is down to choosing between St. Brown, Kalif Raymond or KhaDarel Hodge whenever Hockenson is double-covered — and he’s always double-covered.
It’s been such a revolving door at receiver that when Hodge spoke with reporters this week, one person leaned over and asked me who he was. I only knew because I’d heard him introduced.
So it’s a bit of a “the chicken or the egg?” situation” Is Goff not great because of his own ability? Or is he not great because of the dearth of talent around him?
It’s hard to say, but Goff is at least having a decent season statistically: Through five games, he has seven touchdown passes and three interceptions while averaging about 260 yards. That puts him on pace for 24 touchdowns and 10 picks and about 4,400 yards.
If you dig a little deeper, though, they confirm what I think most of us see and feel: Goff isn’t a big-play threat. He’s last in average air yards per completion at 3.83, — nearly a full yard less than Ben Roethlisberger at No. 31 — and he’s fourth-worst in overall average pass length at 6.54 yards.
I’ll give Goff credit for at least having a sense of humor when I asked him how he could throw deeper.
“I’m trying to find the guy who’s open every play,” he said, “and if that happens all the way down the field, that’s the guy. If it’s not, then it’s not. I’m not concerned with my yards per attempt, or completion, really. I’m just trying to find the guy who’s open.
“If you guys want me to improve my yards per attempt, I’ll overthrow everybody 50 yards over and over again and my yards per attempt will go through the roof. So I don’t plan on doing that.”
Basically, Goff threatened to go full Dreaj Foge just to shut me up. You’ve got to respect that. Goff 1, Monarrez 0.
So I decided to go a little deeper myself and reached out to the good people at Pro Football Focus, who examine game film with unflinching dedication the way a dermatologist looks at those gross moles on your back.
“This year, for as hard as I would like to be on him, this is about as rough of a scenario as you could probably be in for a quarterback in a new situation,” said Diante Lee, an NFL analyst with PFF who has watched Goff closely since his college career. “You’ve got a first-year head coach, a new situation, the cupboard in terms of talent is relatively bare.
“I think that they’re trying to find a brand new identity offensively. They are so far behind in terms of the talent matchup on Sundays. Not necessarily Jacksonville — on a lot of levels actually — but I do think that it’s kind of unfair in Year 1 whether or not this is something that can work in Detroit. But I don’t think any differently of him now than I ever did throughout his time in Los Angeles. It’s just a tough setup for him right now.”
Lee is right: It’s unfair to fully judge Goff’s potential this year. But the NFL doesn’t wait for anyone, and if this rebuild is ever going to get off the ground, something has to change. Unless the Lions throw the bulk of their resources at the receiving corps next year, Goff won’t be able to change much next season.
While Goff hasn’t been a franchise savior, I respect what he has done. He has played mostly careful and conservative football — doing what he has been asked to — to chew some clock, not overtax the defense and give the team a chance to hang around with a shot to win. The Lions would have won twice if not for semi-miraculous last-second efforts by their opponents; that tells me Goff has done enough to win 40% of his games.
And yet, it’s not enough. Because even if the Lions had beaten the Baltimore Ravens and the Minnesota Vikings, he isn’t likely to be the Lions’ long-term answer.
The Lions are contractually committed to Goff for the 2022 season after restructuring his deal in March. Meanwhile, the 2022 class of QBs is less than dazzling, meaning the Lions could wait another season to find their future QB. Or, with 11 picks in 2022, including two in the first round, they could find a quarterback in the middle-to-late part of the first round. You know, one of those Aaron Rodgers (No. 24 overall in 2005), Lamar Jackson (No. 32 in 2018) or Dan Marino (No. 27 in 1983) types.
But a rebuild doesn’t truly start until that future QB arrives. Just look across the field on Sunday and see what the Cincinnati Bengals are doing in Joe Burrow’s second season; they added top receiver Ja’Marr Chase in the 2021 draft to complement Burrow and have shown progress because of it.
Most rookie QBs need at least a year to develop. That means if the Lions don’t draft a quarterback until 2023, we’re talking about 2024 before that hypothetical QB is showing promise. I can’t imagine anyone in Detroit wanting or willing to wait that long.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.