Jared Goff’s lowly place in NFL QB rankings reveals risk-reward of Detroit Lions plan

Detroit Free Press

One former NFL quarterback ranks him 30th.

An ex-NFL general manager puts him in Tier 6.

One of the premier analytics websites has him in Tier D.

No matter who does the ranking, no one seems to like Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff as much as the Lions do.

The Lions passed on a quarterback for the second straight NFL draft and will roll into this season with Goff as their unquestioned starter. With one of the NFL’s better offensive lines, an improved collection of weapons in the passing game and two capable runners in their backfield, the Lions’ biggest question mark on offense heading into the 2022 season is at the most important position on the field.

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It’s a dangerous approach. Or maybe it’s genius, though both Lions coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes seem to be realistic about Goff’s ability.

Neither Campbell nor Holmes has hitched his wagon to Goff for the long term, with Campbell’s spring declaration that you do not need an elite quarterback to win big in the NFL sounding like an admission of where the Lions stand at the position.

Goff played half a season of pretty putrid football last year, when he threw six interceptions, lost four fumbles and led the Lions to zero wins in their first nine games.

Campbell stood by Goff throughout his struggles, insisting it wasn’t right to judge the quarterback given the dearth of talent around him. The Lions receiving corps imploded before the season began, and Goff and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn shared a mutual distrust for one another on the field.

When Campbell replaced Lynn as play-caller midway through the season, about the same time the Lions added a new weapon (Josh Reynolds) to their passing game, Goff’s play perked up.

He put together five solid performances to end the season (while missing three games with injury) and earned the chance to run it back in 2022.

“I really admire and appreciate what he did with what he worked with last year,” Holmes said after the draft. “I wouldn’t say it’s no excuses (for Goff this season), but we just expect him to be set up for success, which Dan and I said that’s what we’re going to do for Jared.”

The Lions are not “Greatest Show on Turf” material, and they wouldn’t be no matter who was playing quarterback. But they do have the makings of a dangerous offense, one that should help reveal the real Goff.

Free agent addition DJ Chark gives the Lions the type of big downfield threat they lacked most of last season, and when rookie Jameson Williams is healthy the Lions will immediately have one of the most explosive players in the league.

Goff had the two best seasons of his career with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017-18, when he was a part of a historically dangerous offense. He had three capable receivers in Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and a young Cooper Kupp, the NFL’s best running back in Todd Gurley, and he delivered back-to-back seasons with a passer rating above 100.

As Goff’s play slipped during his final years in L.A., after injuries destroyed Gurley’s career, the perception around the league was that he was being propped up by the talent around him, both on offense and on the sideline by Rams head coach Sean McVay.

Goff did little to change that narrative last year, when the Rams won the Super Bowl with Matthew Stafford at quarterback and Goff was apprehensive to throw downfield, which is why Goff resides near the bottom of quarterback rankings everywhere now.

Chris Simms of NBC Sports puts Goff at No. 30 on his 40-player list, behind the likes of Tua Tagovailoa, Marcus Mariota and Mitchell Trubisky.

Mike Tannenbaum, Campbell’s former boss with the Miami Dolphins, puts Goff in the same tier as Tagovailoa, Carson Wentz and second-year Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills. While not a straight ranking, Tannenbaum describes the group as players “you can win with if the situation around them is ideal. … It is unlikely to see flashes of greatness from these players, but at their best, they will keep their teams in the game.”

And Pro Football Focus ranks Goff below the San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo, a projected backup this fall, in a tier of four players it describes as being “propped up by scheme.”

None of those rankings seem inappropriate, though all are fluid and 12 months from now will have undergone significant change.

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The Lions seem poised to take a step forward this fall, though how big a step will depend on Goff’s play.

If he thrives like he did in the second half of last season — when he trusted his weapons and his coaches to put him in the right plays — Goff has a chance to reclaim his standing as an upper-tier QB (as PFF ranked him going into the 2019 season). If he struggles and proves his critics right, well, at least the Lions will have a ready-made offense for whoever they find to replace him.

That’s the risk-reward of the Lions’ plan.

With only a handful of true difference makers at the position, the Lions have eschewed small gains and big swings at quarterback in favor of bulking up the rest of their roster. They are giving Goff the chance to prove he’s more than the game manager most peg him as now, and will reap lottery-like rewards if that’s the case, while trying to maintain enough flexibility to quickly move on if that’s what the future warrants.

I don’t imagine Campbell or Holmes would quibble much with the rankings, were truth serum running through their veins. And with Organized Team Activities underway this week and training camp on the not-too-distant horizon, there’s no need to quibble at all.

Soon enough, the only thing that will matter is what happens on the field.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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