Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff has plenty in common with the likes of Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Jameis Winston. When the Rams moved up from No. 15 to make Goff the first pick in last month's NFL draft, he joined that group as the past six quarterbacks to go No. 1 overall.
But there's one big difference between Goff and the other five listed above that's worth noting. In the seasons before the Lions (zero wins), Rams (one), Panthers (two), Colts (two) and Buccaneers (two) used the top pick on a quarterback, those five teams combined to win a total of seven games.
But because the Rams made such a huge jump in the draft order, Goff is going to a team that won seven games by itself in 2015. On paper, at least, Goff doesn't have the misfortune of going to a city where he has to be the savior from the moment he steps on the field.
Which means that setting realistic goals for Goff in his rookie season should mean avoiding comparisons to guys like Luck and Co., who were expected to step in and turn around more moribund franchises. Instead, as Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have said, the Rams will do all they can to support Goff, and when he's ready to play, he'll be able to lean on a strong running game led by Todd Gurley and a fierce defense to help ease the burden.
"I think, as Jeff mentioned, don’t worry about throwing the ball [right away]," Snead said. "You have to learn to turn around and hand it to 30 [Gurley]. If you look at our last four years, we have gone from bad to competitive. We have done it with the youngest team in football for the last four years. We got a lot of picks and were able to build a strong core, and we were competitive with instability at QB."
Of all the benefits Goff can bring to the Rams right away, perhaps the greatest is found inside a word Snead used: stability. In the four years since Fisher and Snead arrived in 2012, the Rams have started six quarterbacks, none of whom posted a QBR better than 50.
While Goff is making the difficult transition from Cal's "Bear Raid" scheme to the Rams' pro-style system, he'll be able to come along slowly and be asked to follow more in the mold of two more recent examples of players drafted outside of the top 10.
In 2003, the Steelers went 6-10 behind Charlie Batch and Tommy Maddox at quarterback. That record came despite a defense that ranked ninth in the NFL in yards allowed per game. Without the threat of a consistent passing game, Pittsburgh's once-vaunted run game dipped to 31st in the league and the offense finished in the middle of the pack in turnovers with 28.
After that disappointing season, the Steelers used the No. 11 overall pick on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Roethlisberger of today lights up the skies with his aerial antics, but back then Pittsburgh simply wanted him to cut down on the giveaways and come up with the occasional big play while the defense and running game did most of the heavy lifting.
It turned out to be the ideal mix as Roethlisberger threw for a modest 2,621 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 13 regular-season starts. Meanwhile, the Steelers finished second in rushing yards and first in carries with 618, the most of any team in the league by a whopping 84 attempts. Pittsburgh also ranked first in total defense and scoring defense on its way to a 15-1 record and a win in Super Bowl XL.
Clearly, such a lofty turnaround for the Rams is more idealistic than realistic, so perhaps looking at the Seahawks and what they did with new quarterback Russell Wilson in 2012 is a more attainable blueprint.
After a 7-9 campaign behind Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst, Seattle drafted Wilson in the third round in 2012. He quickly claimed the starting job and finished 23rd in the NFL in passing yards (3,118), but he managed to come up with enough big plays to finish tied for ninth in touchdown passes (26) and tied for seventh in fewest interceptions (10).
With Wilson as the complement, the Seahawks finished third in rushing yards, first in rushing attempts, fourth in total defense and first in scoring defense on their way to an 11-5 season and a trip to the NFC divisional playoffs.
In searching for an equally attainable and ideal rookie season for Goff, there are elements of Roethlisberger and Wilson's debuts that would help the Rams toward a breakthrough. It starts with limiting the turnovers and then coming up with the big plays needed at opportune moments. For the Rams, perhaps if Goff put up something close to Roethlisberger's numbers, it would yield something closer to Seattle's record.
Now that Goff is in place, the Rams have no intention of going through the growing pains that go along with following a rookie quarterback's lead. Goff doesn't, either, and he points to his freshman year at California as his time to endure such losing.
“It’s big in my development, and I think it is something that I am going to carry with me forever," Goff said. "It is something that I am very thankful now that I went through it, and I can look back on and use those experiences to my advantage if I ever have to go through something like that again. Hopefully I don’t ever have to, but you always have to go through adversity, and I had to go through a lot of it that year.”
If the Rams can provide the right support, Goff won't have to do it again in his freshman NFL season.