THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Jared Goff isn't officially a Pro Bowler yet, but he probably will be eventually. And that in itself is astounding when considering where the Los Angeles Rams' quarterback found himself at this time last year, finishing a tumultuous rookie season that went down as one of the worst in recent memory.
Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who has consistently defended Goff, will tell you he is "not surprised at all" by his teammate's turnaround.
"I said it at the beginning that he was going to make a complete 180. Personally, in my opinion, he should've been selected first team, too. But he’s been doing a great job, man, with this whole team."
Goff, 23, might eventually find his way onto the roster, thus completing a stunning turnaround.
From 2016 to 2017, Goff has made significant improvements in completion percentage (54.6 to 62.4), yards per attempt (5.3 to 8.0), touchdown-to-interception ratio (0.71 to 3.43) and Total QBR (18.3 to 52.9). He has thrown for 3,503 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. The Rams currently have five Pro Bowl representatives, their most since 2003, and Goff could join the group, too.
The NFC quarterbacks are Wentz, the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees. As an alternate, Goff would be considered a Pro Bowler only if he accepts the invitation to replace Wentz. And only an appearance in the Super Bowl -- or, of course, injury -- would prevent him from playing in the game if he so chooses.
Goff called it "a huge honor," but "very much so a team award."
"You look around the league at the top amount of guys teams have, and most teams that have all the guys in the Pro Bowl are better teams," said Goff, his team 10-4 and on the verge of clinching the NFC West. "Most of the time it is a reflection of the team, and that's no different with my selection there."
Goff wasn't just being modest; he is in many ways the personification of how a player benefits from improved circumstances.
Goff is running a more innovative, quarterback-friendly scheme designed by first-year head coach Sean McVay. He's operating behind a significantly improved offensive line, thanks to the offseason additions of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan. And he's throwing to a better group of receivers, including newcomers Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
But Goff himself has made significant strides as well. The former No. 1 overall pick has felt the game slow down for him in his second year.
"It happens at every level, in high school and college and now in the pros," Goff said. "The first season is learning a lot, and then the second season it starts to settle down, and it continues to go that way as time goes on."
Before he became the Rams' coach, McVay was impressed by Goff's ability to "make all the throws," even in times when he didn't benefit from a clean pocket. He saw it while watching film from a game against the New Orleans Saints in the 11th week of Goff's rookie season, when Goff threw three touchdown passes in the first half. Goff struggled in other weeks, but McVay was still impressed by his willingness to absorb hits in order to complete throws. And while meeting with Goff for the first time, McVay was moved by how he took accountability, didn't deflect blame and wanted to be coached.
Then the season played out.
"And I couldn’t be more impressed with just the way that Jared consistently carries himself throughout the week and the way that he handles the games," McVay said. "He’s just so even-keeled, and I think that demeanor rubs off on his teammates."
Goff sat behind Case Keenum for the first nine games of the 2016 season. When Goff finally started competing against the first-team defense in practice, Johnson saw someone who could make throws all over the field and occasionally make things happen outside of the pocket. In the offseason, he saw someone who was taking more ownership of the offense and making it a point to build chemistry with new receivers.
"I talked to him a couple times, too," Johnson said, "and I just felt he was ready."
Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said he was "not stunned" by Goff's turnaround.
"I knew that he was going to pick up his game a lot after the struggles that we had last year," Saffold said. "I think that humbled him enough to want to go out and play really well this year."
Saffold started to see signs that Goff's accuracy was improving during organized team activities. He noticed the extra work Goff was putting in and saw his confidence continue to increase. Goff initially needed to learn how to take snaps from under center, adjust to the speed of this level and grasp the intricacies of an NFL offense. Over time, it became clear that he also needed more help. But teammates never questioned his talent.
"The guy went No. 1," Rams running back Todd Gurley said earlier this season. "Dude don't go No. 1 for no reason."
Asked about Goff on Wednesday, McVay said the Rams "feel very good about our future at that position with him leading the way," a sentence that seems to roll off the tongue a lot easier now. Goff ranks among the top 10 in passing yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating (98.9).
He could become the 14th quarterback to make the Pro Bowl at age 23 or younger, according to research from the Elias Sports Bureau -- but that wasn't really a goal heading in.
"I just wanted to try and get better every day and focus on every week, trying to improve and let everything fall where it may at the end of year," Goff said. "It’s something I’m very honored by, but not necessarily something I’m going to hang my hat on. There’s a lot bigger things I want to do as a team and personally.”