NFL Combine Takeaways: Jared Goff narrows gap with Carson Wentz
California's Jared Goff narrows the gap with North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. The former Golden Bears QB dazzles during the first throwing session at the combine. More on the specifics of Goff's workout as well as some of 'other' quarterbacks (and receivers) who made impressions, for better or worse.
INDIANAPOLIS -- In much the same way that North Dakota State's Carson Wentz was clearly head-and-shoulders above the other quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, California junior Jared Goff outclassed the competition during the first throwing session of the NFL combine, dazzling while fellow high profile passers like Michigan State's Connor Cook and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg were much more inconsistent.
Scouts anticipated that Goff would impress with his overall accuracy. After all, he'd completed 62.26 percent of his passes over his career and Saturday's workout was against no defenders.
But for a quarterback who rarely was asked to drop back from center in college, Goff was remarkably smooth whether asked to take three-, five- or seven-step drops Saturday. This was an area in which Cook and Hackenberg -- due to their experience in pro-style offenses in college -- had been expected to be much further along than Goff. They performed well in this regard but not any better than the record-breaking Goff, who showed considerably better anticipation and accuracy.
Scouts aren't necessarily counting completions in a combine throwing session because quarterbacks and receivers have little to no experience with each other but Goff's accuracy stood out nonetheless.
Goff was the only one of the nine passers throwing Saturday morning to deliver passes before his receivers made their breaks and showed the ability to respond to coaching, as well, pushing passes closer to the sideline at the request of Denver Broncos quarterback coach Greg Knapp, who led the drill.
Perhaps most importantly, the ball came out of Goff's hand with impressive velocity, easing concerns that perhaps the spread offense he'd starred in under Sonny Dykes at California had masked a below-average arm.
Whether it was the 12-yard out, quick curls or slants, deep balls down the sideline or the post-corners that ended the throwing session, Goff's effortless passing contrasted with the rest of a position group that otherwise struggled with consistency.
After proclaiming himself fully recovered from the shoulder injury which kept him from competing at the Senior Bowl, Cook didn't show an appreciably bigger arm than Goff. Further, Cook forced receivers to adjust to the ball frequently, airmailing his first attempt of the day on a relatively simply tap-tap drill designed to show receivers' ability to drag their feet near the sideline and placing the ball near their belly or hip on quick slants, rather than leading them to maximize yardage after the catch opportunities.
Cook did have strong points, including showing comfort in dropping back and some precision on post-corners -- arguably the most difficult throw quarterbacks are asked to make during these sessions.
The question with Hackenberg has never been arm strength but the inconsistent accuracy displayed during much of his final two seasons in Happy Valley, which were again an issue. Hackenberg continues to throw with mostly his arm, showing too little coordination between his upper and lower body. By failing to step into his throws, Hackenberg has a scattershot ball placement, leaving receivers consistently forced to adjust.
Nowhere was this more evident than on the deep passes, with Hackenberg sending deep balls high into the air and then plummeting back to earth in a "pop fly" like trajectory, which made it tough on his pass-catchers.
Goff and Cook, by comparison, threw with a much flatter "rainbow" trajectory, which allowed receivers better opportunity to gauge the flight of the ball.
The gulf between Goff and the rest of the quarterbacks was significant, but another passer who made a favorable impression Saturday was Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty -- who like Cal's star came into Indianapolis attempting to prove his 111 career touchdown passes weren't just a function of the Hilltoppers' spread attack.
He was a bit more inconsistent than Goff with his footwork, but he was surprisingly coordinated with his drops and threw some beautiful passes once got into rhythm, including on intermediate level post passes and hitting on three consecutive deep balls down the sideline.
While my focus was on the quarterbacks, I couldn't help but notice some of the first session's receivers.
Receivers Fuller and Boyd turn the most heads
Scouts knew Fuller would run well and he certainly did, clocking in at 4.32 seconds -- just a hundredth of a second slower than Georgia running back Keith Marshall to be the fastest athlete tested so far this year.
It was the consistency and confidence with which the 6-foot, 186-pound Fuller caught passes Saturday that could help his stock even more. Fuller struggled with "concentration" drops during his time with the Irish but possesses big-play ability, which could earn him late first-round consideration, just as fellow speedster Phillip Dorsett earned a year ago from the Indianapolis Colts.
While certainly not as explosive an athlete as Fuller, Boyd was the most impressive hands-catcher of the group. Time and again Boyd demonstrated terrific body control and hand-eye coordination to pluck passes outside of his frame.
With all due respect to the pass-catchers, however, the morning belonged to Goff.
Wentz, Memphis junior Paxton Lynch and Stanford's Kevin Hogan are among the passers who will be throwing Saturday afternoon, hoping to match (or perhaps even better) Goff's sterling start.
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