As far as quarterback draft classes go, there seems to be an ebb and flow of pre-draft hype. In 2012, teams were salivating over the chance to draft Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, two signal callers who, at the time, many thought would become instant franchise players. The Washington Redskins gave up a bounty to secure the No. 2 pick from the St. Louis Rams to select Griffin.
The same kind of fanfare about a quarterback class has not been heard since then. One could argue that 2014’s class of Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derrick Carr and Johnny Manziel had the hype; but most, if not at all, of those guys were seen as projects and not expected to come in and achieve great success right away.
Looking ahead to 2016, draft experts are painting a different picture. Jared Goff of the University of California and Paxton Lynch of the University of Memphis are viewed as the new franchise saviors, quarterbacks who will lift whatever team they land on out of the NFL doldrums. More than ever before, it appears said quarterbacks are acutely aware of the pressure and scrutiny they will soon experience and have been taking steps to prepare both their minds and their bodies.
For the 6-foot-7, 245-pound Lynch, preparation has included adding muscle, overhauling his diet and strengthening his lower body. Lynch added 15 pounds this off-season, up from his former playing weight of 230. He chowed down on a lot of meat, filling his belly with steak and chicken, then balancing it out with the ever-important vegetables. He feels the extra weight will make him harder to tackle when he takes off and runs with the ball, a complementary part of his game that makes him such an intriguing NFL prospect. It’s also why he spent a large chunk of his off-season doing lower body lifts.
“I feel like it’s a little bit harder for me to get my upper body bigger than it is for my legs,” Lynch told The Commercial Appeal. “So whenever it was legs day, I just pushed it. I definitely felt a bigger change in my legs than I did my upper body.”
Lynch has been a continual work in progress since he arrived in Memphis as a freshman. He weighed just 215 pounds then, having lifted exactly zero weight throughout his high school career at a small private school in Florida. He hopes to add 15 more pounds by the end of this season.
Jared Goff’s preparation has been more mental. We’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the knowledge gap between college and NFL players. Many high-profile quarterbacks come from college programs that run their own versions of a spread offense, giving their signal callers minimal reads on the field and an even smaller playbook. This has made the transition to the professional level difficult. NFL playbooks are gigantic, and the defenses are more complex.
At Cal, Goff plays mostly from the shotgun, throwing the ball an average of 38 times per game and receiving his playcalls via signals from the sideline, all reminiscent of a classic spread offense. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Cal’s offensive coaches do force Goff to read the defense. Based on his pre-snap read, Goff decides whether he will throw the ball or hand it off to his running back. If it’s a pass, that progression goes further. Depending on the call, Goff begins with his eyes on a certain route, then progresses through his reads until he finds an open receiver or checks it down to a running back. In essence, Cal’s offense, referred to as the “Bear Raid,” is a spread offense rooted in NFL principles, which should make Goff’s learning curve at the next level a little less steep.
Another thing Goff has worked on is his footwork, which, as we’ve learned from Carson Palmer, is crucial to being an effective pocket passer, as Goff aims to be. Goff has gotten quite good with his feet, always keeping them moving as he looks downfield. He refers to them as his “hot feet.” One specific drill Goff goes through in practice to get his feet ready for Saturdays goes like this. From CBS Sports:
There’s one drill in particular that [Cal Assistant Coach Tony] Franklin runs with his quarterbacks. The six of them line up in rows of three, so that each quarterback is across from another, separated by no more than a few yards. One row of quarterbacks holds the footballs. Franklin then spews out verbiage that sounds like a foreign language to me. The quarterbacks nod.
“Hit!” Franklin commands.
The three quarterbacks holding the footballs toss them across to the other three, who put their feet to work, lightly bouncing around in each of their imaginary pockets, scanning a field filled with made-up targets and defenders. They repeat this drill over and over, with Franklin changing the play call every few reps and the quarterbacks adjusting their footwork and eye level to correspond with the call.
This has led to impressive plays from Goff in the pocket, such as this one below where he takes a small step to his left to avoid a free rusher speeding down the middle toward him. Goff’s movement is subtle, but it sends the defender flying past him and grasping at air.
Here’s another example of ballet-like footwork from Goff, as he steps up in the pocket to avoid the rush coming from the outside edges.
As finding the right quarterback rises in importance in the NFL, preparing to become that guy while you’re still in college becomes equally important. Lynch and Goff, who will likely be the first two quarterbacks taken off the board (assuming they both decide to enter the NFL Draft), started the work to become the face of a franchise quarterback long ago.