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Nobody wants to be compared to Ryan Leaf, so it tells you all you need to know about Jared Goff‘s rookie season that such a headline doubles as a legitimate question. Let’s start with the raw stats, even though we know the passing environment has changed significantly since 1998:

Passing Rushing
Rk Player Year G QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Rate Lng Int Sk Yds Y/A AY/A NY/A ANY/A Att Yds TD Y/A Lng
1 Jared Goff 2016 8 0-7-0 112 205 54.6 1089 5 63.6 66 7 26 222 5.3 4.26 3.75 2.82 8 16 1 2.0 6
2 Ryan Leaf 1998 10 3-6-0 111 245 45.3 1289 2 39.0 67 15 22 140 5.3 2.67 4.30 1.93 27 80 0 3.0 20


Goff’s statistics are better, but only by a little.  And what about once we adjust for era?  Let’s go down the line.

Completion Percentage: Leaf completed an abysmal 45.3% of his passes, which was still terrible for 1998. The league average was 56.6%, so Leaf was at just 80% of league average. In 2016, the league average was 63.0%, so Goff was at 87%.

Advantage: Goff

Yards per Completion: Leaf averaged 11.6 yards per completion, which was actually below average for 1998.  The league average was 12.1, so Leaf was at 96% of league average.  This was another sore spot for Goff, who was at just 9.7 YPC, which was 86% of 11.35 league average.

Advantage: Leaf

Yards per Attempt: This stat, of course, is a combination of the prior two, which makes it the most useful metric so far.  Leaf averaged 5.26 yards per attempt in 1998, but Goff wasn’t much better at just 5.31.  The era adjustments aren’t as big as you might think: league average was 6.85 in 1998, and 7.15 this season.  But that’s still large enough to tilt things towards Leaf, who was at 77% of league average, relative to Goff, who was at 74%. Thought of another way, Goff was 1.84 Y/A below league average, while Leaf was “only” 1.59 Y/A below it.

Advantage: Leaf.

Touchdowns: Leaf threw just two (!) touchdowns on 245 passes, while Goff had five on 205 attempts. That’s a big advantage for Goff: at 2.4%, he was still far below the league average of 4.30%, but he was 57% of league average, while Leaf was just 19% of the 4.25% 1998 league average.

Advantage: Goff

Interceptions: Leaf threw 15 interceptions, for an embarrassing 6.1% INT rate; by comparison, Goff’s seven interceptions and 3.4% interception rate doesn’t sound so bad.  But you need to adjust for era: in 1998, the league average was 3.3%, and it’s just 2.3% now.  That makes it much closer: Goff was at 151% of league average, while Leaf was at 186%.

Advantage: Goff

Sacks: Goff was absolutely terrible in this regard, which makes his already-terrible (but not Leafian) completion percentage and interception rate numbers much less impressive.  Goff was sacked on 11.3% of his dropbacks, and the league average in 2016 was at a historical low of 5.8%.  Goff is at 195% of the league average rate; Leaf was at 114% of the league average rate, with a 8.2% sack rate while the league average was 7.2%.

Goff’s sack rate was really bad: at 11.3%, only RG3 (13.0%) was worse among players with at least 50 pass attempts. More distressingly, Goff has taken a ton of long sacks.  He averaged 8.54 yards lost per sacks, which was the worst in the NFL in 2016. He’s lost 0.96 yards due to sack per dropback!  While we typically focus on sack rate when it comes to sacks, it’s notable here (because we use it to calculate ANY/A) that Goff took a lot of long sacks, while Leaf’s average sack cost the Chargers 6.36 yards.

Advantage: Leaf

Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt: This is the king of our stats to measure passing ability.  Leaf was at a pathetic 1.93 ANY/A, a figure that was horrible even for 1998 (though, in a twist, it actually wasn’t the lowest that season, as Bobby Hoying had a historically bad year and averaged 1.43 ANY/A).  The league average was 5.31, so Leaf was at -3.38 ANY/A relative to average, or 36% of league average.

Goff was at 2.82 ANY/A, an equally distressing figure in this modern era.  The league average in 2016 was 6.22, which means Goff was actually at -3.39 ANY/A.  Because of the higher league average, Goff was at 45% of league average.

Non-Passing Metrics

Record: Leaf went 3-6, with those wins generally coming courtesy of the defense and kicking game (though Leaf was at least decent in one of those wins).  Goff went 0-7, although that wasn’t even the worst mark by a rookie this year: Cody Kessler was 0-8 for the Browns.

Rushing: Neither was good here.  Leaf had 80 yards rushing, but had 8 fumbles and only 2 fumble recoveries.  Goff had just 16 rushing yards and one touchdown, and he had 5 fumbles and only 1 fumble recovery.

Supporting cast: On paper, the Rams have the better supporting cast.  Todd Gurley was the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, Kenny Britt had a 1,000-yard season; along with Brian Quick, Tavon Austin, and Lance Kendricks, those five players were all drafted in the top 50 picks. And Case Keenum had a 5.06 ANY/A average. For San Diego, the other quarterback was Craig Whelihan, who posted a terrible 2.98 ANY/A average.  The running backs were Natrone Means and Terrell Fletcher, while Charlie Jones, Bryant Still, and Freddie Jones were the top targets in the passing game.

Neither team had much in the way of an offensive line.  I’m not sure how to grade this one, but I don’t think it helps Goff much.

Worst Rookie Passing Seasons Since 1970

With a -3.39 Relative ANY/A — i.e., his ANY/A relative to league average — Goff has passed Leaf for the least efficient rookie season since the merger, among players with at least 200 dropbacks.  If we lower that threshold a bit, we can get in a few worse seasons, including a new Rams season at the top. Take a look:

RkQuarterbackYearTmDraftDrpBkANY/ANFL AvgRANY/A
1Keith Null2009STL6-1961321.055.65-4.60
2Bert Jones1973BAL1-2122-0.393.89-4.27
3Alex Smith2005SFO1-11941.115.34-4.23
4Ryan Lindley2012ARI6-1851831.895.93-4.04
5Gary Huff1973CHI2-331480.303.89-3.58
6Jared Goff2016RAM1-12312.826.22-3.39
7Ryan Leaf1998SDG1-22671.935.31-3.38
8Terry Bradshaw1970PIT1-12430.864.16-3.30
9Craig Krenzel2004CHI5-1481502.335.63-3.30
10Richard Todd1976NYJ1-61910.824.07-3.24
11Eric Zeier1995CLE3-841762.555.41-2.87
12Donovan McNabb1999PHI1-22442.415.18-2.77
13Jimmy Clausen2010CAR2-483322.985.73-2.75
14Akili Smith1999CIN1-31722.705.18-2.48
15Eli Manning2004NYG1-12103.215.63-2.42
16Blake Bortles2014JAX1-35303.816.14-2.33
17John Beck2007MIA2-401173.215.52-2.31
18Dave Wilson1981NOR1-11712.705.00-2.30
19Steve Fuller1979KAN1-233072.384.61-2.23
20Ryan Fitzpatrick2005STL7-2501443.115.34-2.23
21Blaine Gabbert2011JAX1-104533.685.90-2.22
22Troy Aikman1989DAL1-13123.095.24-2.15
23Kyle Orton2005CHI4-1063983.205.34-2.14
24David Carr2002HOU1-15203.245.35-2.11
25Scott Brunner1980NYG6-1451222.824.87-2.05
26Matthew Stafford2009DET1-14013.645.65-2.01
27Jeff Komlo1979DET9-2314082.604.61-2.01

In this era of incredible passing numbers, you need some historical context to understand just how far from average Goff’s numbers really were. And by at least one measure, they were the worst since the merger among passers with at least 200 dropbacks, even falling below the Leaf line. If you want one other point of comparison, JaMarcus Russell averaged 2.68 ANY/A as a rookie on 66 passes. The league average was 5.52, giving him a RANY/A of -2.84. His biggest statistical struggles came in year three.

  • Anders

    Goff has to hope he can follow the path of likes of Eli Manning, McNabb or Aikman

    • Bradshaw, too.

      • I don’t think many fans realize how long it took Bradshaw to develop into an above-average NFL starter, let alone a superstar. I remember reading an article by Bill Barnwell in which he picked 1974 Bradshaw (fifth season) as the worst Super Bowl-winning QB in history. (Of course, it was written prior to last season, in which a different Hall of Fame shoo-in might have claimed that “honor” for himself.)

    • Richie

      Or even Alex Smith. He’s carved out a decent career for himself. Remember, Smith essentially led the 2011 49ers to a Super Bowl, if not for his punt returner fumbling a punt. He’s going to get to 30,000 career passing yards, with a chance to get to 35,000. I never would have guessed that in 2007.

      • Smith is the one that comes to my mind first.

      • Agreed. He’s not a superstar, but he’s a very competent starter, which is shocking from how he looked pre-Harbaugh.

      • Anders

        Alex Smith have also had two of the best coaches helping him.

        I joked else where that Goff has to hope reid trades for him in a couple of years

  • sacramento gold miners

    Bert Jones, ranked second on this table, developed into a potential Hall of Famer before injuries ruined his career.

    There is an important difference between Goff and Leaf, and it was something brought up when Leaf was in the process of being drafted. Immaturity off the field during his Washington State career, and when Leaf struggled early, he couldn’t handle the adversity. I’ve heard of no red flags like that with Goff, but the Rams do need to help him.

    • Yeah, I don’t think this is it for Goff. Brashaw, Aikman, Testaverde, Moon, Brees all went to horrible, #1 overall pick teams, and all struggled early. Maybe Goff was a little worse than them, but it’s not a large enough sample to write him off.

      Agree on the maturity aspect, but I also have no insight into Goff’s development on that front.

      • Anders

        Also the fact that Jeff Fischer was the HC did Goff no favors

      • sacramento gold miners

        There’s a famous video clip of Ryan Leaf going spastic on a Chargers reporter in the locker room, it’s embarrassing to see a pro athlete becoming so unhinged over what a reporter says.

        • Richie

          Leave me alone!

  • Also of note: this season gave us the 2nd best rookie RANY/A season ever:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4ab1310482812204b35bfb97cbe21f9aeb86fa63d2cc90778ee798389d86801f.png

  • Clint

    Fun fact: Keith Null was coached by Ryan Leaf at West Texas A&M

    • That is a fun fact.

  • Adam

    “The league average was 12.1, so Goff was at 96% of league average.”

    I think you meant Leaf here…

    • Good catch, thanks.

  • Adam

    Gread read, Chase. Always interesting to see these things broken down piece by piece. I’m a bit surprised how many good / great QB’s show up on this list; I think it’s a product of the best prospects being drafted by the worst teams.

    • Yep, that’s definitely part of it. And no doubt that Goff went to a terrible offense.

      Unfortunately, he still did really badly on that terrible offense, hence the Leaf comparisons.

  • Pranav Sattiraju

    this should give the Rams some hope as some of these passers careers were hall of fame careers and Matthew Stafford is an elite QB but the rest were just abysmal

  • Pranav Sattiraju

    wait I forgot Donovan mcnabb

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