After starting the season 1-6, the Detroit Lions have won four of their last five games to position themselves on the fringes of the NFC playoff race. Several factors have contributed to Detroit’s turnaround, but Jared Goff’s recent production under center has been central to his team’s efforts. Just how good has Goff been, and could his improved play force the Lions to target a position other than quarterback at the top of the draft?
Will Jared Goff Be the Lions’ Starting QB in 2023?
The Lions acquired Goff from the Rams as part of the Matthew Stafford trade, and Goff was primarily viewed as a throw-in. The idea was that part of LA’s exorbitant trade package — two firsts and a third — was to help account for Detroit taking on the remainder of Goff’s contract, which included guarantees through the 2022 season.
Yet, after a dismal 2021 campaign in which Goff finished 24th in QBR and the Lions won only three games, Goff ranks sixth in QBR this season, behind only Patrick Mahomes, Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, and Geno Smith.
It hasn’t been all roses and sunshine, though. The Lions averaged 35 points per game over their first four outings but then scored just six total points against the Patriots and Cowboys. Amon-Ra St. Brown, who missed Week 4 with an injury, was still banged up, and Detroit had no answers for stiff New England and Dallas defenses.
Since a close Week 8 loss to the Dolphins, Goff and the Lions have been playing inspired football. After ranking 20th in expected points added per dropback from Weeks 1-8, Goff is third since Week 9. Detroit’s overall offensive efficiency rank has subsequently improved from 20th to fourth during that same span.
Goff clearly isn’t the third-best quarterback in the NFL, but he was selected first overall in 2016 for a reason. When the conditions around him are aligned correctly, Goff looks comfortable in the pocket, throws a beautiful ball, and navigates the offense.
And it’s not as though things have been perfect for Goff. While he’s playing behind an elite offensive line, his weaponry has been ever-changing. In addition to St. Brown’s minor health issues, fellow receivers DJ Chark and Jameson Williams have missed almost the entire season. Running back D’Andre Swift has also battled injuries, and the Lions traded tight end T.J. Hockenson at the deadline.
As the playoffs approach, everything is coming into focus for Detroit. Chark has been re-integrated into the offense over the last two weeks. Williams — whom the Lions traded up to draft 12th overall in the spring — appeared in his first NFL game in Week 13 after spending this season recovering from a torn ACL. The Alabama alum only played eight snaps, but his role should expand as the year winds down.
Detroit’s path to a playoff berth is still extremely narrow, and it must begin with a home victory over the Vikings on Sunday. But even if the Lions’ season ends after Week 18, Goff and the offense have shown enough development that it wouldn’t be out of the question to bring the entire group back next year.
The Lions’ Options in the 2023 NFL Draft
The Lions had always intended for Goff to be their quarterback for at least two years. Not only was part of Goff’s 2022 salary already partially guaranteed when they acquired him, but Detroit immediately converted his 2021 salary into a signing bonus upon bringing him to the Motor City. That transaction reduced Goff’s 2021 cap charge but essentially locked him on the roster through this season.
Heading into the 2023 NFL Draft, the Lions will almost certainly have a chance to select a franchise quarterback. Even if Detroit’s own first-round pick remains near the middle of Day 1 thanks to their recent success, the Lions also hold the flailing Rams’ first-rounder.
If the season ended today, Detroit would have both the fourth overall pick from Los Angeles and their own pick (15th overall). With one of those selections (or by combining them to trade up), the Lions should have a shot at one of Alabama’s Bryce Young, Kentucky’s Will Levis, Florida’s Anthony Richarson, or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
Hitting on a rookie quarterback is akin to striking gold. Not only have you found an option under center for the next decade, but you can reap the financial rewards of a rookie QB contract.
Depending on which draft pick the Lions used to select a quarterback, that rookie signal-caller’s 2023 cap hit would be at least $24 million cheaper than Goff’s $30.65 million number. Detroit could use that savings — not just next offseason, but in every offseason for the next few years — to add more talent around a hypothetical first-year QB.
There are certainly reasons why Detroit would opt to retain Goff. Lions general manager Brad Holmes was the Rams’ director of college scouting when Los Angeles drafted Goff, and head coach Dan Campbell has been effusive in his praise of Detroit’s QB. Plus, Goff is still only 28 years old.
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The idea of bringing Goff back along with the rest of the offensive core and coordinator Ben Johnson — provided he doesn’t land a head coaching position — is incredibly tantalizing. And yet, the foundation that the Lions have built also feels like the ideal situation in which to draft a rookie quarterback.
As well as Goff has played, it probably makes sense for the Lions to draft a first-round QB next season. Teams never know when they’ll have a top-five draft pick, and given that Detroit could have two picks inside the top 15, they can’t pass up the chance to add a game-changing talent.
In that scenario, the Lions would also have the opportunity to acquire even more draft capital by trading Goff. He’s unlikely to command a first-rounder, but the Commanders gave up two thirds for Carson Wentz last year. The Colts sacrificed a third-rounder for Matt Ryan.
There are so many teams in search of a veteran QB — including, still, Washington and Indianapolis — that Detroit could probably get a second-round pick in exchange for Goff.
What Goff and the Lions’ offense have done over the past five weeks has been outstanding, and if Detroit somehow sneaks into the postseason, the good vibes could be enough to keep Goff in blue and silver. If not, the Lions will likely look for a different answer under center next spring.