In this edition of Bold Bites, I take on a bold prediction that Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff will have the best season of his career in 2023. In the debut of this series last week, I talked about how rookie tight end Sam LaPorta could be Goff’s best tight end he’s ever played with and now the focus is flipped over to Goff. Let me explain why I believe this year could be Goff’s best.
To start things off, when exactly was Goff’s best season ever? The answer is 2018, the season where he helped lead the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl where they would lose 13-3 to the New England Patriots. In that season, Goff threw for 4,688 yards, a career-high 32 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, along with 108 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
The 2018 Rams team was great, they had the top offensive line in the NFL, the number two ranked offense, and defensive lineman Aaron Donald was a menace, tallying 20.5 sacks. The major focus here is the offense, which was led by Goff and second-year head coach Sean McVay. Goff was fourth in the league in passing yards—behind league leader Ben Roethlisberger, Patrick Mahomes, and Matt Ryan—and was on the upswing from an impressive sophomore year in 2017. McVay was getting praise for how creative he was and how he was able to figure out what to do with Goff at quarterback.
Goff didn’t just have a career year by himself, of course. He had help and the biggest was the offensive line led by left tackle Andrew Whitworth. By keeping him upright, Goff was able to complete passes to a dynamic duo at wide receiver in Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks, who combined for over 2,400 yards. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp was in his second season and had 566 yards, and Goff had a duo at tight end in Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett who combined for just over 600 yards. Finally, there was running back Todd Gurley, who followed up a career year in 2017 by posting his second-best season in 2018 with 1,251 rushing yards and a career-high rushing touchdowns with 17 and 580 receiving yards with five touchdowns to go along with it.
How can Goff top that season in 2023? It’s pretty doable, let me spell it out for you.
It all starts with coaching. The situation Goff is in Detroit is completely different than it was in Los Angeles. With the Rams, Goff relied on McVay to help figure out the defense and what play call was the best to run. Goff struggled with audibles and reading defenses once the headset was cut off from McVay. Goff also didn’t have a true offensive coordinator in 2018 as the Rams had offensive line coach Aaron Kromer get promoted to the run game coordinator while tight end coach Shane Waldron was promoted to the passing game coordinator.
In Detroit, Goff has had some growing pains as the Lions weren’t going to hold his hand at the position. He had to start reading defenses better and learn more about the different types of coverage that he could go up against. He also had Anthony Lynn as his offensive coordinator in 2021, who would lose playcalling midway through the season and head coach Dan Campbell would call the plays for the rest of 2021.
Enter Ben Johnson.
Johnson would get promoted from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator in 2022 and he seemed to do what McVay couldn’t do in LA: give Goff confidence and test his knowledge without setting him up to fail. Goff tied a career-low in interceptions with seven in 2022, as he was only 251 yards away from beating his 2018 passing yard record.
In 2023, Goff has another year with Johnson, which is lucky as Johnson was the favorite to be the head coach for the Carolina Panthers until he withdrew himself and returned to Detroit for another run. Johnson had another offseason to work with Goff on ideas and ways to make the 2023 season better than 2022.
Despite having the best offensive line in the NFL in front of him in 2018, Goff could have an even better line in front of him in 2023. For the first time since being in Detroit, Goff is on pace to play with all five starters. In 2021, the offensive line had a revolving door of starters, with left tackle Taylor Decker, right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and center Frank Ragnow all missing time. In 2022, the offensive line was better health-wise but still didn’t have Vaitai at right guard the entire season.
For 2023, all five starters are healthy, practicing, and are projected as a top-two offensive line being behind the Philadelphia Eagles starters. If Vaitai can make it to Week 1, it will have taken two seasons for Goff to finally play with the starters he was hoping to play with when he arrived in 2021. A starting-level right guard could certainly help the Lions overall on offense and if the unit as a whole can be healthy, they could certainly win the award for the best offensive line in the NFL in 2023.
Here is where Detroit is debatable at being tied or slightly behind what LA had for Goff. Detroit has wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown as a clear-cut number-one option for Goff, and Goff predicts St. Brown will have a huge year in 2023. St. Brown could get over 1,200 yards, but the talent behind him is where it’s unknown. Jameson Williams will be suspended for the first six games of the season, so he won’t hit the field until Week 7 and will take time to get into the fold.
Funny enough, Josh Reynolds was with the Rams in 2018 and here he is again with Goff in 2023. Reynolds will contribute, and he won’t be alone as he also has Marvin Jones Jr. and Kalif Raymond to help round out the receiving room who can start and contribute early on. If Williams wasn't suspended, he could easily attempt to get 1,200 yards but doing that in 10 games will be a tough ask. The Rams had a better wide receiver room, but where they are a step behind is with the tight ends.
LaPorta appears to be the starting tight end, and the starter after the T.J. Hockenson trade, Brock Wright, would be the backup but still have his role in the offense. You can’t ignore second-year tight end James Mitchell, who I think could still contribute fairly as the number three tight end. LaPorta has a chance to be better than Everett and Higbee, and Wright and Mitchell don’t need to do much to come up with enough yards to overcome the Rams duo with LaPorta leading the way.
Despite the running back market being what it is right now, you can’t have a great offense without both a solid quarterback and running back. Goff had Gurley in LA, and Gurley had a great season. However, behind Gurley were C.J. Anderson and Malcolm Brown who only combined for 511 yards and two touchdowns. In Detroit, Goff has two starting-level running backs, David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs.
This duo should easily be able to combine their efforts and outdo what Gurley did by himself. While Gurley had to do it all himself, whether it was through the air or on the ground, the Lions technically have two of those types of backs, but should lean towards Gibbs in the air and Montgomery on the ground. Detroit also has some capable depth behind them with Justin Jackson, Craig Reynolds, Jemar Jefferson, and Mohamed Ibrahim all fighting for the third and possibly fourth running back role on the 53-man roster.
This group also benefits from having the offensive line finally having all of their starters healthy. The offensive line’s health boosts what the ground game can do, which can set up the passing game's success and turn it into a fun offense overall.
This offense led by Goff finished last season as the number five offense and they are expected to be right back up there, possibly higher if everything goes their way. Goff has all of the pieces he needs to try and make 2023 the best season yet. A coaching staff that believes in him and sets him up for success, a healthy offensive line and one of the best in the league, a group of wide receivers and tight ends who can make plays, and a dynamic running back duo who can help him to set up the pass.
All of those things combined will turn into a career year for Goff. Coming off a career year will make the front office's decision on a contract extension even more difficult when it comes to how long and how much they should offer him. Goff isn’t due for a new contract until after the 2024 season, but getting the deal done sooner rather than later would be cheaper and eliminate distractions for everyone. If Goff has his best season yet, I see Detroit wanting to lock him down for years to come, but if he doesn’t, the 2024 season could be the final test for him.