Does John Wolford Give The Rams A Better Chance At Winning?
The question has to be asked. Jared Goff hasn’t looked phenomenal in a single game this season and has looked abysmal at times. Fans have been calling for his head after losses and even after a few wins. But, Sean McVay has stood by his man. In fact, publicly here hasn’t been a murmur of discontent across the entirety of the Rams organization when it comes to quarterback. So regardless of who has been calling for Goff’s head, there was never a question about his status. Until now. A chance collision between a hand and a helmet has forced the Rams to start John Wolford.
Wolford has taken zero regular-season NFL snaps. He was signed by the Jets in 2018 as an undrafted free agent coming out of Wake Forest. He played for the Jets in one preseason game and was subsequently cut prior to the season. Now, the Rams playoff hopes sit in his hands.
That’s the bad news. Well, some of the bad news for the offense. The Rams will also be without Darrell Henderson. Cam Akers is questionable to return and Cooper Kupp is currently listed as Out since being put on the reserve/COVID list and Andrew Whitworth remains on the IR.
Evaluating a backup is usually a tenuous endeavor. They usually have little to no experience and/or one must assume they aren’t the starter in the NFL for some very good reasons. For Wolford, the lack of experience is obvious. Of course, there is a little piece of every football fan that thinks that any backup QB could be the next Kurt Warner.
Coincidentally, their career trajectories share some similarities. Both were cut by their first NFL teams, they made due in alternate careers. (Although making due at a private equity firm is easier than at a grocery store) and they both succeeded in other pro football leagues. Wolford holds the all-time and single-season AAF touchdown record. Sure, the AAF folded before its first season’s conclusion and those records are technically one and the same. But you can’t take those 14 touchdowns away from the guy and he did it in 8 games. That’s not bad at all.
Also, like Warner, Wolford was a successful college QB. There was even a grassroots campaign for him to win the Heisman. #Whynotjohn was the hashtag supporting Wolford’s 2017 senior season in which he completed 63.9% of his passes for 3,192 yards for 29 touchdowns. He also rushed for 683 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Baker Mayfield went on to win the Heisman that season. But before Baker, Lincoln Riley, his coach, was interested in Wolford. He tried to recruit Wolford when Riley was coaching at Eastern Carolina University.
Wolford’s biggest college game came against another Heisman trophy winner. Wolford completed a mind-boggling 82.4% of his passes for 461 yards and five touchdowns against Lamar Jackson and his Louisville Cardinals. He ended that season with an impressive performance in the Belk Bowl against Texas A&M. He threw for 400 yards and four TDs.
Of course, the AAF and NCAA aren’t the NFL and for every Kurt Warner, there are 100 Nick Mullens. Plotting Wolford on the chart between Warner and Mullens becomes anecdotal because of the lack of any hard data on the guy. Getting beat out by Sam Darnold and Josh McCown is a bad look, but at the same time, he has impressed one of the great offensive minds enough to sign him. Yet, he hasn’t been impressive enough to create even the mildest of notions of a quarterback controversy. So how on earth would anyone think that John Wolford would give the Rams a better chance of winning?
The answer is a long shot. If history tells us anything, John Wolford will struggle next Sunday against Arizona. But that said, he does bring a few things to the table that Jared Goff doesn’t. Firstly, Wolford is far more mobile than Goff. Wolford rushed for more yards in his senior season than Goff has rushed for in his adult football career. Don’t expect to see an entirely reworked offense with a bunch of designed runs, but what Wolford can do is extend plays with his legs. McVay said he does some “Doug Flutie-type stuff” when it comes to extending plays. Goff’s un-Flutie-ness has led to some very bad throws and game-changing turnovers.
Wolford’s legs will not only help him evade sacks but will also allow the receivers to get down the field. Goff has the fourth-fewest intended air yards per attempt in the league and his IAY/PA is down 2.1 yards per attempt since 2018 when Goff was 10th highest. Getting Wolford outside the pocket on bootleg plays will be more effective than Goff as well. This should provide more down the field throws and hopefully more big plays. Goff’s longest completion of the season is 56 yards and has fewer than two passing plays per game of 25 yards or more.
Another criticism of Goff has been his inability to win big games or win in high-pressure situations. In college, he went 0-9 against Cal’s biggest in-state rivals, USC, Stanford, and UCLA, and also went 0-3 versus Oregon. Of course, there is the Super Bowl loss, but he has faltered in the regular season in high-pressure games. Specifically, the last two weeks of this season when a win could have secured a playoff spot, Goff didn’t rise to the occasion.
The best teams in the league all have quarterbacks that can and do ‘put their teams on their backs’ and will their team to victory. Goff hasn’t been that quarterback, especially not this season. Wolford has shown that kind of tenacity, not just in his college career, but as he has navigated his pro football career. He chose football over working on Wall Street. He earned his way onto the Rams practice squad the hard way and worked his way up to the scout team and now he has a shot to lead this team into the playoffs.
He’s earned the respect of his teammates and coaches because of his work ethic and dedication. Sean McVay stated as much, saying, “John’s done a great job preparing himself all year. If you watch the way that he’s worked at it, I know there’s confidence from coaches and from his teammates and guys will need to rally around him, but we’re excited about the opportunity that John will have to lead the offense this week.”
Rams OC and QB coach Kevin O’Connell added, “Although he hasn’t gotten any live action in games, I do have a lot of confidence in John and his preparation level. The consistency at which he approaches his role, both obviously backing up Jared, but also servicing one of the best defenses in the league every day.”
Wolford’s primary role on the roster has been playing QB for the scout team. This means he mimics the team’s opposing quarterback in practice in the week leading up to the game. It also means that he goes up against Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey multiple times a week. There can’t be a better way to prepare for your first NFL action than going up against one of the best defenses in the league for 17 straight weeks.
So as far as we can tell, Wolford adds a wrinkle to the Rams offense that Goff can’t. He has a lot of grit and determination to win, he doesn’t just take what has been handed to him and he has been put through the gauntlet week in and week out.
Does John Wolford Give The Rams A Better Chance At Winning? A better chance than who? Jared Goff without a throwing hand? Better chance than practice squad Blake Bortles? He most certainly does. He’s the Rams best hope right now.
Rams fans and media have wanted to see what the McVay offense looks like with another QB at the helm. Rams coaches have wanted to get Wolford some reps. So now, everyone gets what they want. It just couldn’t come at a less inopportune time.
McVay has already stated that if the Rams make the playoffs, Goff will be ready to go for the first game. So Wolford had better make this one count. He has one shot to prove he is more Kurt Warner than he is Nick Mullens. “It’s something I’ve prepped for my entire life,” said Wolford, “I’ve played a lot of football between college and the AAF, and this is kind of the next step and I’m ready to go whenever that shot comes.”
Well, here’s your shot, John. Prove that you give the Rams a better shot at winning. Get us in to the playoffs! #whynotjohn