By Sam McPherson

With seven games left on the schedule, the Los Angeles Rams sit in 13th place among 16 NFC teams, and only the top six teams make the postseason. The Rams haven’t made the playoffs since the 2004 season and Los Angeles is currently 1.5 games out of that final Wild Card slot. Nonetheless, after another lackluster effort from the offense under journeyman quarterback Case Keenum in last Sunday’s 9-6 win over the New York Jets, the Rams have finally made the big move. No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff will start at QB for Los Angeles this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

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After three years and 37 games playing for the California Golden Bears in the Pac-12 Conference, Goff will start writing his NFL legacy at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against the Dolphins. Goff improved his key numbers every year at Cal, as his completion percentage, yards per attempt, total passing yards and overall TDs increased steadily each season with the Golden Bears. Now he takes the big step forward into the NFL spotlight and all eyes around the league will be on Goff this weekend to see how he handles the situation. With the success of fellow rookie QBs Dak Prescott in Dallas and Carson Wentz in Philadelphia, the Rams’ new starting quarterback has a lot to prove.

Breaking Down Goff’s College Career

Why was he taken No. 1 overall? Why did the Rams trade up to the top spot to grab him? Goff completed 64.5 percent of his passes in 2015 for 4,714 yards and 43 TDs. He led the Bears to an 8-5 record, which included a 55-36 win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. That was Cal’s first bowl win since 2008, and the team was ranked in the Associated Press poll during the season for the first time since 2009, as well. Considering the Bears were 1-11 in Goff’s freshman year, he demonstrated his leadership capabilities by improving himself and the team each season he was at Cal.

As noted above, his key statistical measurements improved every season and that’s the kind of growth the NFL wants to see from college players. Just as importantly, Goff attempted more than 500 passes in each of his three seasons with the Bears. He got plenty of repetitions, so to speak, in game circumstances, and by his junior year, he was at the top of his college game.

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What To Expect From Him Now

Rookie QBs often struggle in the NFL. Even Peyton Manning led the NFL in interceptions his rookie season and strangely, Goff and Manning had very similar college statistics despite their careers being separated by two decades. Manning is headed to the Hall of Fame, of course, so perhaps that sets up Goff for an unfair comparison. The point is that no one should expect Goff to come out and play like a future Hall of Famer right now. He will have to prove he can make plays to prevent opposing defense from stacking the line in efforts to stop 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley from running wild.

If Goff can make some key throws early in his first start and consistently hit receivers in big moments, then Gurley will be able to run like it’s 2015 all over again. Theoretically, the combination of Goff and Gurley should give the Rams potent offensive firepower for years to come. That was the point in trading up with the Tennessee Titans to land Goff as the top overall pick in the draft. But it still comes down to whether or not Goff can make the plays when the opportunities present themselves, and those chances will come early and often against Miami. The Dolphins will force the rookie QB to beat them with his arm.

Why Did The Rams Wait This Long To Start Goff?

Rumors aside, Los Angeles head coach Jeff Fisher is relatively conservative when it comes to offensive game planning. Remember, when Fisher was leading the Houston Oilers in 1995? Even then, he waited until the team’s 15th game to start rookie QB Steve McNair, who had been the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. Instead, he gave 13 starts to journeyman QB Chris Chandler. McNair promptly went out and led the Oilers to wins in the final two games of the season before leading them to their first Super Bowl berth in 1999, ironically against the Rams. Perhaps this has been Fisher’s plan all along; to prepare Goff on the sidelines for as long as possible before getting him on the field.

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If McNair’s career arc under Fisher is any indication, Los Angeles fans could be in for a treat over the next handful of seasons. McNair was a different QB, of course, but he was more of a raw talent than Goff was in college, coming from Alcorn State. Goff should be better prepared for the NFL based on his collegiate experience at Cal, although only time will tell if Goff is up to the task of meeting Fisher’s expectations.