JARED GOFF NEEDS to throw better, plain and simple. As a rookie he was inaccurate on too many routine plays. On passes 11 to 20 yards downfield, his QB rating was 27.9. But here's the positive: Despite getting little help from his offensive line and receivers, Goff showed that he can be tough in the pocket. Early on he tended to take his eyes off his receivers to look at the pass rush, one of the ultimate no-nos, but he grew past that. He knew hits were coming, and he stood firm. That is a critical, encouraging sign.
• Running behind a revamped O-line that includes former Bengal ANDREW WHITWORTH at left tackle, Todd Gurley should be better this year. But his poor showing in 2016 wasn't all because of his blocking: Gurley didn't see the field with the same clarity he did as a rookie.
• Acquiring SAMMY WATKINS from Buffalo addressed a major need. Before that trade, new coach SEAN MCVAY, the former Redskins offensive coordinator, didn't have a single mismatch-making weapon to build his pass designs around. Some might see TAVON AUSTIN as one, but there's a reason the '13 first-round pick has gained only 410.5 receiving yards a year. Austin can get lazy on deep routes, and as a slot man he hasn't shown the necessary nuance and patience to win underneath. At this point he's a gadget player.
• WADE PHILLIPS is as respected as any defensive coordinator in football today (maybe ever), but one quiet criticism you'll hear is that he can be predictable in coverage against untraditional two-receiver formations. In Denver, Phillips's linebackers would get in unfavorable matchups against running backs and tight ends. But Rams linebackers ALEC OGLETREE and MARK BARRON are both ex-college safeties who can run, which means they're better suited for pass coverage than Phillips's Broncos 'backers.
• Don't worry about AARON DONALD transitioning to a new position in Phillips's 3--4. The scheme still features 4--3-style, one-gap assignments for most linemen. It will be interesting to see how often Donald aligns at three-technique versus five-technique (the position J.J. Watt played for Phillips in Houston). But Donald's initial burst is too explosive for O-linemen no matter where he sets up.
"GOFF NEEDS TO THROW BETTER THAN HE DID AS A ROOKIE, BUT HE SHOWED A TOUGHNESS THAT IS ENCOURAGING."
SI'S 2017 PREDICTION
2016 RECORD 4--12
ANDY BENOIT'S 400 MMQB ON.SI.COM/400
13 AARON DONALD DT
68 ROBERT QUINN DE
82 ANDREW WHITWORTH LT
126 TRUMAINE JOHNSON CB
135 TODD GURLEY RB
140 MICHAEL BROCKERS DT
224 ALEC OGLETREE LB
258 SAMMY WATKINS WR
310 MARK BARRON LB
381 CONNOR BARWIN OLB