The Los Angeles Rams announced on Tuesday that rookie quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft, will make his first career start Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. As with any No. 1 pick, Goff will be facing high expectations, but Rams fans may be setting the bar even higher for the former Cal standout, considering that LA traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks and two-third round picks to move up to No. 1 in the first place.
Unfortunately for Goff, his job won’t be easy, particularly considering the talent on the surging Dolphins’ imposing front line. And that’s to say nothing of Goff’s preseason struggles or the fact that Rams coach Jeff Fisher didn’t feel Goff was ready to play earlier in the year, even as Case Keenum put up some of the worst quarterback numbers in the NFL over the first nine games.
In any case, Sunday’s result shouldn’t be one that makes or breaks Goff’s career, and many top picks have struggled in their earliest days on the field. Don’t believe it? Well, we took a look at the debut starts of each of the 21 quarterbacks taken with the No. 1 overall pick since the AFL-NFL merger -- and as the record will show, they rarely go well:
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Terry Bradshaw (Steelers, 1970)
Bradshaw’s debut definitely didn’t scream “four-time Super Bowl champ” or “Hall of Famer,” as he completed 4 of 16 passes with a pick during a 19-7 loss to the Houston Oilers in Week 1 of the 1970 season. In fact, the only points Bradshaw scored in the game were for the opposing defense, a result of a third-quarter safety. He was eventually benched for backup Terry Hanratty, who later took over as the Steelers’ full-time starter midway through the 1970 season. All told, Bradshaw finished his rookie campaign with a 38.1 percent completion rate, six touchdown passes and a league-high 24 interceptions. But he turned out fine in the end.
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Jim Plunkett (Patriots, 1971)
The Patriots still went by the Boston Patriots name when they took Plunkett first overall out of Stanford. Two months later, Boston gave way to New England, and six months after that, Plunkett made the first of 56 consecutive starts to kick off his Patriots career. In the game, a 20-6 win over the Oakland Raiders, Plunkett completed six of 15 passes for 127 yards, two TDs and an interception. It was later in his career, as a member of those same Raiders, that Plunkett won two Super Bowls and a Super Bowl MVP
Steve Bartkowski (Falcons, 1975)
The only other Cal player to be taken with the No. 1 pick, Bartkowski started the first game of the 1975 season for the Atlanta Falcons and went 8-of-16 for 81 yards with one interception in a 23-20 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. He also had five carries for five yards, including a 1-yard first-quarter touchdown run. After settling in, Bartkowski went on to play 11 years with the Falcons, mostly as a starter, before closing his career with — who else — the Rams.
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John Elway (Colts, 1983; dealt to Denver)
Elway, like Bradshaw, was benched in his debut, a 14-10 road win over the Steelers. And of the game, which saw Elway go 1-of-8 for 14 yards with a pick, Elway once recalled, “Jack Lambert’s across, playing middle linebacker, no teeth, he’s snarling, he’s spitting, he’s yelling at me. And I’m going, ‘You can have all the money back. You can just blink me out of here right now. I’ll go be an accountant.’” He also likely felt the same way in Week 13, when he lined up behind his guard in a 31-7 loss in San Diego.
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Vinny Testaverde (Bucs, 1987)
Though he appeared in a mop-up role twice earlier in the year, Testaverde, the top pick out of Miami, didn’t make his first start with the Tampa Bay Bucs until the 12th game of the ’87 season, with the team sitting at 4-7 on the year. In it, Testaverde went 22-of-47 for 369 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Saints, but New Orleans won the game 44-34. Testaverde went on to make 72 total starts for Tampa Bay before playing for the Browns, Ravens, Jets, Cowboys, Patriots and Panthers. His NFL career spanned 21 seasons.
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Troy Aikman (Cowboys, 1989)
Long before he was a three-time Super Bowl winner, six-time Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer, Aikman went 0-11 as a starter during his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys. In his first start, a 28-0 loss to the Saints at the Superdome, Aikman completed 17 of 35 passes for 180 yards with two interceptions. He finally threw his first touchdown pass — a 65-yarder to Michael Irvin — the following week, but when Dallas won its only game during the 1989 season, it did so with Steve Walsh under center.
Jeff George (Colts, 1990)
An Indy native, George was serviceable but not spectacular during his first NFL start with his hometown Colts, completing 13 of 24 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown during a 26-10 road loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 of the 1990 season. To acquire the top pick in 1990, the Colts had traded Chris Hinton, Andre Rison and a fourth-round pick to Atlanta, so it was poetic that, after the ‘93 season, George ended up with the Falcons anyway thanks to a swap that netted Indy the pick it eventually used on Marvin Harrison
Drew Bledsoe (Patriots, 1993)
The Patriots started four different quarterbacks during a 2-14 disaster in 1992, but in 1993 they rolled primarily with the Washington State standout Bledsoe, who went 5-7 as a starter and won four straight games to end the season. His Week 1 start, however, was less impressive, as Bledsoe completed 14 of 30 passes for 148 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 38-14 loss in Buffalo. The following year, Bledsoe went 10-6 and got the Pats back in the postseason for the first time since 1986.
Peyton Manning (1998, Colts)
The legendary signal caller Manning made 208 consecutive starts to begin his NFL career, but the first of them, a 24-15 home loss to Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins to kick off the 1998 season, was certainly forgettable. In the defeat, Manning completed 21 of 37 passes for 302 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He was also sacked four times. The Colts went on to finish 3-13 that year, but by ‘99, Manning had found his footing, and Indianapolis went 13-3.
Tim Couch (Browns, 1999)
The failures of Cleveland’s last 26 quarterbacks are well-documented, so it comes as no surprise that Couch, the new Browns’ first draft pick, had a less than glowing first start. Couch’s first action came in a 43-0 Week 1 loss to the Steelers, and his debut start the following week saw him complete 12 of 24 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. The result was better — a 26-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans — but not by much, and it wasn’t until Week 8 that the Browns scored more than two touchdowns in a game.
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Michael Vick (Falcons, 2001)
Vick didn’t immediately start after the Falcons took him first overall out of Virginia Tech, and even when he finally did, in Atlanta’s eighth game of the 2001 season, it was only because regular starter Chris Chandler was out with sore ribs. In addition, Vick alternated every second-half snap with Doug Johnson and played poorly (4-of-12 for 32 yards and a touchdown) when he was in the game. But Atlanta beat Ryan Leaf and the Dallas Cowboys 20-13 nonetheless, and by 2002 the job was Vick’s for good.
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David Carr (Texans, 2002)
A rookie quarterback making his NFL debut in an expansion team’s first game sounds like a recipe for disaster, but in Carr’s case, things went surprisingly well. Carr’s overall numbers (10-of-22 for 145 yards, two touchdowns and one interception) weren’t eye-popping, but his first NFL completion went for a 19-yard touchdown, and his 65-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass gave the Houston Texans the lead for good in a 19-10 upset of the Cowboys. Unfortunately, Carr returned to earth in Week 2, going 6-of-25 through the air for 87 yards, with two interceptions.
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Carson Palmer (Bengals, 2003)
The only quarterback to ever go No. 1 overall and not start at some point during his first season, Palmer didn’t take so much as a single snap for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003. Instead, the Heisman winner sat behind Jon Kitna, who finally stepped aside in ‘04 and handed the reins to the former USC star. In his first game, Palmer posted an impressive QB rating of 105.2, completing 18 of 27 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns and a pick, but it wasn’t enough to net a win, as Cincy fell to the New York Jets, 31-24.
Eli Manning (Chargers, 2004; dealt to Giants)
Manning famously forced a trade to the Giants after the San Diego Chargers took him with the top pick in 2004, and, frankly, his rookie season left many to wonder what all the fuss was about. In his first start, a 14-10 loss to the Falcons, Manning completed just 17 of his 37 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown, and he also threw two interceptions, including one inside the Atlanta 30-yard line. The following week, he went 6-of-21 through the air, and two weeks after that he went 4-of-18. For his entire rookie year, Manning posted a passer rating of 55.4, but now that he has two Super Bowl rings, his lackluster start has been all but forgiven.
Alex_Smith (49ers, 2005)
Smith has seen a resurgence with the Kansas City Chiefs in recent years, but his first start with the San Francisco 49ers, in Week 5 of the 2005 season, was an unmitigated disaster. In it, Smith completed just nine of his 23 pass attempts, threw four interceptions and was sacked five times in a 28-3 loss to the Colts. Afterward, when asked about the result, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning summarized Smith's debut thusly: “Everyone wants to win their first game, and everyone wants it to be just like college, but it's not. It is the NFL for a reason. It's a big adjustment.”
JaMarcus Russell (Raiders, 2007)
Arguably the worst No. 1 pick of all time, Russell wasn’t great during his first career start, but it wasn’t a nightmare either. Though he’d played extensively (and poorly) the week prior in Jacksonville, Russell’s first start came in the final game of the 2007 season, a 30-17 loss to San Diego. That afternoon, Russell went 23-of-31 for 224 yards, a score and a pick. If he could have maintained that pace, he’d have probably hung around longer and won a few more games in Oakland, but instead he got fat, played poorly and was out of the NFL within three years.
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Matt Stafford (Lions, 2009)
When Stafford made his debut as the Lions’ starting quarterback for Week 1 of the 2009 season, he didn’t look like a guy who would be in the MVP discussion with the same franchise seven years later. Rather, he went 16-of-37 and threw three interceptions in a 45-27 loss to the Saints. Things did eventually get better — Stafford threw for 422 yards and five touchdowns in a win over the Browns later in the ’09 season — but his development took time, and now Detroit’s patience is being rewarded.
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Sam Bradford (Rams, 2010)
There was virtually nothing Bradford could do to convince fans he was worth the $50 million in guaranteed money he got from the Rams coming out of Oklahoma. But even the most understanding supporters likely expected more from the 2008 Heisman winner than the effort he gave in his first start, in Week 1 of the 2010 season. In that game, a 17-13 loss to Arizona, Bradford threw the ball 55 times but managed just 253 yards and was picked off three times. And then to make matters worse, two of those interceptions came in Cardinals territory in the final two minutes of the game. The blunders effectively cost St. Louis the win, but Bradford did rally to lead the Rams to a 7-9 record (they’d gone 1-15 the year before) and win the offensive rookie of the year award.
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Cam Newton (Panthers, 2011)
Another offensive rookie of the year honoree, Newton didn’t win his first start after going No. 1 out of Auburn, but he was mighty impressive, nonetheless. In that game, a 28-21 road loss to the Cardinals, Newton went 24-of-37 for 422 yards and two touchdowns. He also picked up a rushing touchdown that gave Carolina the lead late in the third quarter. In the end, it was major defensive and special teams lapses in the fourth quarter that cost the Panthers the win, but some of the blame also falls on Newton, who couldn’t get the Panthers in the end zone after reaching the Cardinals’ 11-yard line with 1:39 to play.
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Andrew Luck (Colts, 2012)
Luck was thought to be one of the most NFL-ready rookie quarterbacks in league history when he was handed the reins to the Indianapolis offense to start the 2012 season, but his first game had some Colts fans longing for Peyton Manning. In a 41-21 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, Luck completed 23 of 45 passes for 309 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Based on passer rating alone, it was the sixth-worst game of Luck’s career thus far, but thankfully the former Stanford star still led the Colts to the playoffs as a rookie and has given fans plenty to cheer about in the seasons since.
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Jameis Winston (Bucs, 2015)
After a controversial career at Florida State, Winston started right away with the Bucs, and in his first start he got taken to school by the Titans’ Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft. While Mariota completed 86 percent of his passes and threw for four touchdowns in the 42-14 Tennessee victory, Winston went 16-of-33 with two touchdown passes and two interceptions. In the end, neither quarterback won Rookie of the Year — that honor went to Goff’s teammate Todd Gurley — and Winston has improved steadily since his debut. But for now the jury is still out on whether Winston or Mariota should have gone No. 1.