The playoff hopes of the Los Angeles Rams will hinge on the right arm of a player who hasn’t appeared in an NFL game.
In a 20-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Rams quarterback Jared Goff suffered a thumb injury to his right, throwing hand. Game broadcast cameras caught Goff appearing to pop his thumb back into place. Rams coach Sean McVay said Monday that Goff had surgery to repair a broken thumb and will not play this week. NFL Network said he is hoping to return for the playoffs, should the Rams make it.
That leaves backup John Wolford, a second-year passer with experience in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football, as the starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, per the Rams.
If the Rams beat the Cardinals in the finale, they will clinch a postseason berth. L.A. can also get in if the Chicago Bears lose to the Green Bay Packers.
But who is Wolford, exactly? Here’s a look at four facts about the 25-year-old, 6-foot-1 passer.
Exposure from time in the AAF
After he couldn’t latch onto a permanent job in the NFL following the 2018 season, Wolford signed with the AAF’s Arizona Hotshots in the spring of 2019.
Originally an afterthought on the Hotshots roster after the team used its first pick in its quarterback draft on former Oklahoma star Trevor Knight, Wolford beat out Knight for the starting job. At the time, Wolford compared it to previous paths in his career, when he won the starting job at Wake Forest as a freshman.
“I swear to God, it’s like a repeating cycle,” Wolford told the Winston-Salem Journal in February 2019. “The biggest thing that you learn in camp is being able to be consistent. Just to go out every day and do the right thing every single time, and that’s how you win jobs. So, I have some experience in that arena.”
He quickly became one of the stars of the league and garnered instant attention from local and national media, especially since his LinkedIn page at the time still listed his job title as a private equity analyst.
In his time with the Hotshots, Wolford completed 130 of 206 passes for 1,617 yards, 14 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a QB rating of 95.9.
Path in the NFL
Wolford broke into the league as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2018, when the New York Jets signed him for a stint in their training camp. He played the majority of the snaps in the preseason finale, but the Jets released him Sept. 4 of that year as the team cut down to 53 players on the roster. He then went to play in the AAF.
After his positive stint in the start-up league, the Rams signed Wolford in April 2019, where he spent last season on the practice squad, as Blake Bortles served as the backup behind Goff.
This season, Wolford made the 53-man roster in L.A. and has served as Goff’s backup after he played cleanly in a pair of intrasquad scrimmages.
“He has done a nice job,” coach Sean McVay said Aug. 29 after one of those scrimmages. “As he’s accumulated reps, he’s getting more comfortable with the offense, and then you’re seeing the ability to create off-schedule. He’s got great athleticism. I think he’s decisive.
“I think he and Jared are formulating a great rapport with their comfort level of being able to bounce things off one another. But I’ve been very pleased with John. You want Jared to stay healthy, but if John had to play, we’d feel very good about John.”
‘Doug Flutie-type stuff’
First, a caveat.
This comparison came after an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 22, in which quarterbacks were not allowed to be tackled and in which the Rams offense played against the Rams defense because of concerns over COVID-19 transmissions that altered the NFL preseason.
Still, McVay was so impressed with Wolford after the scrimmage that he compared him to former NFL and CFL quarterback Doug Flutie, who became known for being a shorter quarterback who could improvise when plays broke down.
“You see him running around,” McVay said Aug. 22. “He’s got some Doug Flutie-type stuff to him as far as being able to break contain and be able to make some plays off schedule.”
For his part, Wolford said he has tried to model his game after the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, a pair of shorter passers.
“Those are guys that you always try to look at who’s the best in the game and look for ways to improve and the things that they do well,” Wolford said Aug. 29.
Records at Wake Forest
Wolford was a four-year starter with the Demon Deacons, where he left a massive imprint on the program.
He set school records his senior season for QB efficiency (157.98), passing yards (3,192), passing touchdowns (29), and total touchdowns (39). His 78 career total touchdowns are also a Wake Forest record.
He finished with 8,794 passing yards and 1,120 rushing yards in his career in Winston-Salem. In fact, Wolford became just the eighth quarterback in ACC history to surpass 8,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards. At the time that he left the program, he held three of the top five single-game marks for total offense.
Now, seemingly likely to get his first shot in the NFL, Wolford has the chance to back up what he said in August, after he impressed in those scrimmages.
“I feel ready,” Wolford said Aug. 29. “I’m confident in my abilities and confident in my ability to run this offense. It’s something I’ve prepped for my entire life. I’ve played a lot of football in my life, from college to the AAF and I’m ready to go whenever that shot comes.”