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Josh Rosen: Undeniable talent, but odd lapses ... and nagging questions

Chris takes his “deep dive” into the UCLA quarterback

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are facing one of the biggest decisions of the last two decades this off-season.

What are they to do after Eli Manning?

This off-season the team has hired a new general manager in Dave Gettleman (after firing a GM for the first time in franchise history), and a new head coach in Pat Shurmur. Together the two will chart the franchise’s course out of the Eli Manning era and in to the next era of Giants’ football.

Shurmur has a reputation as a quarterback whisperer, and with the second pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Giants could have the opportunity to have their pick of the quarterback prospects. Considering the importance of this year’s draft, we are taking a series of deep dives into the Giants’ top options at the quarterback position.

So far we have looked at 2017 third round pick Davis Webb [Deep Dive], Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph [Deep Dive], Wyoming’s Josh Allen [Deep Dive], Louisville’s Lamar Jackson [Deep Dive], and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield [Deep Dive].

This week we go to California and take a close look at Josh Rosen of UCLA.



Rosen’s athleticism can probably best be described as “adequate.” He isn’t the athletic freak that Lamar Jackson is, the exceptional athlete that Josh Allen or Davis Webb are, or even have the frenetic quickness of Baker Mayfield.

But he also isn’t an immobile statue and his athleticism is perfectly adequate for the quarterback position. He is capable of moving in the pocket, playing outside of the pocket on bootlegs and roll-outs, and occasionally hurting defenses with his legs. Rosen usually only runs with the ball when faced with man coverage that leaves him nowhere to throw the ball and a defense that isn’t watching him, however UCLA has used some read-option plays.

UCLA didn’t break this play out often, and it worked because the defense patently didn’t believe that Rosen would keep the ball. It isn’t something that will be a staple of Rosen’s game in the NFL — defenses are too fast and too smart. However, it does highlight that even if he isn’t an exceptional athlete, he is a functional one.

Because I don’t have access to player’s medical reports — nor the expertise to accurately assess them — I have been relatively mute about injury concerns.

It does need to be mentioned, however, that Rosen missed significant time in the last two seasons, including a month in the concussion protocol in 2017. The NFL will need to thoroughly vet his medical reports.

Arm talent

Arm strength and mechanics

In every other deep dive, these two subheads have been separate because the prospects’ ability to throw the ball and the way in which they deliver the ball have been two separate issues. Even Mayfield, who’s throwing mechanics are (most times) second only to Rosen’s in this class, is able to demonstrate his arm strength independently of his mechanics.

Rosen’s arm strength, however, is inextricably tied to his throwing mechanics.

When things go well, when the offense is on schedule and he has a relatively clean pocket in which to step up, Rosen is able to make every throw with touch and accuracy.

When all goes well, Rosen’s mechanics are nearly textbook. His footwork is efficient, smooth, and controlled enough to appear effortless; he keeps a wide enough base to be stable, but not too wide; he transfers his weight, driving from his legs, through his hips and out through his arm, while keeping a tight, compact release.

Being able to bring his legs into the equation so efficiently allows Rosen to drive the ball and challenge tight windows and deliver short and intermediate passes with pinpoint precision.

However, when he is unable to set his feet and bring his formidable mechanics to bear, his arm looks more pedestrian.

This also shows up when he had to face pressure from opposing pass rushers while still in the pocket.

It is normal for pressure to affect a quarterback’s mechanics. Giants fans will remember how Tom Brady was impacted by pressure in Super Bowls 42 and 46, as well as how badly Eli Manning’s mechanics broke down in 2013.

However, it might be fair to say that Rosen’s dependency on his lower body to provide the power for his passes could make him more sensitive to pressure than some of the other prospects.


Mental processing

More than even his mechanics, Rosen’s ability to run a sophisticated offensive scheme, to quickly and accurately diagnose a defense, and make good decisions based on all that, is his calling card.

On the above play, Rosen is throwing out of his own end zone, but his offensive line does a good job of giving him time and space to make the throw. Which he does, getting the ball to his receiver running an out route while the tight end draws coverage running down the seam. It’s a good decision that kicks the drive into gear and gives his offense some breathing room and opens the playbook.

Rosen smoothly executes his drop, with his footwork well timed to the receiver’s route while using his eyes to manipulate the defense and help sell the seam route before making an accurate pass to the receiver.

However, this play also brings up a concern with Rosen — When he doesn’t do the things for which he is famous.

As good as Rosen’s accuracy and football IQ are, it is somewhat jarring when issues in those regards crop up. The first of these is ball placement which can sometimes be erratic. Rosen’s throwing motion and accuracy so often appear surgical, but at times he has almost mystifying lapses in accuracy and ball placement. The most obvious of these instances are when he has to accelerate his process and clearly is not comfortable, such as when he has to make a quick throw (or obviously, when harried by defenders).

But there are other times when Rosen has time and space, but fails to make a throw that is both accurate and precise, such as in the above play against Hawaii.

Rosen occasionally gets over-aggressive and has mystifying lapses in judgment for a player who’s game is predicated on his intelligence.

This play is among the most egregious of those instances this year.

It is mid-way through the third quarter, with UCLA facing a third-and-19 while also down by three to Memphis. Rosen’s options are covered and as the play breaks down he escapes the pocket to buy more time for a receiver to work his way open. In general, the rule in these cases is that it becomes a half-field read, in the direction the quarterback is scrambling. As he does, the receiver at the left of the formation breaks open running across the field with Rosen. This is a fairly easy throw to make, and if Rosen leads him some (and the receiver makes a man miss) he at least stands a chance of picking up the first down. Instead, Rosen looks back to his left, and sees his running back throw his hands up in the middle of the field. This is the throw Rosen opts to make, and it is a much more difficult and (obviously) dangerous pass to attempt. It blows up in his face, resulting in an interception returned for a touchdown.

There are also instances in which Rosen seems to assume that defenders have been moved by either the offensive formation or his eyes, but fails to check before releasing the pass. Those types of plays accounted for three of his 10 interceptions in 2017, including this one.

Finally, Rosen sometimes shows a tendency to get so locked in scanning the field that he doesn’t appear to sense pressure closing in on him.

All these plays are more the exception than the rule with Rosen, but considering the strengths of his game, they do need to be taken into consideration as part of the evaluation of the player as a whole.


Character, or to be more accurate, personality, is the area in which most observers expressed their earliest concerns about Rosen.

Without speaking to the young man, I can’t comment on his personality one way or the other.

Those who have coached Rosen have stated, to a man, that he is intellectually challenging. Rosen’s high school coach and college coach Jim Mora, as well as former NFL QB Trent Dilfer and NFL scout Bucky Brooks (both of whom coached Rosen at the Elite Eleven quarterback competition coming out of high school) have each agreed on the point.

They were each on the Move The Sticks podcast (co-hosted by former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks), and independently said that Rosen is the type of player who doesn’t just want to know what a play is and what it is designed to accomplish, but why it is designed the way it was.

The root of the concerns about Rosen’s personality seem to be that younger player that Dilfer and Brooks coached between high school and college.

While the whole podcast is absolutely worth a listen, Dilfer and Brooks might have the most telling quote about Rosen in this exchange:

“Trent, it’s funny that you bring that up about Elite Eleven,” Brooks said. “Because as hard as you were on him, as the overall coach of the Elite Eleven, he was my quarterback on my team, and I came away with the same thing. I thought at the time, at seventeen, he was uncoachable, he wasn’t willing to listen. He was the most talented guy there, but he did the least with that talent because he just wouldn’t humble himself to learn everything.

But like last summer, I had the opportunity to be around him at that Elite Eleven, and he was different. He was humble, he was outgoing, he did things he didn’t show at seventeen. And it really changed the narrative that I had on him, because I wasn’t a big fan. I wasn’t a big fan of his mentality and how he went about it. But after that, I had a better understanding.”

“I think fit is going to be really important for Josh,” Dilfer replies. “I think you’re going to have to have an offensive staff that understands him as a person, and be willing to give him a lot of responsibility, give him a lot of stuff to learn, but behind the scenes, control how much is actually used. Now, I know that sounded vague, but here’s what I learned about Josh, you can’t bring any weaksauce, any day. You’ve got to bring your A-game. He expects you to bring your A-game every single day when you’re coaching him, and he’s going to push back if he feels like you got lazy.

Every Monday, post-game, you have to give him reasons why things happened on Sunday. On Tuesdays when you’re introducing the game plan to him, you are going to have to give him a ‘why’ behind everything. You have to systematically break down why you got to this point, and why this is the plan you’re using to face the next opponent. And then Wednesday morning, the install meetings, there better be why, versus single-high man we’re working one side, and against single-high zone we’re working another side. Why we’re chaning the protection versus this front, and why we’re ID’ing the guy as the MIKE in these fronts, with the safety profiles. He needs to know everything, because that’s the way his mind works.

That’s a good thing, by the way. I think Aaron Rodgers is very similar to that, I think Tom Brady is very similar to that. That you have to give them everything that you have, because they’re giving everything they have every single day, also. I think that’s how it plays off.

Now, if he goes somewhere where these coaches are bringing the weaksauce, and they just say ‘Do it because I told you to,’ watch out, because you might have seventeen-year old Josh resurface.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with intelligence, curiosity, and a thirst for knowledge, but how it is expressed is important.

Ask the expert

Because of the importance of Giants’ decision regarding the second overall pick and the future of their quarterback position, I wanted a second opinion on these players.

I reached out to Mark Schofield of Inside The Pylon. Schofield is a former quarterback for Wesleyan University and provides expert, and excellent, film breakdowns for ITP. He was kind enough to consent to contributing his expert opinion to this series.

Here are his thoughts on Rosen:

When it comes down to it Josh Rosen sits atop my quarterback board for a number of reasons, but chief among them is scheme diversity. With some of the other quarterbacks in this class there are some scheme limitations that could create a narrower path to NFL success, but I do not see that with Rosen. He is accurate to all levels, he can deliver throws with velocity to all levels, he can throw the deep ball, and has the quick processing capacity to operate in a West Coast system.

You name it, he can run it.

The main “on-the-field” knock on Rosen is his percieved inability to create outside of the pocket, evade pressure and/or properly respond to pressure. While he cannot create like a Baker Mayfield, while he lacks the flashy athleticism of a Lamar Jackson, I would not sell Rosen short in terms of his footwork. A former elite tennis player in high school, Rosen has the ability to move, slide and climb around the pocket to extend plays and create enough space to get off throws. No one would consider Tom Brady an elite athlete, but it’s Brady’s footwork that has kept him playing at a high level into his 40s. Rosen could follow a similar path.

Finally, from a mechanical standpoint Rosen is virtually flawless. A clean, crisp delivery that is repeated on every throw. When he is forced off platform, he can still deliver with accuracy and velocity. Unlike, say, Josh Allen, Rosen has every “club in the bag.” Touch, timing, anticipation and placement are present with him.

Rosen’s main flaws seem to come from off the field, medical issues and from a personality standpoint. I have not sat down with him. I have not evaluated his medical records or MRIs. But I have evaluated him on tape, and he’s my guy in this class.


Josh Rosen is an undeniable talent.

There isn’t a better thrower of the football in this draft class, and he has few rivals when it comes to football IQ, mental processing, accuracy, and precision.

However, as with every other potential option for the Giants at quarterback, he is not without his faults.

There are some who have voiced concern about Rosen’s personality or medical history, but without knowing him personally or actually being able to see his medical reports, it is unfair to speak to either of those potential concerns with any kind of authority. However, based on what those who have coached him have said, it is possible to see potential personality conflicts in more “old school” environments.

My concerns with Rosen stem from his tape and what he does, or rather what he doesn’t, do on it.

It is easy, perhaps too easy, to be enraptured by Rosen throwing the ball. Most of the time it appears effortless — though to call it so would be a disservice to the work he has put in to developing his mechanics. He appears to easily drive the ball with touch and accuracy on deep passes, throw with anticipation underneath, or fit the ball in tight windows. It’s easy to get lost in those throws and gloss over the plays where he either can’t or doesn’t transfer his weight and drive with his legs, and the ball is off-target (low, high, or out of his receiver’s reach) or under-thrown.

But they can’t be ignored out of hand, as he will face more of those instances in the NFL, not fewer, as defenses are bigger, faster, stronger, smarter and better prepared than those he faced in college.

Rosen shows an advanced understanding of some pretty sophisticated offensive concepts, with a solid grounding in an NFL-style offense. Rosen is among the best in his class at diagnosing defenses and making good, quick decisions based on what he sees. He should have the highest floor of this year’s prospects and be the most ready to play on Sundays this year.

Which makes it jarring when he does little things wrong, such as not checking to see if he successfully moved a linebacker or safety out of a passing lane, or being overly-aggressive in his decision making.

Josh Rosen is a good quarterback prospect, one about whom scouts have been excited since high school. His strengths are considerable, and he has the potential to be a good starter in the NFL. He isn’t without his flaws and a fair assessment should look at those as well as his strengths.