Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: Is Josh Rosen the Next Colin Kaepernick?

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterAugust 17, 2017

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen gets ready to pass during the first half of a college football game against UNLV, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Josh Rosen is talented. The UCLA junior was the No. 1 quarterback in the class of 2015, according to Scout.com, and was installed instantly as the starter for Jim Mora's Bruins. In his true freshman season, Rosen showed the tools of a future No. 1 overall pick, totaling 23 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. Injuries shortened his sophomore season, but the traits are there. 

Josh Rosen is outspoken. He wore a "F--k Trump" hat to the one of the President's golf courses before Trump was elected. In an interview with Bleacher Report's Matt Hayes, Rosen talked about the difficulties of being a student-athlete. Scouts, coaches and teammates have also told me of his personality, which can come across as "uncoachable, smarter than all of us and a prick."

In an age when, thanks to social media, players are under a larger spotlight than ever, how will the NFL perceive Rosen?

One scout I spoke with said when he looks at Rosen, he sees another version of Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick, who one year ago this week started his protest by first sitting, and then kneeling, for the national anthem, is not currently employed by an NFL team. Many believe it's his protest that cost him a job when he opted out of his contract and became a free agent this summer.

Rosen isn't afraid to speak his mind, and that's something NFL owners will struggle with. Imagine you're the New York Jets—a team in desperate need of a starting quarterback. Your owner, Woody Johnson, is the United States ambassador to the United Kingdom under President Trump. Will you be allowed to draft Rosen on his merits as an athlete, or will his political views take him off the board?

If scouts are already associating Rosen with Kaepernick, there's no doubt his off-field views will affect his draft standing for at least some teams. It's a situation unlike any other I can remember, where a draft prospect could be removed from boards for an opinion and not a crime or alleged crime.

Here's what else is happening this week:

—Former Washington general manager Scot McCloughan has joined Twitter and is giving unfiltered answers to fan questions. It's entertaining and fascinating to see behind the glass at what NFL teams think and some moves that weren't made.

—The Buffalo Bills made two big moves last week, trading wide receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby. In exchange for Watkins and a 2018 sixth-rounder, the Los Angeles Rams sent the Bills cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick. For Darby, the Philadelphia Eagles sent wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick. Let's look at how this plays out for each team:

Is Watkins the future at receiver for the L.A. Rams?
Is Watkins the future at receiver for the L.A. Rams?Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Rams: The Rams get a potential WR1 who is only 24 years old in Watkins. Sending a 2018 second-rounder is costly, but if Watkins leaves in free agency the team can recoup a third-round compensatory pick. It's a one-round difference for a one-year rental. It's a risk given Watkins' struggles to stay healthy and the trade coming so late in the summer when he won't have time to learn the offense.

Bills: If you're not going to compete this season, why not try to acquire as many draft picks as possible? This is one strategy I do like a lot, but hopefully ownership has sold players like Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy on moving two starters for future picks. More draft picks are always better, but you still have to choose the right players. Moving established players for potential can get a GM fired quickly. I do not expect Jordan Matthews to be much of a threat here—he lacks speed and drops too many passes—but E.J. Gaines could see major minutes in a poor secondary.

Eagles: Darby has a very good chance to be one of the top three cornerbacks on the roster. After going defensive line in Round 1 of the draft, this was still a need for them. And moving Matthews is easy because he'd fallen behind Nelson Agholor in training camp and rookie Mack Hollins is promising enough to help them with depth and special teams play.

—Good general managers make mistakes in player evaluation and drafting, but they quickly right the wrong and move on from it. That's what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did when they released 2016 second-rounder Roberto Aguayo after he continued to struggle with extra-point kicks. GM Jason Licht traded up in the 2016 draft to select Aguayo, which was widely criticized by analysts at the time.

The worst second-round selection in years?
The worst second-round selection in years?Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The combination of positional value, the picks used to trade up (third- and fourth-rounders) and his on-field struggles make this the worst draft pick I've seen. Luckily, drafting Jameis Winston covers up that mistake.

—Is AJ McCarron on the trade block? It seems to come up weekly on Twitter with a rumor that "X team called about the Bengals' backup quarterback." Based on a conversation I had with a high-level source in Cincinnati, McCarron is not on the block, but that doesn't mean the team wouldn't listen if a great offer came in.

—The University of Washington defense was stacked in 2016 and will be again this year. One area scout I spoke to this week mentioned linebacker Keishawn Bierria as a potential Round 1 riser this year.

—Bierria's teammate, Azeem Victor, holds a Round 2-3 grade heading into the season, according to the same scout.

— Said one high-level executive regarding the Alabama Crimson Tide, "They're going to have three guys from that secondary go in the first round." Safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison along with cornerback Anthony Averett are the favorites to be drafted that high.


Five Names to Know:

These are my top five cornerbacks headed into the 2017 season. Note: Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick is listed at safety.

5. Damon Arnette, Cornerback (Ohio State)

The Buckeyes are loaded, again, at cornerback. Damon Arnette hasn't been a featured starter because he served in a sub-package role behind Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, but the redshirt sophomore has the size (6'0", 195 lbs) and speed to turn heads.

 

4. Denzel Ward, Cornerback (Ohio State)

Ward could be the next big thing out of an Ohio State secondary.
Ward could be the next big thing out of an Ohio State secondary.Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Like Arnette, Ward is stepping into a new role as a starter in the Ohio State secondary given the amazing depth ahead of him in previous seasons. A junior, Ward (5'10", 191 lbs) has been called a future first-rounder by a source on the Ohio State coaching staff.

 

3. Jaire Alexander, Cornerback (Louisville)

Alexander's burst and technique are very impressive—maybe the best in college football at cornerback. NFL teams will question his size (5'11", 188 lbs), but like a Kevin Johnson or Gareon Conley before him, Alexander can earn a first-round grade with his instincts, technique and ball skills.

 

2. Anthony Averett, Cornerback (Alabama)

Many Alabama fans would point to Minkah Fitzpatrick or Ronnie Harrison as the best secondary member on the team, and that's not a ridiculous opinion. But as a true cornerback, Anthony Averett turns my head every time I watch the tape. Averett is a pest in coverage and has the speed to stick with a variety of receivers through transitions. At this point, Averett is flying under the radar nationally.

 

1. Tarvarus McFadden, Cornerback (Florida State)

McFadden has a knack for getting his hands on the ball.
McFadden has a knack for getting his hands on the ball.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

When you pull down eight interceptions, NFL teams are going to take notice. Tarvarus McFadden did that in 2016 without the help of all-world safety Derwin James behind him. He has size (6'1", 201 lbs), burst and the body control needed to be a top-tier man coverage cornerback in the pros.



Parting Shots:

10. Bruce Arians is not happy with his wide receivers.

In a post-practice quote distributed by the team's website, when asked about his struggling pass-catchers, Arians said, "I must've been seeing things back in the spring when I said we had had 12 guys who could play in the NFL. We might have two."

John Brown is once again injured, leaving the team to rely on Larry Fitzgerald and Jaron Brown mixed in with a motley crew of other receivers who simply aren't getting the job done.

 

9. I'm sure you remember that I had Jared Goff as my No. 1 quarterback in the 2016 draft class. I'm rooting for Goff (partially because I want to be right), and the marriage of he and new head coach Sean McVay in Los Angeles looks like a good one on paper.

In the preseason opener, Goff led the Rams down the field to a touchdown (thanks to a sweet Cooper Kupp fumble recovery) and looked sharp. Even Todd Gurley looked to be back to his rookie-season form. The team was heating up...and then they were sat down.

Goff needs the reps, but the Rams only played him one series. It's a mind-boggling decision given his rocky rookie season and the fact that he's learning a new offense.

I won't pretend to be smarter than Sean McVay, but this one confuses me.

 

8. The biggest change in the San Francisco 49ers with offensive-minded Kyle Shanahan as head coach and John Lynch as general manager was seen on defense. The Niners' new 4-3 unit was aggressive, fast and much meaner than in years past.

It was no surprise to see the defense hamstrung by Chip Kelly's offense, but it was surprising to see coordinator Robert Saleh's men playing with so much tenacity in the opener against the Chiefs.

Rookie Reuben Foster is already the Niners' starting WLB.
Rookie Reuben Foster is already the Niners' starting WLB.Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Niners fans should be very encouraged by the play of Reuben Foster, Solomon Thomas and Aaron Lynch.

 

7. Stick to Football co-host and NFL Draft 400 scout Marshal Miller has been raving about receiver Austin Carr in our group chats for over a year now. Carr, picked up by the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent, was all over the field for the team in the preseason opener. He's someone to watch as cut day comes. A smart team would be on him immediately if the New England wide receiver group is too deep.

 

6. Did anyone else find it funny that Sammy Watkins caught the first three passes of the Buffalo Bills' preseason game and was traded the next day?

 

5. The Denver Broncos are in trouble.

Throughout the offseason, I've heard rumors from scouts and coaches that the quarterback battle between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch wasn't going well. That's been echoed throughout the early portion of the preseason as Siemian remains solid and Lynch continues to struggle.

The biggest complaint, according to a Broncos coach, is that Lynch still isn't seeing the field fast enough. The jump from Memphis to the NFL hasn't been smooth for the 2016 first-rounder, and the speed and complexity of pro coverages are something he's still figuring out.

Lynch doesn't look to be a serious challenger to Siemian any time soon. Heck, we might even see Chad Kelly contend before Lynch does.

 

4. Give the ball to Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and DeShone Kizer already.

The rookie quarterbacks showed in their preseason debuts that all three deserve to be starting in their respective cities. Now, with three preseason games to go, the rookies should get a chance to prove they're starters and build chemistry with the first-team units. And if they struggle? Better to find that out now than during the season.

The Browns have nothing to lose by going to Kizer as long as head coach Hue Jackson is comfortable with Kizer's knowledge and handling of the playbook. Already we've seen his ability to make deep throws that no one else on that roster can.

Browns rookie QB DeShone Kizer
Browns rookie QB DeShone KizerKen Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

In Chicago, Mike Glennon posted a passer rating of 0.0 in their opener. Tom Savage was slightly better for Houston, but it's obvious that Watson's dual-threat ability gives the Texans an edge they've lacked since their inception.

Given both teams expect to be led by strong defenses, they can afford to let the young quarterbacks take the field. And in today's NFL, if a first-rounder can handle the mental load of a playbook, play calls and checks at the line of scrimmage, you might as well find out what you have in them.

 

3. Christian Hackenberg can't win.

When the 2016 second-rounder was selected, the New York media (and others) hated it. When the Penn State product struggled in his rookie preseason, the piling-on began. Then the season started and the media didn't see much of Hackenberg until this year's minicamps and team activities began. And then the piling-on started back up.

Hackenberg has taken the fall for "poor throws" that are really the result of a wrong route, and on Twitter you can see members of the media throng crushing the kid while not seeming to realize that all quarterbacks throw interceptions or miss balls in practice.

This reached peak frustration during the Jets' preseason opener. Hackenberg, playing as the second quarterback, was efficient in running the team's West Coast offense and showed more poise and much-improved mechanics. That should be an encouraging sign, but tweets from the press box invented reasons (i.e., not throwing down field enough) to bash Hackenberg.

I'm rooting for him now purely out of spite to those in the media who jumped to hate the kid (he's 22 years old) before he ever took a regular-season snap.

 

2. The Dallas Cowboys take on the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night in preseason Week 2, and you're probably wondering why I care.

Because Jaylon Smith will play.

The Notre Dame linebacker was my top-ranked player in the 2016 draft class until a knee injury at the Fiesta Bowl tanked his draft stock and put him on the shelf for his entire rookie season. Before the injury, Smith looked like the second coming of Patrick Willis.

There hasn't been a solid update on Smith's status as he works back from nerve damage to his knee, and he may play wearing an AFO brace that helps him lift his toes, but the videos and comments I've seen coming from training camp are very positive.

The Cowboys' 2016 draft class is already loaded with talents like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. If they can add a linebacker like Smith, it's a Super Bowl core.

 

1. Stick to Football Episode 18 is live. This week we were joined by San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to talk hunting, Coronas and where he'll fit in the team's new 4-3 defense. Connor and I also preview the NFC and AFC South divisions and answer your questions in #DraftonDraft.


Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.

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