Why Cardinals QB Josh Rosen Should Be the Favorite to Win NFL Rookie of the Year

Doug Farrar@@BR_DougFarrar NFL Lead ScoutMay 7, 2018

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen throws against Washington in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

It's frustrating for quarterback prospects to be drafted below where they think they should go, but it's far from a professional death sentence. Often, those future NFL signal-callers who are taken later than they should be based on talent and tape wind up in better situations than if they would have been taken earlier. 

Dan Marino dropped to 27th in the 1983 draft but wound up with Don Shula as his head coach. Tom Brady famously wasn't picked until the 199th selection in the 2000 draft, but who knows how he would have developed without Bill Belichick? And would Russell Wilson, picked 75th overall in 2012, have been as successful in Cleveland as he's been in Seattle?

Sometimes, you just have to take the hit to your ego and promise yourself that you'll make every coach and executive who had a chance to take you and didn't regret it for the rest of their professional lives. Marino did that, and Brady and Wilson have done that, and in the 2018 class, former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen—selected 10th—has the best chance to put that chip on his shoulder and make it work for him in an ideal system.

Rosen was the fourth quarterback chosen in 2018 behind Cleveland's Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold of the Jets and Buffalo's Josh Allen. The Cardinals moved up from 15th to 10th to make sure they got Rosen, and that could very well be the best luck Rosen's ever found.

Not that the rookie saw it that way. During his first conference call with Arizona media, he made it clear his draft position did not leave him thrilled.

"I thought I should've been picked one, two or three," Rosen said, per the team's official website. "I was pissed. I was really, really angry.

"[Then] I got the call, and I got really happy and really motivated. All I wanted to do was get on a plane right then and go straight to Arizona and start working."

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 26:  Josh Rosen of UCLA reacts after being picked #10 overall by the Arizona Cardinals during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Now with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and with running back David Johnson and with receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, Rosen found an ideal landing spot. He'll compete with veterans Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon for the starting job, which will be Bradford's as long as he can stay healthy—which is always a valid question—since Glennon shouldn't provide much of a threat.

Once Rosen vented about his draft stock, he talked about his situation.

"I'm not going to come in and be an a-hole and think that my [expletive] don't stink," Rosen said. "I understand the situation. I'm going to come in, be respectful. Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon are two amazing quarterbacks, but we are all professionals, and we're all going to compete our butts off. Regardless of who the starter is, we are all going to support that person."

Can Rosen be cocky at times? Sure. Does his personality rub some the wrong way? Perhaps. But he's the most advanced passer in this draft class—the quarterback whose skill set shows the clearest transition to the challenges he'll face in the NFL. In three seasons with the Bruins, Rosen completed 712 passes in 1,170 attempts (a 60.9 percent completion rate) for 9,340 yards and 59 touchdowns with 26 interceptions. He did this despite an offensive line that often underperformed and receivers who struggled at times to track and catch the ball.

He should have better luck with his NFL team. Kirk is one of the most talented receivers in the 2018 class, Fitzgerald is a slam-dunk future Hall of Famer, and, when healthy, Johnson is perhaps the best receiving running back in the league. Moreover, Rosen is done with UCLA's limited route concepts; he has a mentor in McCoy who knows how to work with young quarterbacks (as Denver's offensive coordinator in 2011, he managed to make Tim Tebow look presentable with easy first-read concepts) and will work with Rosen to design an offense that best fits his talents.

Make no mistake—McCoy won't have to dumb anything down to get Rosen up to speed. Despite the liabilities around him and his own occasional inefficiencies, he put enough on tape to look like the most pro-ready rookie quarterback since Carson Wentz. Not that you'd know it by talking to a percentage of coaches and executives in the NFL—in a recent SI.com article, Albert Breer spoke with NFL decision-makers who believe Rosen needs to be challenged and may not love the game enough. As Breer noted, coaches and scouts around the league believe Rosen is spoiled and entitled—a rich kid who might not stick it out if things get rough.

"You know the former Princeton [basketball] coach Pete Carril?" one NFL source told Breer. "The saying he had was, 'Don't ever recruit a kid with a three-car garage and a long driveway.'"

Which, to put it bluntly, is ridiculous. Andrew Luck's father Oliver is a former NFL player and current executive with the NCAA. Peyton and Eli Manning's father Archie was a longtime NFL player, and the younger Mannings never wanted for anything. Tom Brady's father was an insurance executive. And on and on. Per a report by SI.com's Robert Klemko in 2016, 13 of the 15 quarterbacks drafted that year grew up in homes valued near or above the median value in their respective states, and seven of those quarterbacks (including Wentz and Jared Goff, the top two players) grew up in homes valued at more than double the median rate.

So, whatever rubbed some teams the wrong way about Rosen probably isn't what they're saying it is. All we're left with is the tape, Rosen's potential and what he can become.

Based on his college performance, the NFL's awareness gap looks like the Cardinals' gain, because they got a quarterback with Rookie of the Year potential, and they're putting him in a system that should do nothing but amplify his abilities.

Rosen's next-level traits are evident, and you don't see many college quarterbacks who have them developed as well as he does. He reads the field, he doesn't telegraph his throws, and I don't think enough is said about his functional mobility—both in and out of the pocket.

Mobility in the pocket is tougher, though. For a quarterback to navigate his way around a maze of defenders and still make a throw, a certain awareness is required. It's something that can be developed, but it's also innate to a certain degree. Brady is the best I've ever seen at staying in the pocket while moving around. I'm not yet putting Rosen in Brady's class in this (or any other) category, but he's got some impressive tape.

Rosen was consistently harassed by Washington's outstanding defense in a 44-23 loss in October, and he completed just 12 of 21 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown before he was pulled because of an injury, per the Daily Bruin. But even with a scalding defense swarming him, Rosen showed two things in this two-play sequence: amazing mobility in the pocket on a deep incompletion and impressive timing on a stick throw to tight end Jordan Wilson.

Rosen's ability to make throws under pressure is about more than pocket movement, though. When he has to move out of the pocket, he's capable of scrambling to extend plays. He's also unafraid to make a throw as defenders are converging on him—and given the state of the UCLA offensive line, that happened more often than it should. One coach in Breer's piece insisted Rosen wasn't good with defenders around his feet, but there are several examples that provide a contrary story. This throw to tight end Caleb Wilson was made with excellent accuracy and velocity despite the fact that the pocket was collapsing.

The second play in this two-play series shows another example of Rosen's mobility and ability to throw on the run—this was against Stanford in 2016. Watch how he easily shrugged off the rush, rolled to his left and made another excellent throw. To make such a throw to the left side is harder for a right-handed quarterback, because he's going against his momentum. This shows Rosen's arm talent.

The first play in that series points a focus on one of the things Rosen needs to clean up: He's far too cavalier about his ball location at times. That's a clear overthrow past coverage, and this missed opportunity, against Texas A&M, is equally frustrating. Rosen got pressure in his face, but his mechanics were together enough to hit his receiver—he simply didn't do it.

Another issue Rosen must deal with is his tendency to overthink on the fly and try to make a hero play when all he needs to do is move the sticks. This sack on 2nd-and-6 against Washington is on Rosen entirely—he's got an outlet receiver to his left, but he keeps drifting the other way. There are times, especially in the NFL, when a quarterback's greatest attribute is knowing when it's time to take an easy throw and move on to the next opportunity.

But when Rosen puts it all together, as he did on this 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jordan Lasley that helped clinch UCLA's comeback win over Texas A&M in its 2017 season opener, he's hard to beat. This was as well-thrown a backdoor fade as you'll ever see. The Bruins were down 44-10 late in the third quarter, but Rosen threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter in a 45-44 win.

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was happy with Arizona's choice at quarterback, and it's hard to blame him—no matter what others in the league might think.

"We really believed he was a franchise-type quarterback," Keim said. "To me, when you find those type of guys, and when you give up that kind of compensation, you pull the trigger and never look back."

When Rosen said there were "three big mistakes ahead of me," he was referring to Mayfield, Darnold and Allen—the three quarterbacks picked while he waited in the green room. That speaks to Rosen's personality, but it could also be another example of Rosen's accuracy.

Going into the 2018 season, he's the rookie signal-caller with the most talents that transfer quickly to the NFL. Don't be surprised if that manifests itself in the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

Former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, selected second overall by the Giants, is the current odds-on favorite to win that honor, with Mayfield and Allen also ahead of Rosen, per OddsShark. Barkley is another example of what could happen when talent means opportunity, but Rosen is far ahead of both Mayfield and Allen in his development, and given the strong chance he'll play a lot of snaps in his rookie campaign, it would be unwise to bet against him. And while Barkley has the talent to play at a high level, if there's a tight race between Barkley and Rosen, it's wise to assume the quarterback will win.

Rosen has been beating the odds, and proving people wrong, for a long time. He's not done yet.

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