If Bills want most pro-ready QB in draft, they'll have to be aggressive to get Josh Rosen

Sal Maiorana
Democrat and Chronicle
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  • Josh Rosen went undefeated as a high school quarterback and won a national championship.
  • Rosen is considered by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock as the best pure passer in this draft.
  • Rosen has solid three-year numbers at UCLA, but he also had problems with staying healthy.

Some kids are just born with an innate ability to throw, no matter the object, and in Josh Rosen’s case, he was chucking before he was walking.

“My parents always said that coming into my crib room was always dangerous because bottles would come flying out of nowhere,” Rosen told the assembled media at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I’ve always had an arm of some sort. … It’s just a lucky ability I was blessed with.”

One area Josh Rosen needs to improve is his mobility, but at UCLA, he usually did a decent job throwing under pressure.

That golden arm that was first developing as a toddler has carried Rosen to the top of the 2018 NFL Draft class, and all indications are that he’ll be a top five pick — perhaps to Cleveland, maybe the Giants, Jets or Broncos, or possibly the Bills.

“I think I’m the best quarterback here,” Rosen said in Indianapolis, though, to be clear, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen said the same thing about themselves. “I think we’re all competitors and I think every quarterback should have the same exact belief that I do.” 

If the Bills think Rosen’s the best, it will cost them plenty to have a shot at picking him. They would likely have to trade all the way up to the Giants’ No. 2 pick, and the Giants could probably name their price. At the very least, it would be Buffalo’s two first-round picks and a second-rounder this year, maybe both second-rounders. Or, it might be both firsts this year and the Bills’ first-rounder in 2019.

Like his confidence, Rosen’s ability has rarely been questioned, and he’s had an abundance of both dating back to his storied high school career in California, where he went 16-0 as a starter and led St. John Bosco to a MaxPreps national championship. Where the lines have gotten blurred in the evaluation of Rosen is the way he has carried himself away from the field.

Are there red flags?

For some reason, his outspoken nature has generated a perception that he has a bad attitude and he’s a personality risk for an NFL team. Odder still, the fact that Rosen grew up in a well-to-do household in Manhattan Beach has led some scouts to question his desire to play football, believing him to be a silver-spoon kid who will eventually grow bored and not be in it for the long haul. Bills fans may have flashbacks to Rob Johnson.

“There are red flags in that you have to try and figure out: if you can coach him, if he’s coachable, and what kind of teammate he is,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said when he released his third mock draft the first week of March and dropped Rosen down to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 15, meaning past the Bills at their current 12th position. “And does he need football and love football? There are some teams that believe in him, and there are some teams that are very hesitant.”

Some of the trepidation about Rosen may have stemmed from an interview last fall with Bleacher Report. “I want to get my MBA. I want to create my own business,” he said. “When I’m finished with football, I want a seamless transition to life and work and what I’ve dreamed about doing all my life. I want to own the world. Every young person should be able to have that dream and the ability to access it. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

The fact that he was already thinking about life after football before ever playing a down in the NFL raised the red flags McShay referenced. But to make the leap that because he didn’t mention football in his future dreams, he somehow lacks passion for the game, is probably unfair.

Rosen knows what has been said, and he gladly addressed this issue at the combine.

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“We all work our butt off,” Rosen said. “If we didn’t like football, no matter how talented we are, we wouldn’t be in the position that we all are in this week. I love football with all of my heart and soul. If I didn’t, I just don’t think I would’ve been able to make it through the grind of college.”

In grade school, Rosen was on track to become a world-class tennis player, but he gave up the sport and turned to football for one primary reason.

“Tennis gets pretty lonely. It’s an individual sport,” he said. “All of your friends are your enemies at the same time. It’s a really weird relationship, a complex dynamic.

"I enjoyed the team aspect of football. All of your friends, you’re going to war with. It’s unique. You get to play alongside your brothers each and every week. That’s ultimately what drew me to football over tennis.”

That doesn’t seem like a kid who isn’t going to be committed to hard work and being a good teammate.

Neither did this: “Football is an unbelievable team sport, and that’s what’s so cool about it is that I’m not playing exclusively for my own passions, I’m playing for all of my teammates. So it’s cool when you can throw a touchdown at the Rose Bowl and turn to the sideline and see 120 of your best friends jump in joy.”

UCLA career tainted by injuries

Josh Rosen of UCLA has been linked frequently to the Bills.

At UCLA, Rosen put up solid enough numbers — a 60.9 completion percentage, 9,340 yards passing and 59 touchdowns against 26 interceptions — but the Bruins never excelled in his three years (their best record was 8-5 his freshman year), and he battled injuries.

He played only six games in 2016 thanks to a shoulder injury that required surgery, and he missed some time in 2017 due to a pair of concussions.

“The problem I have with him is there is a durability issue,” said Mike Mayock of NFL Network. “The shoulder issue in ‘16, two concussions in ‘17, and when you combine that with an inability to escape from the pocket, I’m concerned. I’m concerned whether or not he can play enough games to make a significant dent in the NFL.”

No doubt that will give teams pause, but you must balance that with the eye test, and Rosen aces that one almost every time. It’s true, mobility is not an asset, but he has many of the other traits NFL teams are looking for: size (6-foot-4), which allows him to operate from the pocket; a strong arm capable of making all the throws required in the NFL; the pretty mechanics highlighted by his quick and compact delivery; and the smarts to understand the playbook, read defenses and make quick decisions.

“He’s as natural a thrower as I’ve seen since Sam Bradford,” said Mayock. “As far as Rosen is concerned, he's the best pure thrower, best pure passer I've seen in several years. I mean, he's on balance on every throw. He's accurate, short, intermediate and deep.”

Analytic grades are solid

The intermediate range is where he’s particularly sharp. ProFootballFocus gave him the highest grade in this draft class on throws in the 10- to 19-yard range. Its number-crunchers said he completed 71 of 117 passes for 1,308 yards with 11 TDs and 4 interceptions, and the bulk of that yardage came over the middle, prime real estate in the NFL. 

In its adjusted completion percentage metric, which subtracts dropped passes, throwaways and spikes, he ranked ninth in the class at 75.0 percent. Of the top four projected quarterbacks, only Mayfield is ahead of him, No. 1 at a remarkable 80.6 percent.

And perhaps most interesting, PFF ranks him third in adjusted under pressure completion percentage at 68.9, just ahead of Mayfield, meaning that while he’s not mobile, he can deal with the pass rush and avoid negative plays. He was sacked just 26 times on 489 dropbacks behind an average offensive line. 

The key for Rosen is his combination of being able to throw receivers open with good anticipation, and his ability to either zip it into a tight window or lay it over the linebackers with touch, a full-range arsenal that the best NFL quarterbacks must have.

If Sam Darnold is the safest quarterback pick, and Josh Allen the riskiest, Rosen may be the most tantalizing because he truly has the potential to be a star, especially if he ends up in the right system with the right coach.

The trick for him will be twofold: Convince teams that his talent will translate to the NFL, and that his personality isn’t nearly as acerbic as advertised.

“A lot of questions I get from teams are basically, ‘What’s your goal at the end of year one? What are you trying to accomplish?’” Rosen said. “My answer to that is to have my coach completely satisfied with what I’ve done. Whatever he asks me to do, I’m going to do that to the best of my ability. If he asks me to be a backup, I’m going to be the country’s best backup quarterback. I’m gonna support my starter through everything.

"It might be a rough relationship at the beginning because they see the dynamic, but I’m gonna do absolutely everything I can to help the team win. If they ask me to compete for the starting job, I’m gonna compete my butt off. Whatever the coach asks me to do, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”

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