Analyzing the tape of college football's best players... and the NFL's future stars.

Futures: Josh Rosen

Futures: Josh Rosen
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Derrik Klassen

Josh Rosen was destined to be a top-10 pick the moment he stepped onto the national stage. As a true freshman at UCLA, Rosen earned the nod as the starting quarterback for the season opener versus Virginia. Given his five-star recruit status, Rosen was burdened with lofty expectations heading into his debut. Those expectations were shattered immediately. Rosen dominated in his first outing, completing 28 of 35 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns. It was the type of debut performance that defines a superstar quarterback, not unlike Jameis Winston's first college start versus Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, Rosen's journey from that point on has not been as smooth. Rosen battled concussion issues throughout his time at UCLA, in addition to a season-ending shoulder injury halfway through his sophomore year. UCLA's offensive coordinator position was also a carousel over the course of Rosen's three seasons, with Rosen playing under Noel Mazzone, Ken Polamalu, and Jedd Fisch. The West Coast roots shared by Polamalu and Fisch helped the transition between those two seasons, but Rosen was never able to fully invest himself within one scheme, instead having to constantly crash-course a new one. Despite the many obstacles, Rosen showed resilience and adaptability throughout his career, allowing him to showcase his top-tier NFL traits no matter the circumstance.

Across Rosen's film catalog, one area of strength stands out consistently: accuracy to the intermediate area of the field. Rosen possesses plenty of arm strength to fit the ball into tight windows to the most difficult and unforgiving section of the field. It is not just arm strength that gives Rosen an edge, though. Rosen maximizes his arm strength with high-level anticipation and careful touch.


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Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch goes with an all-or-nothing play call in this example. UCLA is running a double posts (a.k.a. Dino) concept to the open side of the field against a one-high coverage shell. The defense has five players lined up on the line of scrimmage, indicating to Rosen that pressure will arrive sooner rather than later. With that in mind, Rosen knows he must get the ball out decisively.

Rosen recognizes the deep safety playing his assignment shaded to the open side of the field. Unless the safety plays the route combination perfectly, the inside post player should be able to work free underneath the deep safety. Rosen keys the deep safety as he executes a five-step drop. Upon finishing the drop, Rosen has to make the decision of whether or not to throw, or else hold the ball too long and take the sack.

Rosen fires in harmony with the inside receiver's route break. The ball hits the receiver in the chest before the cornerback from the opposite side of the field can make his way over, resulting in a completed pass and a UCLA touchdown.

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Here is Rosen showing off arm strength and decisiveness again, this time to convert third-and-8 on a sail route in between two defenders. Any trigger delay or drop in velocity from Rosen and this ball hits the ground, forcing the Bruins off the field. Rosen had to masterfully blend timing, arm strength, and placement for this play to work. Throws like this one will become more common and expected in the NFL, and Rosen has the tools to adapt.

Plays do not always have to be flashy in order to highlight NFL traits, though. Seemingly minor nuances can make or break quarterback prospects. For Rosen, adapting to coverage changes and remaining on schedule comes with ease.

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This is the first of back-to-back plays from a UCLA drive early in the game versus Arizona. UCLA is running a simple spot concept -- a staple of West Coast offenses. Arizona's defense shows a two-high coverage shell with four base pass rushers, likely indicating Cover-2 or Quarters (Cover-4).

Rosen begins his progression by looking to the flat, but notices the nickel player follow the fullback to that area. In response, Rosen quickly redirects his attention to the spot route in the area the nickel player vacated and tosses an easy completion.


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Same spot concept, same formation. However, Arizona tweaks their coverage this time around. Arizona sends the weak-side cornerback on a blitz and leaves the safety 1-on-1. That change is ultimately inconsequential, but Arizona's nickel player to the play side also plays a different technique. Rather than sprint to the flat with the fullback, the nickel player hangs around inside for the spot route. Rosen again begins the progression with the fullback and wastes no time in throwing to him as the nickel defender pauses for the spot route. The right adjustment does not net Rosen anything in this scenario, but consistently executing in similar situations will help Rosen moving forward.

Generally speaking, Rosen is an impressive decision-maker who leaves precious few yards on the field. Rosen is not one to leave the pocket too early or freeze on an early read. Where Rosen falters is when he chooses to abandon his calculations. Dashes of Patrick Mahomes are sprinkled throughout Rosen's film. Rosen, like Mahomes, too often trusts himself to complete a throw that is not open and makes easily avoidable mistakes.

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Rosen is too quick at the trigger for the pressure to generate a sack, but Rosen gives up a far worse play instead. Arizona attempts to bring down Rosen with a fire zone blitz. Rosen tries to read the flood concept on the front side of the play before working across to a smash concept on the back side. Rosen does not appear to trust any of his receivers one-on-one on the front side, which in itself is not necessarily bad, but Rosen misfires afterwards. Rather than escape the pocket or find a checkdown, Rosen stands pat and tosses a pass toward the back of the end zone as a defensive tackle forces the left guard into his lap. The disruption forces Rosen's platform to be off balance and result in a less-than-ideal throw, allowing the cornerback to swoop in for a gift of an interception.

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At worst, an offense should be expecting a field goal by the end of a drive if the ball is being snapped inside the red zone. Quarterbacks can not squander opportunities at points, especially when points are at more of a premium in the NFL than they are in the Pac-12.

In fairness to Rosen, a good portion of his head-scratching mistakes were a result of UCLA's defense forcing the offense into shootout mode, similar to what Mahomes dealt with at Texas Tech. Rosen can make all the necessary throws to dig his team out of deficits, but he will need to cut out throws like the one above in order to do so consistently.

Comparing Josh Rosen to Jameis Winston and Patrick Mahomes says more about Rosen's brand of quarterbacking than anything. Rosen is an uber-talented passer with an impressive football acumen and rock-solid foundation for top-notch quarterback play. The binds of Rosen's aggression and ability to remain level-headed will define his professional career. Rosen could take the path of Matt Ryan, who flipped a turnover-prone college career into an efficient and consistent NFL livelihood. Conversely, Rosen could stroll down the path of Winston: a path that hints at special quarterback play, but fails to unlock it to its fullest potential.


3 comments, Last at 26 Mar 2018, 12:46pm

1 Re: Futures: Josh Rosen

Matt Ryan or Jameis Winston as highs and lows are pretty good career tracks.

With Rosen I feel like his floor is easily the highest in this class as he's such a good passer. He and Darnold are the 1-2 punch of high floor, questionable ceiling.

3 Re: Futures: Josh Rosen

He didn't face many good college defenses in 2017 compared to the other top NFL draft QB candidates (well you can say that about Josh Allen too). The only top 10 defense he faced last year was Washington's. In that game, he finished with a 4.4 yds/att, was sacked 4 times and was mercy-pulled in the third Q.

I'm not sold on him.