Josh Rosen out of UCLA is now an Arizona Cardinal, after they traded up from the 15th pick in the NFL Draft to take him with the Raiders’ 10th. He was the fourth quarterback to be taken in this year’s draft, but he’s found himself in a situation perfectly suited for him. In a post-Palmer Cardinals team, Rosen only has to beat out Sam Bradford to own the QB1 spot. Undoubtedly, Josh has absolutely zero plans for waiting to start, however he might not even have to work that hard, given his competition’s relationship with the right side of his body. (Yeah, like literally half of his entire body.)
The battle for QB1 in Arizona therefore may be anticlimactic, as JR and IR fight for the starting role. But is Rosen ready?
Everyone seems to think so.
In case you fell asleep for the entire month of April, Josh Rosen has been billed as the most ‘pro-ready’ QB coming into the league. That in layman’s terms means he’s the player who requires the least work to fit into an NFL offense. What they meant by this is you can rely on him to make the throws when they’re open, he can usually read the field, and can sense pressure when he’s in the pocket etc, which is all true – but how well will he actually do when he makes the step up to the league?
First things first, you can’t talk about Josh Rosen without acknowledging that from a pure ability standpoint, he’s a damn good player. His ball placement can be absolutely unreal sometimes, and his ability to make the appropriate pass is inarguable. Nobody is denying that he can make every throw he could ever be asked to make. But will he make it when he has just one chance, in the big moments?
The Bruins QB loved the easy passes, and in the UCLA offense he had plenty of them, as there were more crossing routes on display than anything else, with a lot of action in between the hashes. Rosen absolutely loved his tight end Caleb Wilson, who was one of the primary targets, particularly over the middle. This relationship bodes well for the Cardinals’ TEs, who can expect a lot of love when they’ve got the rookie under centre. There are a few things which make the crossing patterns so effective for Rosen – the first being very simple, they are easy reads and effective throws against both zone and man coverage.
There are also more personal benefits to Josh himself throwing them; one of the things which separates Rosen from the average college signal-caller is his use of eye and body manipulation. He moves defenders with his shoulders and his eyes to give himself a bigger window to throw into, a piece for crossing patterns. He salso has a lethal pump fake, although I can’t imagine this being as effective against the veterans he’ll face during his NFL career.
There’s more to being a Quarterback than making the easy throws though, especially in the NFL. If you’re going to succeed, or at least tread water as a starter, you need to be able to make the plays which really matter. This is where opinions divide on #3. Let’s reiterate, once again, this kid is very talented, but there are some holes in his game which could put a target on his back in the eyes of the athletic defensive opposition he’ll be facing.
For a start, he needs to improve his ball security, as he can occasionally fumble for little to no reason. We’ve seen in the NFL a million times that a fumble can be the difference between winning or losing; sorry Pats fans. This is coachable though, so as long as he can make his throws, the rest should be fixable, right?
Rosen isn’t necessarily that weak, but his deep balls are not consistent – and arm strength isn’t something a coach can conjure up out of nowhere. It doesn’t help that this year we are comparing his arm talent to the likes of Josh Allen, who hit me in the back of the head with a football during the combine all the way in the U.K. Seriously though, Rosen’s biggest shortcoming is his tendency to play hero-ball, to try and make the highlight reel play when it’s not there, or occasionally (the one that will be most damning in the NFL) he will make his read slightly too late but throw it anyway.
If you want to see examples of him missing his windows and just throwing up a prayer, you can probably just watch any college game he ever played, but if you want to see why Rosen rubs people the wrong way, watch his game against Texas A&M last year. Rosen might be the luckiest QB I’ve ever seen. He threw up not one but two successful prayers directly into the jaws of the defense, and somehow came out with two Touchdowns. As a quarterback watching that game, it sickened me seeing him be rewarded for two horrendous decisions in the same game. On more than one occasion, he was bailed out by Edelman-esque tip-drill catches, where the receiver somehow comes up with what should have been an easy interception.
But that won’t happen in the NFL. If you throw a post too late against someone like Micah Hyde, he will eat you for breakfast. If you throw off-balance and undershoot your receiver, against any NFL team, it’s going the other way. For someone with a relatively weak arm, it’s an awfully bad habit to try and go for the hero play downfield too often.
Another thing that I find very hard to ignore is his visible struggle when facing up against a roaming safety over the top. If he sees [or doesn’t see] a 1-high look, it can sometimes really confuse him. He can occasionally get tunnel vision – this can obviously lead to some nasty interceptions if he doesn’t recognise a threat to the throw he is about to make. When he’s making half-field reads, for example when running a flood concept, he can often neglect the FS entirely and it can result in some avoidable picks. It is very hard to look in two places at once, but if you’re worthy of the 10th pick in the draft, you need to recognise the coverage before you start choosing where to put it. I wouldn’t expect to see too many deep throws built into the scheme in his rookie year, but Rosen isn’t shy of trying to reach his receivers if he thinks they’ve got leverage, and that’s when you have to pray that there isn’t another defender over the top reading his eyes.
Looking at his tape, it’s difficult to analyse him because some of his worst decisions work out for the best, so you must really pay attention to make sure you’re seeing what he doesn’t, and you can’t be afraid to mark him down for a play that resulted in a TD. My personal criticism is not that he makes inherently bad decisions, but that he locks in too much on what he wants the defense to give him, not what is actually on offer (as I mentioned with the single-high Free Safety). It’s very important, therefore, to note that Rosen is a pocket passer. He is probably the least athletic QB who went in the first round, and so he really lives and dies by his reads – which need to stay consistent no matter what the situation is, and against whatever coverages the opposing DC can conjure up for him.
In the NFL, it’s not just a ‘look, the cornerback has outside leverage, he’s probably in cover three’ – it’s more of a, ‘the cornerback wants me to think he’s in a cover three, so I need to watch for a safety rotation to verify that, and if the safeties don’t rotate I need to prepare to make a quick read over the middle against the cover two.’ When the defenders are as athletic as they are in the NFL, they don’t need to stand anywhere specific to make it to there assignment. These reads are a lot harder to make quickly, especially if the coverage is asymmetrical (every young QB’s nightmare), and so this adds a lot of pressure to what should be a quick and easy decision.
Speaking of pressure; one upside for the Cardinals is that Rosen is more than used to operating behind a mediocre O-Line, which could be helpful, even though the Arizona front five is looking to be stronger this year than it was in the 2017 season. His love of crossing routes and simple reads on first and second downs sets him up perfectly for an offense where he wants to get the ball out fast, and he can keep his team moving forwards very efficiently when he’s rolling. He is a true rhythm-based passer, who loves to throw from a three-step-drop and is potentially the best prospect coming into the league this year in terms of pure footwork and rhythm. Mike McCoy’s offense over the next two seasons will be making a lot of use of these quicker passes, with plenty of checkdowns.
And, of course – it’s impossible to talk about the newly appointed coordinator’s system without mentioning the main weapon around which he will be building. Yes, Josh Rosen may represent their shiny new rims, but David Johnson is the engine of this team. The twenty-six year old half back is returning from his wrist injury, which removed him from the equation last year in week one, and he’s hungry to return to form. DJ is looking to emulate his 2,000-yard season the year prior. He’s an incredibly talented running back who’ll be getting double digit carries and putting up rushing numbers with ease. However, that’s not what I’m excited to see. In his 2016 season, 879 of the 2,118 total yards came through the air on 80 receptions. Yes, he got 80 receptions. Let’s break those numbers down. Johnson is targeted more than the average receiver, (he literally only had 3 less catches than Julio Jones in 2016) and he turns those catches into 11 yards per reception. That production is terrifying.
I just threw a lot of numbers at you, so I’ll paraphrase that. Johnson, one of the best backs in the league, is going to absolutely demolish defenses through the air, and on the ground. That not only makes the overall offense succeed, it will make it much easier for the rookie to build and maintain longer drives. If you can dump off a pass to a running back who not only has better hands than every receiver you’ve ever thrown to at college, but who literally averages a first down on every single reception, it seems impossible to fail.
It definitely isn’t impossible to fail, though, you’ll be able to ask Sam Bradford about that in November.
Overall, I think the Cardinals made a great pick. They don’t need a rushing QB when they have a top five back stood behind him, and they don’t need someone who can throw the ball seventy yards when they have Larry Fitzgerald bailing him out for another year. They wanted a player who would walk up day one with confidence and challenge Bradford for the starting job. They need someone who can stand in the pocket, navigate it behind their work-in-progress O-line, and pass the ball to whoever is open. I think Rosen fits that mould perfectly.
They got their guy, and now I’m very excited to see how he does in the league. It might not be pretty, but it’ll be fun to watch. Rosen has found himself in a perfect situation for himself; he has two absolute cheat codes on his team in Fitz and DJ, so all he has to do is put the ball in their catch radius, tone down the hero-ball, and grow into his new role. If he can iron out some of the creases and make use of the weapons he has, the UCLA prospect could turn into a damn good NFL player.
If you’re a Cardinals fan, I don’t envy you having to watch as an injury-prone Bradford fights off an overconfident rookie – but at least they’re throwing it to an amazing wide receiver, for now.