When the calendar flips to March in the NFL, we move firmly into “lying season.” This is the time of year when trial balloons are floated, rumors circulate like wildfire and every single team is in the market for every single player. Now, bearing in mind that most organizations have yet to even come close to finalizing their draft boards, the stories that swirl during this time of year keep fans buzzing and writers employed.
Right now the biggest rumor in the NFL world involves incoming quarterback Kyler Murray. Depending on who you listen to, Murray to the Arizona Cardinals with the first overall selection is all but a “done deal.” Which is interesting, given that last season the Cardinals drafted Josh Rosen with the tenth overall selection. Such a move would make the second-year quarterback available, and if you believe the latest scuttlebutt, Rosen would fetch only a third round selection in return.
Well, at least one team has three such selections on Day Two…
Would Rosen make sense for the New England Patriots? To answer this question it is important to look at both Rosen as a prospect and Rosen as a rookie.
Rosen the Prospect
Before diving into this topic it might make sense for an introduction of sorts. This is something that probably should have been done in the first piece written for Pats Pulpit, covering Nick Mullens, but better late than never. For those who have absolutely no idea who I am — likely many — I’m an ex-lawyer turned sportswriter, who focuses on quarterback study and offensive scheme analysis. For the past few years I’ve written for places like Inside the Pylon, the Washington Post, Pro Football Weekly, the Score, Big Blue View here on SB Nation, and I’ve been hosting the Locked On Patriots podcast for two seasons. Why do I focus on quarterbacks? After playing the position for 13 years, including four (poorly) in college, and studying it over at the Scouting Academy, it’s the one position I probably know best.
Having tried to establish some bona fides here at the Pulpit, let’s revisit Rosen the prospect. For purposes of full disclosure it is important to highlight that last year, the UCLA product was my top quarterback in the draft. If you want to read more on my rankings from a year ago, you can check them out here on Inside the Pylon.
As you can see, I was rather high on Rosen coming out. I viewed him as a schematically-diverse quarterback, with the ability to run any system and be almost “plug and play” in any different offense. I valued his mental approach to the game, and his ability to show good processing speed in the post-snap phase of a play - particularly when the defense shows him a different look than what he expected pre-snap - is something that is difficult for younger quarterback to pick up. So his prowess in that area was an important box to check. For a more involved look at Rosen the prospect, and how I viewed him, you can check out this 18-minute video I put together on him.
Now like with all young quarterbacks, there were flaws to his game. Much of the negative energy swirling around Rosen stemmed from off-the-field concerns. Whether it was his injury history, his attitude on the sidelines or at the podium during press conferences, his interests “away from football,” or the fact that he was “just using football to make money,” it seemed that the proverbial “attitude” issues and “character” concerns were his red flags. Even those in his corner seemed to struggle when defending him. Prior to the draft one of his former coaches, Jim Mora, described Rosen as a “millennial” who needed to be handled a bit differently. In the realm of professional football, sometimes that does not fly with those members of the old school.
But there were also on-the-field concerns. Rosen lacked the athleticism of some of the other quarterbacks in his class, such as Sam Darnold and Josh Allen. Escaping the pocket to extend plays is not his strong suit, and given his tennis background he would need to rely on footwork and quickness in the pocket to create space and avoid pressure. Modeling his game after Tom Brady, for example, was a proper path for him in my mind. Rosen also threw a big number of interceptions his final season at UCLA, and if you break those down you saw some poorly-placed throws, as well as some instances where he and his receivers were not on the same page. Was that on his teammates...or on him?
Still, I found enough to put him atop my board.
Rosen the Rookie
If you dig hard enough you can find takes of mine post-draft where I argue that the pairing of Rosen with Mike McCoy was a perfect marriage of offensive coordinator and rookie quarterback.
I know, I’m not exactly making the best case for agreeing with my work, but yeah...I missed on that one.
Arizona began the 2018-2019 season with the veteran Sam Bradford as the starting quarterback, and it was clear pretty quickly that he was not the best option for the Cardinals as their QB. In stepped Rosen to make his first start in Week 4, against the Seattle Seahawks. For my money, that was one of his more impressive outings during a difficult rookie season.
Take, for example, his first touchdown pass to Chad Williams (#10):
This is a maximum protection, two-receiver concept with both Larry Fitzgerald (#11) and Williams running crossing routes. Fitzgerald comes underneath while Williams goes over the top. The primary receiver on this play is Fitzgerald, and the offense is hoping that play-action in the backfield draws the linebackers down toward the line of scrimmage, freeing up the intermediate route to Fitzgerald.
Two of the linebackers, Barkevious Mingo (#51) and Bobby Wagner (#54) serve as the proverbial flies in the ointment on this scoring play. While they both crash down initially, each makes a quick retreat into his underneath zone, taking away the throwing lane on the dig route to Fitzgerald. Rosen (#3) then looks to the other option, Williams, as he crosses into the red zone. But now the QB needs to worry about free safety Earl Thomas (#29) in the middle of the field, so he puts this throw to the outside and away from the safety. Not only is the processing speed great here from Rosen, but the movement in the pocket is as well.
You could make the case that Rosen’s best throw of his rookie year camin in this game. During the start to his NFL career the young quarterback seemed to be developing a great relationship with tight end Ricky Seals-Jones (#86). Watch the connection between those two on this out pattern toward the left sideline:
This is a prime example of “NFL open.” Seals-Jones has a step on Wagner, and while the linebacker is in good position this is a throw that quarterbacks need to make to not only extend drives, but extend their careers. When watching it on the broadcast replay angle, the throw is even more impressive:
This is a perfect throw from Rosen and as Mark Schlereth points out in the booth, “you can’t throw it better than that.” The pass is delivered with enough touch to get it over Wagner, but with enough velocity to arrive before the safety can make a break on Seals-Jones. A truly impressive pass.
As stated earlier Rosen’s mental makeup was a big reason I was so high on him coming out of UCLA. As discussed with Nick Mullens, the ability to move defenders with your eyes is essential to playing the quarterback position...and playing it well. Early in Rosen’s Week 11 game against the Oakland Raiders he threw a bad interception on Arizona’s first possession. He came back and led a scoring drive on their ensuing possession, one he capped off with this beautiful touchdown strike to Fitzgerald:
Rosen opens his eyes and his feet to the right here, away from Fitzgerald who is aligned as the slot receiver. This full body manipulation freezes the safety in the middle of the field, giving Rosen and Fitzgerald an opportunity to connect on the seam from the slot. The rookie QB then delivers a perfect strike, with precision placement and more than enough velocity to prevent the safety from making a play on the football.
It might remind some of this throw from Brady last season:
Unfortunately for Rosen, some failures down stretch might be a big contributor to the current discussion. After what some termed a “historic” victory for the Cardinals in Week 13 at Lambeau Field, Arizona and their rookie quarterback hit more than a few speed bumps. Rosen struggled in Week 14 against the Detroit Lions, completing 26 of 41 passes for 240 yards and an interception. He threw two interceptions in a Week 15 loss against the Atlanta Falcons, and he was pulled at the end of that game, as well as at the end of a Week 16 outing against the Los Angeles Chargers. In the season finale against the Seahawks, Rosen was sacked six times, losing the football on two such occasions. He also took a perplexing sack near the end of the first half, when the Cardinals were out of timeouts (although he was pressured quickly on the play). In short, down the stretch Rosen really struggled, which might be part of the reason for the trade rumors, given the strength of recency bias.
But in that Green Bay game, we saw flashes of what he can do in the league. Back in Week 13 the Packers were 4-6-1, fighting for their playoff lives and wondering about the fate of head coach Mike McCarthy. But Rosen in that game, against Aaron Rodgers and the elements, was impressive, particularly on third down situations. In the first quarter he worked a full-field read on a Sticks concept to move the chains on this 3rd and 9 situation:
Later in the first half Rosen again converts a third and long, showing brilliant mental processing:
On this play the Packers disguise their coverage well, but right as the play begins they rotate into a Tampa 2 coverage, with the “middle of the field open.” Rosen knows exactly what to do with the football, snapping his eyes to the middle of the field and finding Fitzgerald in front of the retreating linebacker to move the chains.
A few minutes later, Rosen again converted a third down, hitting Trent Sherfield (#16) with this beautifully placed post route:
Finally, late in the fourth quarter the Cardinals faced a 3rd and 23 deep in their own territory, with just over four minutes remaining in a tied game. Rosen was forced out of the pocket and he shows an ability to create here in a scramble drill situations, finding Fitzgerald deep near the right sideline to again convert a huge third and long:
The Cardinals would finish the drive with a field goal to take the lead for good, and McCarthy would be fired shortly after the game.
Making the Call
Now, is the body of work sufficient to make a move for Rosen? I would argue that it is. From what he showed at UCLA through his turbulent rookie season, Rosen has displayed the traits that you often seek in a quarterback: Mental processing, accuracy, competitive toughness, ball placement, manipulation and anticipation as a passer. Were there struggles? Of course. But many rookie quarterbacks struggle, and Rosen is no different. When viewed with context, given the talent in place in Arizona, some of his failures make more sense.
Are there areas where he needs to improve? Of course. He will need to be faster with his reads, he will need to take better care of the football, both in the pocket and with his decision making. However, there is no reason to believe that these development cannot occur for him, provided he is in the right environment.
Let’s not forget, Rosen has been through a number of different offensive systems since his college days. UCLA ran two different offenses while he was in school, first a spread-based offense and later a more “pro-style” system with him featured more under center. Then as a rookie he played for two different offensive coordinators. More than anything else, some stability in terms of coaching and scheme would do him a world of good.
Whether the Patriots would even be interested in Rosen is another question. There were rumblings last season that New England was not high on the UCLA QB, reasons relating more to off-the-field issues than anything else. But if the asking price is only a third round pick - provide you believe those stories - then New England should at least explore the opportunity. Especially when you consider the associated cost: Rosen’s contract is extremely team-friendly over the course of the deal, given the rookie salary structure. Given that rookie quarterbacks are perhaps the biggest competitive advantage available to a team (outside of having Brady as your starting quarterback) the numbers also work in New England’s favor.
Finally, consider the 2019 quarterback class itself. While players like Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock likely hear their names called in the first round, this group is viewed by many as a weak draft group. Daniel Jones to the Patriots late in the first round is one such rumor swirling around, and some (such as Mel Kiper) have mocked the Duke University QB to New England with that 32nd overall selection. But if the choice is Jones at 32 or Rosen for a third-round pick, or even a second, is anyone passing up the QB with one year of starting experience in the NFL?
Rumors of Rosen to New England have been swirling for over a year now, and given that this is the lying season, they might remain just that: Rumors. But if the QB is truly available, he might be the best option for the Patriots to address the quarterback position behind Brady this offseason has to offer.