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Why Josh Rosen was worth the hype for the Arizona Cardinals

A QB coach explains how the UCLA star makes the most of his surroundings.

Arizona v UCLA Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Even after missing the second half of UCLA’s 2016, junior Josh Rosen wass poised to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. He ended up as the fourth quarterback off the board, going No. 10 to the Arizona Cardinals.

Here’s a look at Rosen from a year before he ended up as the fourth quarterback off the board, going No. 10 to the Arizona Cardinals:


The former No. 1 pro-style QB recruit is deadly accurate, can go through his progressions, and he once smuggled a hot tub into his dorm room. If that’s not the makeup of a top quarterback, I don’t know what is.

Of course, some people don’t see the hot tub incident as much of a positive as I do. Some say smuggling a hot tub into your room is a sign of immaturity. I don’t know Josh personally; therefore I don’t know his motives. But I’ve always dreamed about having a hot tub in my apartment. This guy did it, so I tip my hat to you, my brother.

One NFL scout called him a “mess off the field,” perhaps because one time, he rearranged a neighbor's lawn ornaments into “sexually suggestive positions.” Again, another cool move. One time, I rearranged my friend’s fridge magnet letters into sexually suggestive words, so Josh and I must be kindred spirits. Maybe one day, we can give the “mess off the field” tag to the kids who are committing “sexually suggestive crimes,” rather than to the kids doing dumb, harmless stuff.

On to Josh Rosen, the quarterback.

One of the things that stands out is how clean his mechanics are. He has close to what I would call the ideal throwing motion. This is one of the traits his Los Angeles comrade and fellow top-10 quarterback, USC’s Sam Darnold, doesn’t have (Darnold went No. 3 to the Jets).

First, look at how high his elbow gets. He’s causing zero stress on his shoulder blade, and that’s good.

He “slashes” a bit on his follow through, meaning his arm comes a little bit across his body after he releases, but that’s normal. No one is going to have a straight up-and-down motion with the elbow starting from that good of a position.

We see Darnold’s elbow is much closer to his head, so he ends up going almost straight down. So yes, it looks better than the slashing motion of Rosen, but I feel like he’s causing more stress on that shoulder.

Darnold is more a baseball pitcher. We can also see Darnold has a lean to the left that Rosen does not. We want to keep our spine pretty straight during the whole process.

They could both load their back legs a little more, meaning they could start pushing off their back legs with a little more force and knee bend. When it comes to follow-through, Rosen’s back leg is always coming forward. Darnold’s leg is going left before it straightens out. This is all in the hips. Darnold’s hips are locking and they can’t rotate, so the leg kicks out behind. Rosen’s hips are fluid.

Just because I’m more critical of Darnold’s doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s a good quarterback. I think he’s special and worthy of all the praise he’s getting. Darnold doesn’t have horrible mechanics. He’s certainly not Patrick Mahomes when he was at Texas Tech. It’s just that Rosen’s are that nice.

Because Rosen’s mechanics are that good, he gets nice spin on the ball even from awkward angles

He can still get off a nice throw, even though he’s falling down.

This is important, because quarterbacks don’t live in an ideal world. The pocket is never going to be perfect. We’re always going to have bodies around us, so we need to be able to throw from weird angles while keeping mechanics intact. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best at this.

Falling away from his target with a blitzer in his face, he still gets it to his receiver with a tight spiral, albeit a little low.

This one is awesome. He bobbles the snap, has to look down to pick the ball up, and throws a strike with a man putting him off balance.

How’d he do against decent defenses?

Rosen missed a lot of time to injury last season, but when he was healthy, he did play Texas A&M (pass defense in S&P+: 60th) and Stanford (26th), who were led by two of the top three draft picks, so we can look at those two games. He had one of the better games anybody had against Stanford, with his 156 passer rating against the Cardinal topping No. 2 pick Mitchell Trubisky’s 126, while his 343-yard day at A&M was hurt by two late turnovers.

The first thing I noticed was how often UCLA rolled him out and had him make sideline throws. He’s super accurate on the run.

He throws the sideline comeback well on the move. Defenses generally give you that route because it’s a hard throw that needs to be accurate. You throw that bad boy a little too inside, and you’re chasing the cornerback to your own end zone. Rosen hit these consistently.

A tight split by the receiver to the bottom of the screen means space to work back to the sideline after the play-action fake. The corner, No. 23, is in a zone turn, meaning he’s facing inside and to the QB, so he’s going to have a tough time covering that route. He has to either roll over the top and lose track of the receiver or hit the brakes and swing open his right leg to drive on the route. Either way it’s tough, and this route is almost designed to get open vs. this cornerback technique. Rosen also puts it in a great spot.

This one shows more of an off balance throw on the run, because Rosen realizes he’s being chased from the backside. He’s a little high, but it’s still a really good throw.

Here we see him make a sideline throw from the pocket on this rounded sail route. The coverage is soft, and even though the cornerback is facing the receiver, Rosen delivers accurately from the opposite hash while under pressure. Defenses dare college quarterbacks to make that throw, and Rosen can.

He often shows great timing and is able to move through his progressions

This isn’t the most difficult throw. It’s just a hitch route against an off corner, but we see Rosen ready to throw right when he finishes his five-step drop. This hitch is his first read, and he likes the matchup. If not, he could finish his drop and come back to the top side of the screen. If we can throw to our primary receiver, why not, right?

If we can’t, we have to reset our eyes and our feet and look elsewhere. Here, you see the same five-step drop, with Rosen looking at his backside receiver. The coverage is different, so he doesn’t want to throw there. There’s a press corner with a weak safety lurking over top, so instead, when he finishes his drop, he shifts his eyes to the strong side, hitching his feet forward to align himself. Another accurate throw in the seam right off that hitch step.

This is another accurate throw off a hitch step. I believe the hitch is part of the whole dropback, rather than him hitching to go to another read. He hitches to throw either what I’m assuming is an off-screen deep route or, if the safety stays over top, to the deep crossing route. He chooses the latter. Great throw.

Rosen has a curl/flat concept to the field side (the side with more grass between the ball and the sideline) and a sort of shallow cross/drive concept on the short side. Pre-snap, he sees the defense is playing one safety deep, and he knows curl/flat beats one-high-safety defenses, so he looks there right away.

He wants to throw to his receiver, but No. 10 gets in the throwing window, so he moves his eyes toward the other linebacker, No. 44. UCLA has a dig route over that linebacker and shallow cross by the running back underneath him. No. 44 shoots up on the running back, allowing Rosen to hit the dig for a first down.

The tight end is wide open, so it’s an easy pitch-and-catch, but I like the composure he shows to get to that progression. He has a post/wheel concept to the left side of the screen. Post/wheel is great against one-deep-safety defenses, which we have here. It’s especially great against Cover 3 teams (three-deep pass defenders), because the cornerback is going to jump on the post route, leaving the wheel wide open. Quarterbacks think this is going to be a touchdown any time they get to run it.

Unfortunately, it’s not there. It ends up being more of a Cover 1 look, so the “flat” defender picks up the wheel. Rosen can’t go to either the post or the wheel. This is why post/wheel is usually paired with an underneath route, because if both vertical routes are covered, there’s going to be a void. Rosen goes through his reads for a big gain.

Rosen doesn’t make a lot of egregiously bad decisions

I picked three “bad” throws to highlight some stuff:

The read here is fine. Because it’s man coverage, he can either throw the in-breaking route to the middle slot or the out-breaking route to the inside slot. He decides to throw to the outside because he’s not sure if a linebacker’s lurking inside. It’s a good decision; the throw under pressure from Myles Garrett is just bad. His outside receiver decides to start coming inside, which pulls the corner inside also, and instead of just being an incompletion, it’s almost a pick.

Throwing the ball into double coverage is no bueno. I wish I had a better view of how the routes developed, because I don’t know why Rosen is throwing the post if the safety is over top of it. It’s not a good decision, and he should probably check down to the running back. My issue is that I hate using only two receivers in the pattern.

Yes, there’s a checkdown receiver, but young quarterbacks have trouble getting to that checkdown often. They want to make plays, which leads me to my next point.

Excuse me while I get on my soap box.

*clears throat*

We have this dilemma when we coach quarterbacks.

On the one hand, we tell them to go out and make plays. “Be a goshdarn playmaker out there!”

On the other hand, we tell them, “If the play isn’t there, TAKE A SACK OR THROW IT AWAY.”

This is a bad play. I’m not saying it’s a good play, but I get that the kid is trying to make plays for his team. I hate when people say the quarterback tried to do too much. If you want to mold a good football player, you’re going to have to live with some bad plays. This is one of them.

The kid is a baller. It will be interesting to see how he comes back after the injury, but if his play is anywhere close to what it was the last two seasons, he could be the best quarterback taken in the draft.