Sam Darnold turned the ball over 22 times this past season. Josh Allen completed 56 percent of his passes. Baker Mayfield was tackled by a police officer after trying to run from law enforcement.
But when NFL teams look at those quarterbacks, they see problems that can be fixed. On-field decision-making and accuracy and off-field discipline that can be taught and monitored.
When they look at the last of the Big Four quarterbacks in this year’s NFL draft, though, they see a question that might not be so easily answered, a potential flaw not so easily brushed aside.
Does Josh Rosen love football?
That question hangs over every team with a need at quarterback right now. They’ve spent months trying to answer it—digging in on the talented but polarizing UCLA star’s background, mental wiring and character.
And what have they found?
Bleacher Report spent the past month doing our own investigation into the investigation, so to speak, asking scouts, coaches and executives what conclusions they’ve reached. We also channeled our inner Rosen, asking those NFL decision-makers: Why does this question matter so much, and what does it even mean?
“You try to talk to [the player] about the nuances of the position,” one scout said when asked how and why he attempts to determine if a prospect loves football. “Does he want to work at it? Not just during the season, but what’s he going to do all offseason?”
In other words, teams want a player, and especially a quarterback, to be personally invested enough that they know he’ll do what it takes to better himself as a professional.
Gregory Payan/Associated Press
“NFL players are smart,” one NFL coach said. “They’ll figure out real early if he wants to put in the work or not. That’s what we mean by, ‘Does he love ball?’ Is he going to be the guy working his ass off to get better?”
Rosen played at a high level at UCLA. He battled through injuries, and his work ethic was never questioned. But the knock on him, from some, has been that his expressed interests in Wall Street and things not football might keep him from improving as a quarterback. Of course, no one said that when Andrew Luck was carting around books about the history of concrete. But, for instance, scouts did love that Carson Wentz and Mitchell Trubisky had few interests outside of football and hunting.
They didn’t wear a “F–k Trump” hat to one of the then-presidential candidate’s golf courses. They didn’t pose for a picture in a hot tub they’d installed in their dorm room. They didn’t blast UCLA and the NCAA after the Bruins signed a marketing deal with Under Armour.
So teams have to ask themselves, Does he care more about those types of things than he does football?
Said one executive, “That’s all funny when you’re not getting 50 people fired if you miss on a quarterback. The last thing we need is the face of our team tweeting about the president when we’re on a losing streak.”
It’s not a new concern with Rosen. In fact, in a summer 2017 interview with B/R, he even addressed it, saying, “If I didn’t love the game, I wouldn’t be out here getting my ass kicked.”
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
And that’s something echoed often when you ask NFL insiders about Rosen. Watch UCLA play, said one coach, and count how many free hits defenders get on Rosen. A guy who gets dropped in the dirt like that but keeps getting up, plays hurt and has a competitive edge about him? That looks like a guy who loves what he’s doing.
But where some see a mature-beyond-his-years freethinker who will fit in perfectly with the veterans in a locker room, others see a problem child. Some scouts call him entitled and spoiled.
“Is he a douchebag? Probably, but so is Aaron Rodgers and he’s done OK,” said one scout.
And that’s a common thought from evaluators: Rodgers isn’t the easiest person to get along with, but he wins, so his teammates respect him and it works.
Said another scout, “You’re telling me Tom Brady doesn’t care about the stock market or have interests off the field? As long as he’s willing to work, who cares?”
That’s another positive for Rosen if he can, like Brady, compartmentalize and have his off-field interests but still be the first guy into the building every day.
But what about Cutler? Where do those comparisons come from? “Turn on a bad game of his and watch his body language after an interception,” one coach said. “He pouts and points fingers. That won’t fly from a rookie.”
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
Again, though, does he win? And shouldn’t it matter how his teammates see him, since they’ll be the ones spending every day with him in-season?
Sources within the UCLA program praised Rosen’s attention to detail. Former teammates we spoke with who asked not to be named said it might have taken a while to warm up to Rosen, but “by the end of this last year, we loved the guy.”
And that matches with what one senior-level executive for an NFC team told me.
Rosen has never been arrested. He’s never been suspended. He’s never failed a drug test. During an appearance on the Herd with Colin Cowherd podcast, John Middlekauff of The Athletic reported Rosen scored a 29 on the famed Wonderlic test, per Jordan Heck of the Sporting News. In an age when the spotlight has fallen on players’ off-field misdeeds, why does Rosen get knocked for a clean background?
“It’s unfair to say he has character problems or to lump all character problems in together,” one scout said. “This isn’t Joe Mixon we’re talking about.”
But then the scout adds the caveat at the heart of this all: “But is he uncoachable? Probably for some.”
Uncoachable is a word associated with Rosen dating back to his time in high school at the Elite 11 camps. There, the story goes, Rosen didn’t take to the coaching methods of former NFL quarterback and camp head Trent Dilfer. In a documentary about the camp, Dilfer is heard asking if Rosen “thinks he knows more than us.” Rosen finished dead-last—11th—when the camp counselors ranked the quarterbacks at the end of the week.
Should we judge a man by how he acted as an 18-year-old? Is that predictive of how he’ll be in the pros? Perhaps…if the same characteristics persist in his game.
“At the end of the day, your teammates will like you if you win,” one scout said. “Period.”
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
On the field, Rosen can get lost in trying to be a hero. He tries to make throws that are late, which results in interceptions or passes batted down at the line of scrimmage—both of which are concerning. He’s also not the athlete Mayfield, Allen or Darnold are in terms of pocket mobility.
One scout said we might be missing the forest for the trees.
Injuries have been an issue for Rosen. As a freshman, he stayed off the injury report, but as a sophomore, he played in just six games before a shoulder injury that required minor surgery shut him down. Coming back as a junior in 2017, Rosen missed two games after suffering two concussions. Those issues, more than any perceived character problems, might precipitate a draft-night drop.
A slight-framed, injury-prone quarterback who can’t move in the pocket? That scares teams.
But scouting is looking at the trees and understanding the forest.
Rosen has his warts—as does every quarterback in this class—but he also has mechanics that make evaluators drool and the best accuracy of any passer in the group. And he might have an Aaron Rodgers-like chip on his shoulder that allows him to somehow get better the more teams hit him.
There is enough on his tape for scouts to consider him the best quarterback in the class.
And to worry he’ll get them all fired.