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Making the Case for Josh Rosen

Rumors are flying about the Cardinals possibly trading Rosen and drafting Kyler Murray No. 1 overall in April. Here’s why landing the QB would be a huge coup for many teams—particularly Washington.

The notion of Kyler Murray being drafted first overall is exciting. And, if the Cardinals and their new head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, believe that is their best move, they should make it. But let’s not confuse love for Murray with hate for last year’s No. 10 draft pick Josh Rosen. One GM last week told NBC’s Peter King that the Arizona would likely get just a third-round pick for Rosen.

If that’s true, then the team that gets Rosen will have landed one of the biggest coups in NFL history. Even if Rosen costs as much as a mid-first-round pick, it’d be a coup.

Before Kingsbury was hired as Arizona’s head coach and before speculation of Murray to the Cardinals began, no one reputable had even considered the possibility that Josh Rosen might be a bust. He was seen merely as a young quarterback coming off a wildly up-and-down rookie season. Those ups and downs stemmed, largely, from a litany of detriments beyond Rosen’s control:

• An unimaginative, absurdly limited scheme early in the season in which, among other problems, Arizona RB David Johnson was used not like one of the league’s most versatile weapons, but rather, like just any old running back—an exceptional misfortune given that Arizona’s O-line was nowhere near talented enough to help “any old running back” make hay.

• An in-season offensive coordinator change in response to the poorly built offense (Mike McCoy out, Byron Leftwich in).

• On-the-fly adjustments to the scheme under Leftwich, which were limited because Arizona was still dealing with…

• Exceedingly undeveloped wide receivers. After Larry Fitzgerald, none of Arizona’s targets had the savviness or refinement to separate from man coverage or exploit the vulnerabilities of zone coverage.

Rosen’s bad circumstances only got worse down the stretch, as injuries up front made the Cardinals’ iffy offensive line downright inept. (Center Mason Cole was the only lineman to play all 16 games.) No young quarterback could have functioned consistently.

Because of this, we barely know more about Rosen now than we did a year ago. He was drafted No. 10 overall in a loaded 2018 quarterback class; if he were entering the league in this year’s QB class, he’d be debated as the potential first overall pick.

Let’s also understand: Rosen so far has looked much, much more encouraging on film than he has on the broadcast or on paper. Yes, he’s made some very bad reads, and his understanding of protections and defensive pressure concepts needs work (this was especially evident against quality designer blitz teams like Minnesota); that’s normal with a young QB. What’s not normal is that despite his growing pains, Rosen never lost his toughness in the pocket. Many QBs—even veterans—playing behind an O-line like Arizona’s would have started seeing ghosts and getting jittery, but Rosen did not. He consistently kept his eyes downfield and maintained his throwing posture. That sort of pocket toughness is, besides intelligence and throwing accuracy, as critical a trait as an NFL QB can have. Most NFL coaches privately say that it’s what has made Tom Brady.

Rosen has also shown promise in those intelligence and accuracy departments. He connected on several designer downfield throws last year that involved diagnosing coverage and manipulating safeties. When he was playing confidently, his ball placement was almost perfect. Yes, he must play with confidence more regularly … and he will, once he has adequate receivers and offensive linemen.

Rosen is also a better mover than people realize, but his game centers around timing-and-rhythm dropback passing—a style of play that often translates soundly to the NFL long-term. Timing-and-rhythm dropback passing works in every system, and can produce handsomely in the smarter ones.

Some have speculated that the Redskins are a possible suitor for Rosen. Jay Gruden’s QB-friendly offense is meticulously detailed and built around on-schedule throws, so it would be a tremendous fit for Rosen. In fact, stylistically, he would be an immediate upgrade over what the team had when Alex Smith was healthy. Rosen would attempt the aggressive on-schedule throws that Smith often passed up. Washington has the 15th overall pick. Trading that for Rosen (and his insanely cheap rookie contract) would be a mega steal. Getting him for anything less than the No. 15 pick would be grand larceny.

The most common knock against Rosen is his personality, but analyzing that from afar is merely guesswork. Jay Cutler’s personality was a problem when the Bears went below .500 but was rarely talked about the year they reached the NFC Championship. No one said boo about Aaron Rodgers’ personality until his Packers failed to reach the playoffs these past two years. And even these are just loose observations made under the (likely false) assumption that personality has been a significant factor in those players’ performances. Also, circumstances can influence a player’s perceived personality. For example, ask yourself: How would that beloved chip on Baker Mayfield’s shoulder be viewed if Mayfield had had to overcome Arizona’s receivers and O-line last year? It’s all just random speculation.

What’s not random speculation is what Rosen has shown on film. If he really is just sitting in Arizona’s bargain bin right now, NFL teams should be rushing to the store.

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