Is UCLA QB Josh Rosen The Next Matt Stafford Or Christian Hackenberg?

What does the future of Josh Rosen hold?

 

Like many NFL fans, my favorite part about watching college football is scouting the next generation of talent and looking ahead to the NFL Draft.

Anyone who’s paid even minimal attention to college football knows the name of UCLA QB Josh Rosen. Coming out of high school, the polished 6’4″ passer was considered the best pro QB prospect in the class. Rivals even ranked him the #1 prospect overall, which is rare for a QB. Given that, there was already buzz about him being the #1 pick in the 2018 draft. He got nicknamed “the Chosen One” for a reason. (Well, two reasons, since he’s Jewish.)

As a freshman, Rosen lived up to that hype. He enrolled early and won a QB competition to start for the Bruins. That first year, he passed for 3670 yards with 23 TDs and 11 interceptions. His advanced stats were good — not “great” — with 60.0% completion and 7.5 yards per attempt — but we had to remember again that he was a true freshman. All in all, everything was going according to plan.

And then, the golden boy started to take some shots. Literally, and figuratively. The Bruins struggled in 2016 and so did Rosen. Rosen’s YPA improved to 8.3, but his completion percentage hovered at 59.3%. He took a lot of hits for a then 3-3 UCLA team and ended up hurting his shoulder and missing the final 6 games of the year.

The reputation on Rosen has started to change (right around the same time that rival QB Sam Darnold‘s stock is shining). People are picking at his personality and star attitude, as well as the fact that he’s lost 6 of his last 10 starts.

Given all that, this upcoming junior season will be an important one for Rosen. He’ll finally be eligible for the NFL Draft after the year. Can he resurrect his #1 pick stock? Or is he in a freefall?

There are two paths and two comps that he may follow that have already been established. Which feels more likely to you?

A) Josh Rosen is the next Matt Stafford

As a blue-chip high school prospect in Texas, Stafford heard some of that same premature buzz as Josh Rosen. Mel Kiper famously said that he’d be the #1 pick one day. However, despite playing for a stacked Georgia Bulldogs team (that featured A.J. Green and Knowshon Moreno), Stafford didn’t dominate for three years. He struggled mightily as a true freshman (7 TDs, 13 ints), improved as a sophomore (19-10 TD/int, but only a 55.7% completion percentage), before his best year as a junior with 25 TDs, 10 ints, 9.0 YPA, and a 61.4 completion percentage.

Still, on those stats and production alone, Stafford wouldn’t have been the #1 pick. However, he was such a gifted talent and one who had that natural confidence to him, that he became the consensus #1 pick anyway.

There’s certainly a chance that Rosen follows that exact same path. Even if he doesn’t explode with a Heisman-level 2016, he can still put together a good season and be right in that #1 pick mix. He has the frame, the arm, and that same natural “star” confidence that Stafford did.

People presume that USC’s Sam Darnold and Wyoming’s Josh Allen have passed him by, but there’s no guarantee those two big fellas even go to the draft next year; they have less experience on the field and in terms of being in the national spotlight. Perhaps Darnold wants to stick around USC to get more comfortable and work on his mechanics some more. Right now, Rosen is no longer the favorite to be the #1 pick, but I definitely wouldn’t rule it out.

B) Josh Rosen is the next Christian Hackenberg

Like Stafford and Rosen, Christian Hackenberg was the best pro QB in his high school class. He went to Penn State to play for an NFL-experienced coach in Bill O’Brien like Rosen did at UCLA (although Jim Mora’s a defensive guy.)

That first year, Hackenberg looked the part of the surefire #1 pick, putting up stats similar to Rosen’s first year — 20 TD, 10 ints, 58.9% passing, 7.5 YPA. However, he took a nosedive from there, struggling with new coach James Franklin‘s offense and Penn State’s bad offensive line. His completion percentage actually declined every year, going from 58.9% to 55.8% to 53.5% as a junior.

His NFL draft stock plummeted as a result. In fact, even going #51 in the second round felt like a nice result for Hackenberg; plenty of people thought that was a “reach” by the Jets at this spot.

If Rosen struggles again, or declines like Hackenberg did, then I can see Rosen making a similar stumble down draft boards. There are plenty of big name QB’s who get top 10 buzz only to fall deep into the draft (Matt Barkley and Brad Kaaya come to mind). Even ones who have the physical profile and gifts of Rosen can fall like Hackenberg did.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying Christian Hackenberg is a bust or a bad pick for the Jets. The jury’s not out on him yet. Hell, they haven’t even selected the jury yet. My “worst case” comparison is talking in terms of NFL Draft STOCKS, not in terms of his NFL career.

Overall

If Josh Rosen feels like his NFL career has been in a microscope so far, he has no idea how bad it’s about to get as his NFL Draft nears. We’re going to pick him (and Darnold) apart for every snap and every snapchat they make. The NFL could use two possible franchise QBs like that, so I’m hoping they come through this year and give us a reason to get excited.

 

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