Josh Rosen was arguably the most polarizing player in the 2018 NFL Draft due to his obvious physical attributes and pocket presence being demeaned by his off-the-field behavior. It was this tradeoff that led to his drop in the draft that ultimately ended when the Arizona Cardinals took him with the 10thpick. Many drew what seemed to be natural comparisons of Rosen to Jay Cutler with many thinking he would be the next starter whose love for the game and his teammates was constantly hovering over him while playing. There is a better quarterback that provides a future glimpse into Rosen’s future.
His physical attributes and pocket-passer style is more reminiscent of Eli Manning than any other NFL veteran. It may seem ludicrous to compare a rookie to a two-time Super Bowl winner and probable future Hall of Famer but both are quarterbacks who share virtually all of the same strengths and weaknesses.
Manning’s career has seen its fair share of bad publicity in the past few years but last season in particular. However, much of that has to do with the amount of attention that is put on the New York market. Before last season, Manning had at least 25 touchdowns and under 20 interceptions, which is more than fair for a starting quarterback.
Rosen’s similar skill set to Manning’s is what will likely play a bigger role in his on-the-field success than his Cutler-like mannerisms off it. Their skillsets are statistically and visually comparable and every Cardinals fan undoubtedly hopes that will lead to a similar career outcome.
The most obvious commonality between Manning and Rosen is their traditional pocket-passer style. Both are known for their styles of standing tall in the pocket and utilizing it to make largely boom-or-bust plays. According to Pro Football Focus advanced stats, both had their best passer ratings when standing in a clean pocket over the past three seasons. This may sound like an obvious statement but other first-round quarterbacks like Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield actually had better passer ratings when facing the blitz as it better utilized their ability outside of the pocket.
The most common concern with pocket passers is how they react under pressure. Cement-footed quarterbacks crumble as soon as their line does but the pocket passers who thrive in the NFL are the ones who can extend plays without running downfield. In the pros, that’s what Manning did and Rosen did as well in college. In 2017, Rosen had an adjusted completion rate of 66 percent, well above the draft class average of 58.8 percent. He also had a “big-time throw” (BTT) percentage of 8.1 once again rising above the class average of 5.4 percent.
While Manning’s 2017 season did mark a low for him compared to the previous few seasons, his ability under pressure was one of the few areas where he excelled. Manning’s touchdown percentage when under pressure was 2.8 percent, slightly above the league average of 2.7 but what particularly sticks out is his interception rating. His percentage was 1.7 which is well below the league average of 2.5 percent. His turnover-worthy plays (TWP) rate was 3.5 percent as well with the average being 5.2. So while he may not be particularly special at making things happen while under pressure, it’s almost more critical that Manning avoids making mistakes as well.
This coolness under pressure while still staying behind the line of scrimmage rather than scrambling downfield reduces the risk of injury and turnovers, and more often than not leads to more productive plays.
When watching tape of Manning and Rosen side-by-side, one of the most consistent traits between the two is where they thrive on throw distances. From just the eye test, it’s easy to tell they both thrive when throwing in the medium range, approximately 10-20 yards. As is the case for most eye tests, the statistics back this up. Both Manning and Rosen have their highest passer ratings when throwing to a target 10-19 yards away.
In 2017, Manning’s rating in that range was 111.4 for nine touchdowns and three interceptions with the league average being 91.6. His adjusted completion, touchdown and BTT percentages were above the league average along with his TWP and interception percentages being below the league average. Rosen’s stats boasted the exact same results his junior year at UCLA.
This plays into their pocket-passer style as most systems built around those types of quarterbacks emphasize short-to-medium passes to slowly and systematically move the ball down the field. Most scouting reports on Rosen emphasized his pro-style offense experience in college so it’s no surprise that his stats with these distances are his best. It also points to the chances of an easier transition to the NFL.
While the two share a great number of comparable skill sets that are positive, they also share some that are negative. The most glaring one is their tendency to go for the boom-or-bust plays sometimes resulting in turnovers. With turnover-worthy throws, Rosen ranked 25thout of 38 in his draft class, while Manning ranked 27thout of 41. It was Manning’s lowest since 2011 proving that he has always been a quarterback that goes for the gamble for better or worse. This behavior was one of the most common complaints against Rosen throughout the draft process as he often tried to turn broken plays into successes, leading to unnecessary turnovers.
While the comparisons between Josh Rosen and Eli Manning are plentiful, that is no guarantee the rookie will enjoy similar success as the two-time Super Bowl champion but exemplifies he has the skillset to do it. Both are boom-or-bust passers who thrive on mid-range passes but with that comes a functionality in the pocket that helps avoid sacks and chances of injury. With more mobile quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson seemingly leading the change of how the quarterback position is played, more traditional pocket passers like Josh Rosen is a rarity but one that Arizona fans hope can still succeed in today’s league.