Josh Rosen is talented, but has major flaws to his game

Sam Monson breaks down where UCLA's young quarterback excels -- and where he falls short.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Josh Rosen is talented, but has major flaws to his game

Josh Rosen has the UCLA Bruins undefeated through four games, 2nd in the Pac-12 South, and with their sights set firmly on success this season — despite being a true freshman starting the first games of his college career.

We’ve already seen signs of the ups and downs that are expected from a young quarterback, but that leaves us wondering just how good Rosen can be going forward.

Let’s start by focusing on the bad from his game — because in spite of the hype, he’s young, and there will be plenty of that on display.

It’s easy to focus on the negatives and get lost in the things Rosen doesn’t do well, but we have to remember this is a true freshman quarterback and nobody should expect the finished product. What determines how successful he can be going forward is how much he can improve on or remove these flaws.

Against BYU we saw the worst of Rosen and his decision making. His single biggest issue so far has been that he doesn’t yet see the field in three dimensions, and is far too often surprised by a defender coming from somewhere he wasn’t paying attention to — the guy coming from the opposite direction of the flow of play.

This happened multiple times against the Cougars and it cost him one interception, but should have cost him two more.


Late in the first quarter Rosen reads a combination route to the left of the screen before quickly coming off it and moving to the next option in his progression, a dig coming from the other side of the field. At the time he looks to this route it is already open and the ball should be in the air, but he hesitates a little, waiting until he is sure before putting the ball up.

Ironically, waiting until he was certain it was open caused the window to close because it took the receiver too far across the field and put a linebacker in the throwing lane that would not have been a factor had the ball entered the air earlier.


This play is a combination of Rosen’s two biggest issues at the moment: not throwing with anticipation and failing to see the potential threat from all angles.

When you add in the tendency to stare down targets, you have a pretty potent recipe for some ugly-looking passes.

Later in the same game Rosen makes another ugly mistake — again by just not factoring in the player coming from another angle. He is so excited that the left cornerback bites up on the fake bubble screen that he seems to completely forget about the safety over the top and throws the ball right to him. He got lucky when the ball was dropped, but this is the kind of throw he can’t make, and the kind of coverage he needs to be able to see.


I’m not convinced of Rosen’s accuracy yet, though we are obviously still dealing with extremely small sample size. He has missed more routine passes than I would like to see, and even a couple of completions have asked more of his receivers than they should have because of less than ideal ball-placement.

Any time you see a quarterback flat-out miss a wide receiver screen (as opposed to some miscommunication or disruption in timing/positioning) it’s concerning, but at least that hasn’t been a regular feature of his game (unlike Christian Hackenberg) so it’s not quite time to push the panic button.

When I was watching his tape I scribbled the note “misses high, a lot”, and when I checked out the numbers they supported that precisely. Of his 48 incomplete passes this season 15 of them have been overthrows — by far his single biggest incompletion type. If you take out drops (7) and passes thrown away (6), they account for 10 more than any other legitimate QB-WR-DB interaction (PBUs being next).

Even when he doesn’t miss high, the ball placement is often higher than he would like, asking for tough catches from his receivers like the one below. This was caught, then an almost identical play later in the game was missed high and cost them on 3rd-and-3.


While he put up some good numbers and was receiving huge credit for UCLA taking apart Arizona, the running game was doing much of the heavy lifting on some of those scoring drives. That’s not to dismiss Rosen’s play (he had a very good grade for the game), but rather make the point that he was steering a ship rather than powering it for much of the game.

The flaws have led to Rosen bouncing up and down in grade over the first four games. We have credited him with two very good performances and two bad, much like the raw numbers. If the game against BYU highlighted the biggest flaws in Rosen’s game, the takedown of Arizona highlighted some of his greatest strengths.

Though his coaches will be tearing their hair out and imploring him to slide, Rosen’s bravery with the ball in hand when he breaks the pocket is commendable. For a guy listed at just 210 pounds at 6-4, he has broken three tackles in limited carries already, and early in the game converted a 3rd-and-9 despite knowing he would need to pick up the last couple of yards through Arizona defenders. While most quarterbacks would have slid and punted the ball away, Rosen kept the drive alive and ultimately scored on it.

You can take that one of two ways, but I’m encouraged by a quarterback willing to put his body on the line a little to move the chains. Taking unnecessary hits is one thing, but breaking a tackle to keep the drive alive is an impressive feat.


In fact, when things break down might is when I’ve been most impressed by him, which is a touch ironic because his overall numbers have not been good when pressured. Mixed in with his mistakes, however, are some great plays under pressure or when creating on the move.

Take the play above as an example. It’s not a particularly difficult throw in the end, but what I love about it is his eyes remain downfield throughout. While a lot of college quarterbacks tuck the ball and just run when they break the pocket, Rosen knows he has to move, but does so just to buy him enough time to find a receiver. Eventually, things open up and he delivers the pass calmly to the open receiver he helped create.

He has also made some fantastic throws, and not all of them show up in the stats. He has been the victim of a few drops, some of which have come on beautiful passes. Maybe his best pass of the Arizona game was dropped as Rosen slid in the pocket away from mounting pressure up the middle and delivered a rainbow down the field to his left — only to see his receiver short arm the ball and fail to come up with it. This was a high-level throw that not many passers can execute regularly, but Rosen did it without a problem.

The bottom line is that right now Josh Rosen is a work in progress. When he plays well UCLA will look fearsome given what they have around him, but the flaws in his game are bad ones that will cost turnovers — the quickest way to derailing an offense in an instant. How much Rosen can work on those flaws and develop his game this year might dictate how far the Bruins can go, and how much he improves the team will ultimately define his ceiling as a prospect.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Demosthenes

    Um…. we are talking about a freshman quarterback here, right? I will give big props to Sam for the work in the article breaking all of this down, but the level of expectation that predicates this critique is premature. Even Winston had his issues at first and yet nobody ever talks about those anymore. I think this expectation from an 18 year old is unrealistic. Break this down next year when expectations should be more advanced.

  • dieharddodgerfan

    First off, the fact that Rosen is a true freshman has to be factored in your analysis.

    Secondly, just curious, how many SEC QBs would you grade out higher than Rosen, in terms of current ability AND projecting down the line?

  • Duane Linstrom

    Watching Rosen in the BYU game I had the impression his depth of field vision is better in sunlight than in artificial lights and that affected his accuracy on long throws.

  • PFFSamMonson

    To be fair, I did kinda point it out…

    “It’s easy to focus on the negatives and get lost in the things Rosen doesn’t do well, but we have to remember this is a true freshman quarterback and nobody should expect the finished product. What determines how successful he can be going forward is how much he can improve on or remove these flaws.”

    • Trogan Fan

      There are probably some 8th graders you could dissect too.

  • Richard

    Thank u 4 ur observations. However, I find one of consequence and one not so much.
    He has missed help coming into the picture once he’s isolated & wants to throw to a target and to some extent..some..of his pass have been a little high` BFD (That’s why those receivers get the big bucks # if it’s catchable, catch the dang ball..that’s ur job, stupid e.g. JP should have caught the high ball on the left sideline that would have sustained a very early drive ag BYU
    But apart from the quibbles what I see is a guy who has the once in a lifetime seen ability to drop a dime, LONG, w/ the receiver going directly away from him and nailing him every time e.g. JP again w/ room to catch a TD before the went out vs BYU.
    He’s had ONE BAD HALF all year bc he threw 2 desperation heaves that he might have connected on in hi sch. TWO ILL ADVISED THROWS (the 3d INT was a ricochet off a great throw).
    I think he now understands that this isn’t hi sch. No more wing a prayer stuff that used to play.

    Frankly, I don’t think there is anything else he needs to learn.

    btw, at the game u could c him wave off the FG team w/ 4th & maybe 2 deep in the red zone. Mora had sent them in. On TV, all u c is Mora calling them back but that was after the fact. He gathered and got real animated w/ the OL….& we drove it up the middle for a first down.

  • Joseph Apohen

    This freshman is a product of intelligent parents and he’s got their genes. He will figure out what he needs to do to excel. He needs to put some weight to absorb the punishment he will get. He looked really ugly against BYU, but did he look awesome against Va and Arizona!

  • colonelkilgore

    Kid has played four games in his college career but we’re already questioning his ceiling as a pro prospect?! FOH

  • Love Cosmos

    By what math, is UCLA second in the Pac-12 South? 4-0 1-0, how is that second?

  • zacrob

    Great read and agree with most of your analysis here. The first play you analyze is a common play in college with #1 backside running a go #2 in the slot running a “pull” route @ 5 yards to draw the will linebacker and #2 front side running a deep cross at 18-22 yards (back flare strong and #1 front side typically a 16 yard dig). Simple high low read on the will backer. This play is designed to be hit in between the hash and the numbers if the will backer stays low so saying he is late would be incorrect. The mike backer #22 actually busts his assignment (makes a heck of a play in the process) as he should be relating to the back who goes strong. Regardless he shouldn’t have thrown the ball how it was thrown. Holding it a count longer to let him clear or throw it with more arc without losing pace would have been a better choice.

    With that said this guy is a stud and a lock to be #1 pick in a few years. He’ll go through some pains with forcing a few throws and knowing what he can get away with and what he can not. When you combine the consistency with his stroke, playing with a base and balanced footwork, the accuracy and enough arm to make every throw out on the field with touch or with zip you have something pretty good.

    But the the single biggest thing this guy has (as you mention above) and you find out quickly watching him is pocket instincts and a feel for the game. Simply can not be coached. The single thing that separates the good from the great in the NFL and this guy has that.

  • mr joshua

    You lost me at the stare down comment. That’s the biggest myth in all of football. Every damn Quarterback goes through his progressions and stupid television announcers just constantly go off on this looking off receivers nonsense and it’s pure BS. Watch football for yourself and quit listening to the ESPN experts.
    Watch the best QBs in the land and they all look at their main target first and if he’s covered they move on to the next and the next. Quit promoting baloney as fact.

    This Rosen kid is special and you could tell that in high school and you can still tell it now. BYU threw a bunch of stuff at him that he never had seen before and he survived and learned from it and will be a better QB because of it. BYU threw the same stuff at Michigan the following week and Harbaugh and Rudock ate them up.
    Part of the problem against BYU lies with Mora and his OC. Harbaugh clearly watched the film and made BYU look silly with those coverages.