When coaches and scouts find a quarterback who can "make all the throws" and possesses the physical traits often associated with NFL success, the player's college career plays out on a two-track path with attention paid to both how he's developing and his impact on the team.
Out in Los Angeles, there are three quarterbacks under the age of 25 with expectations of professional success. With reports circulating that Sam Darnold is planning to spend another year at USC, expect the NFL Draft spotlight to zero in on Josh Rosen at UCLA and in particular the similarities and differences to former Cal and current Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
"I think they're really similar," former Cal coach Sonny Dykes said in 2015 prior to the only meeting between Goff and Rosen (a 40-24 UCLA win). "I think Josh has a big arm like Jared. Josh is pretty far along developed, physically. He's a strong kid. he has good size. What makes those guys special is his demeanor. … I think that's what allowed Jared to win the job as a freshman."
After taking the college football world by storm during his freshman season, Rosen was shut down in 2016 because of injury. His value to the Bruins is evident in the record (1-5 the rest of the season) and through seven games this season, it's clear that Rosen, like Goff during his third year as a starter at Cal, carries the offense with his highly-touted arm.
On Saturday afternoon, UCLA will be on the national stage in one of the most-watched games of the season at No. 12 Washington (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). While the Huskies are coming out of a bye week looking to bounce back from the Arizona State loss and keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive, the UCLA storyline that will dominate the conversation around the game is going to be Josh Rosen.
"He's an elite thrower," Washington coach Chris Petersen told reporters this week. "He is accurate, he throws with anticipation, he's excellent in the pocket. He's all the things. You guys always ask me what are the things -- he's got 'em. He's accurate, he throws with anticipation, he's great in the pocket."
Given the Los Angeles connection, Pac-12 ties and similar NFL Draft hype, let's dive deeper into the similarities and differences between Jared Goff and Josh Rosen.
Rosen got an early start in the spotlight
Jared Goff was a four-star prospect coming out of high school, ranked No. 218 in the 247Sports Composite. Sonny Dykes saw a strong-armed player perfectly suited for his "Bear Raid" passing attack, naming Goff the first true freshman to start a season opener in school history. Goff set handfuls of school records (that he went on to break later in his career), but a 1-11 record made that first year a struggle.
Rosen, on the other hand, was as blue-chip as they come, a five-star prospect ranked as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback and No. 12 overall coming out of St. John Bosco in Bellflower, California. Like Goff, he enrolled early and was named the starter for the season opener as a freshman.
However, after Rosen was named the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year, he had UCLA coach Jim Mora already declaring him a more valuable pro prospect than Goff.
"His potential is unlimited. He would have been the best QB in the draft this year, Mora said of Rosen in 2016 after Goff went No. 1 overall. "There's no question about his ability, only experience and, at this point, maturity. He's special. And he is smart, a leader, and very well respected by his teammates. He works hard and gets it. Just needs to continue to grow and not think he's arrived."
In a feature on the quarterbacks at USC and UCLA, Dennis Dodd wrote that Josh Rosen is described by those around him as "." Rosen's mother is the great, great granddaughter of Joseph Wharton, founder of the elite Wharton School of Business at Penn, and his father, according to Sports Illustrated, is a top spine surgeon.
Goff's lineage was less American royalty than All-American, as the son of Major League Baseball catcher Jerry Goff. There was never any quotes about "thinking he's arrived" after Goff's freshman season, particularly after going winless against FBS opponents.
High usage rate
Looking at the statistics from each junior season, both Goff and Rosen have a green light to air it out, averaging more than 40 throws per game. With completion percentages above 60 and an average of more than eight yards per attempt, the stat lines are solid and the yards per game totals are high enough to rank among the best in the country when graded out against their peers. Even for a quarterback, both Goff and Rosen have what basketball statistics would determine is a high usage rate.
All the talent with decision-making question marks
Some of the criticism of Goff coming out of college was tied to timing and accuracy, pointing to mistakes that were made under pressure and/or when he tried to force throws to a pre-determined read. Rosen can extend the play under pressure, but like Gof,f has made mistakes holding on to the ball too long or forcing throws into coverage.
But one place where Goff was markedly better than Rosen is in the red zone. While Rosen's completion percentage drops significantly inside the 20-yard line, Goff maintained his rate and finished his career with an absolutely stunning 56:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Rosen, on the other hand, has thrown six of his 24 career interceptions while the Bruins were knocking on the door in scoring position.
|Red Zone Passing||Attempts||Completions||Percentage||TD||INT|
Goff (37 games)
Rosen (26 games)
If there's good news for Rosen and UCLA moving forward, it's that last week's win against Oregon was the first game since beating Hawaii on Sept. 9 where he didn't throw an interception. Limiting those mistakes, especially in the red zone, are going to a huge part of making sure the Bruins stay on track to make a bowl game in 2017.
Empty trophy case
Rosen, like Goff, hasn't been mentioned for any kind of college accolades despite being one of the best quarterbacks in the country. All-America honors and Heisman Trophy consideration always seems to follow the teams at the top of college football when it comes to the quarterback position. No player since 1969 (Oklahoma's Steve Owens) has won the Heisman Trophy while playing for a team with four losses, and winners of the award on a team with two or three losses during the regular season usually have at least one signature win against a top team during their campaign.
And that signature win is where Rosen can separate himself from Goff in terms of their college careers.
Looking ahead to Washington
In three years as Cal's starter, Goff went 0-13 against top-25 opponents and 0-9 against in-state rivals USC, UCLA and Stanford. Goff has the rest of his professional career to determine his legacy as a quarterback, but Rosen can separate himself in the comparison as the better college quarterback with wins in marquee games.
Rosen's final five regular season games present an opportunity to thrive in the spotlight, providing on-field evidence for a national audience in his ability to play quarterback at the highest level. Goff's 0-13 record against ranked teams had no direct effect on his development into a successful NFL quarterback, but it kept him from having a lasting impact on the college game. Rosen's already earned a spot in college football lore with the hot tub in the dorm room, his honest and outspoken views on education and athletics and general comfort with himself in the spotlight. He's even already got one top-25 win that Goff didn't have, knocking off No. 17 Utah late in the 2015 season.
UCLA is not going to be involved in many huge games of national significance before Rosen has the opportunity to take his talents to the next level. The Washington game on Saturday and USC game on Nov. 18 will be the final on-field opportunities to shape how his college career is remembered.