Not only does Los Angeles now have two NFL teams, but two of college football's most intriguing quarterback prospects. At the scouting combine in February, there was already some buzz among evaluators about USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen.
Greg Cosell, a senior producer for NFL Films, is widely respected in league circles for his player evaluations, and especially the detailed way he assesses quarterbacks. Cosell, nephew of legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell, spent hour upon hour this spring breaking down video on the top college quarterback prospects, then shared his observations with The Times. We will focus here on Darnold and Rosen.
Darnold had a breakout redshirt-freshman season last fall, stepping in as the starter and completing 67.2% of his passes (246 of 366) for 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns with nine interceptions. Amazingly cool under pressure, he rallied the Trojans to a 52-49 victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl with a five-touchdown, 453-yard performance.
Cosell broke down every snap of Darnold's games against Cal, Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Notre Dame and Penn State. A sampling of his observations:
Strengths: Despite the slight hitch in his delivery due to arm angle and motion, Darnold still gets the ball out relatively quick. Good arm but not a gun. Showed a good feel for the timing and rhythm of the drop-back pass game, and an understanding of working through progressions. . . . Good feel for the kind of throw needed in regard to route and coverage. . . . Made tight window throws between the hashes. . . . Showed mobility to get out of the pocket and improvise both throwing and running. . . . At times a little bit of a sandlot make-it-up-as-you-go element to his game. . . . Played with competitiveness and physical and mental toughness.
Weaknesses: Instead of keeping his arm at shoulder level with his elbow in, Darnold drops his elbow as he begins his arm motion which lowers ball position to waist level and elongates his delivery. . . . Eyes and feet need to work together more consistently, with his front foot striding toward the target far more often than it did in his 2016 tape (an issue that must be addressed and corrected as he develops). . . . A little erratic with ball placement at times. . . . Needs work planting his back foot and throwing with a firmer base. . . . At times a little frenetic in the pocket with unnecessary movement when route concept and read was not clearly defined. . . . Walked a fine line between playmaking dimension and recklessness. . . . Two of his interceptions versus California and Oregon were late throws in the deep middle. Overall, he showed a tendency at times to throw late in the middle.
How he will transition to the NFL: Darnold's tape from 2016 showed an instinctive playmaker with vision and feel, more than a precision pocket quarterback. But it was only his first year as a starter, so he has much room to improve. The strength of his game after his redshirt freshman season is his vision on the move, and his ability to make accurate throws outside of structure. . . . To continue to improve, he will need to play with much better pocket efficiency and overall refinement as a passer this season.
Rosen started strong for UCLA as a true freshman in 2015 before tailing off at the end of the season. He suffered a shoulder injury in October 2016 that cut short his sophomore season. Cosell studied his games last fall against Texas A&M, Nevada Las Vegas, Brigham Young, Stanford, Arizona and Arizona State. Among his observations:
Strengths: Clean footwork on his drop from center with excellent ball position and a quick, compact delivery. Consistently delivered with a firm base and good balance. Good arm, not a gun, but the mentality and sense of timing of a pocket quarterback. Efficient from waist down, with eyes and feet consistently working together. Good feel for timing and rhythm of drop-back pass game from under center, with a strong sense of progression reading and decisive throws. . . . Showed pocket movement with eyes remaining downfield, and an understanding of manipulating coverage. Toughness in the pocket with look-down-the-gun-barrel traits. . . . Extensive experience turning his back to the defense and executing play-action pass game.
Weaknesses: His 2016 tape showed Rosen at times was a little erratic and inconsistent with his ball placement, but it was not a defining negative. At times he was a beat late seeing, processing and isolating in regard to route concept versus coverage. Left some throws on the field, not recognizing route concept versus coverage (first play of second possession versus Stanford was a great example; he came back to the same play later in the first half, and he made the right read and throw.) Did not throw the deep ball with needed accuracy last fall, and his tape raised questions at times about his anticipatory ability.
How he will transition to the NFL: Rosen possesses the traits you look for in an NFL quarterback, with his natural pocket ability that's relatively refined and advanced for a college quarterback, plus his experience playing under center and executing the drop-back pass game.
At times, he reminded me of [Atlanta's] Matt Ryan with his pocket feel and command, his understanding of route concepts, and his good but not high-level arm strength. Rosen is a little more compact with his delivery than Ryan. He also showed needed mobility to get outside the pocket both by design and improvisation, and make throws with accuracy. His 2016 tape showed a high-level quarterback prospect whose skill set transitions well to the NFL.