It was surprising, but it wasn’t. If you’ve watched UCLA football for the last three years, you’ve seen this before.
In Josh Rosen’s final play before becoming an NFL quarterback Thursday night, his protection collapsed, his coach offered no help, and the kid was sacked.
The UCLA quarterback was the best quarterback in the draft, yet he was only the fourth quarterback taken because some teams didn’t understand him.
He was the consensus most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft, yet he lasted 10 picks because some teams just weren’t ready for him.
The Arizona Cardinals traded up and smartly grabbed him, but only after he was repeatedly ignored by some teams who clearly felt he was just too smart.
He was knocked around by silly perceptions, pushed backward by injury concerns, then ultimately flattened with an absolute sucker punch from his former coach Jim Mora.
Rosen is far from a sympathetic character, as he will make millions working as an NFL quarterback in a great Arizona environment under progressive Cardinals leadership.
But he is certainly an instructive character, an example of the danger of small-minded NFL stereotypes and spiteful former bosses.
Rosen clearly felt all of that. When he was interviewed by ESPN immediately after the pick, he was the only first-rounder who actually seemed angry.
He told reporters, “There were nine mistakes made ahead of me, and I’m going to make sure they all know it was a mistake.”
Later he said, “I thought I should have been picked at 1, 2 or 3. I dropped and I was pissed. I was really, really angry.”
It’s this sort of verbal cockiness that NFL teams hate. Yet they love it when it’s put into action, and for three years Rosen has continually walked the walk.
The Cardinals, who will play Rosen behind often-injured Sam Bradford, nailed it.
Three other teams indeed blew it.
The Cleveland Browns blew it. They offered a hint as to why they are the most dysfunctional organization in sports by taking Oklahoma’s undersized and relatively slow quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick.
They were apparently enamored with Mayfield’s game presence, the same thing that once sold them on Johnny Manziel. They apparently overlooked Mayfield’s second-half flop in the national semifinals against Georgia in the Rose Bowl.
They must not have been in Pasadena earlier in the season, when Rosen tossed four fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead the Bruins to a 34-point comeback victory over Texas A&M in one of the best games by a college quarterback last season.
The New York Jets blew it. Sam Darnold of USC certainly deserved to be the No. 3 overall pick, and he will have a long and great career. But anybody who watched football in Southern California last fall knows he wasn’t the best quarterback available.
The Buffalo Bills really blew it. They traded up to take Wyoming’s Josh Allen as the seventh overall pick even though Allen completed barely half of his passes in his college career, his strong arm often nullified by his wildness.
Rosen completed more than 60% of his passes in his career despite often playing behind a depleted offensive line and with a nonexistent running game. Rosen made great plays out of nothing, great throws out of nowhere, and carried the team every moment he was on the field.
Everyone seemed to agree that Rosen had the best NFL tools. Yet everybody also seemed to believe that he had a most questionable NFL makeup, for the most questionable reasons.
They didn’t think he was too violent, they thought he was too smart. They didn’t worry that his upbringing was too tough, but too easy. They didn’t like his chatter, like when he pronounced himself the best quarterback in the draft. And they didn’t like his opinions on everything that wasn’t football. They didn’t even like that he had opinions.
He questioned President Trump. He questioned the NCAA’s treatment of players. He talks about reading books on astrophysics.
The NFL braintrust still believes independent thinking can ruin a quarterback. It still believes only hungry players can become the best players, even after the likes of Tom Brady emerged from a comfortable and educated background to become the best quarterback ever.
The other gripe against Rosen was that he was injury prone, and certainly his shoulder problems and concussions were alarming. But remember, he consistently suffered from a lack of protection and running backs. That failure falls on Mora, who never recruited depth, and who never really gave Rosen a contending team to work with.
In pre-draft interviews, Mora could have addressed all this while explaining and supporting his quarterback. Mora, who made millions with Rosen as his leader, had a chance to show Rosen the same sort of devotion.
Instead — and think about this — the former UCLA coach said the USC kid — not his own QB — should be the No. 1 overall pick.
The fired Mora left his former Bruins family in the dust by anointing Darnold in an NFL Network interview, saying he was a good fit for Cleveland, throwing his own player under the bus in the process.
Then, to Sports Illustrated, Mora made it even worse, saying that although Rosen was the best quarterback in the draft, his concentration and focus could be a question.
“He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored,” Mora told the magazine, later adding, “Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire.”
Teams listened. Teams got scared. Rosen kept losing ground until he luckily landed at the perfect sport for a heady leader.
Josh Rosen will be great in Arizona. The NFL will see. The NFL will learn.