The 2018 NFL Draft is less than 2 weeks away and the praise towards its fantastic quarterback class continues to grow. After trading up for the third pick in this year’s draft, the New York Jets are in the thick of the quarterback prospect conversation. While there are five clear-cut, top quarterback prospects, it’s a consensus amongst most experts that the top two are USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. It’s a mystery as to what’s going to happen before the Jets’ pick, but there’s a good chance that the Jets may land one of the two prospects. Here’s a comparison by category to see which of the two is the better player.
When it comes to arm talent, both Darnold and Rosen are absolutely special quarterback prospects. Darnold has the more powerful arm and his consistency with the deep-ball gives him an advantage over Rosen when it comes to big plays. Aside from that though, Rosen has the more polished arm. His ability to fit the ball into tight windows and put just the right amount of touch on them is phenomenal giving him a slight advantage over Darnold in those aspects. Darnold also makes plenty of impressive passes into tight spaces, he just doesn’t have quite the touch on his passes that Rosen does. Darnold’s completion percentage numbers would tell you that he’s the more accurate quarterback, but I’d actually argue the opposite. Rosen dealt with a lot of bad drops from his receivers including a horrendous 31 last season. He simply looks like the more accurate quarterback on tape. It’s a close comparison but all in all, Rosen’s a more natural passer with the more talented arm.
Both quarterbacks are impressive from a mental standpoint as well. They both have an outstanding ability to process the field and go through reads and progressions. Both will obviously need to continue to grow in that regard to be ready for the next level. I see Darnold as the slightly more gifted processor of what’s in front of him. In terms of decision-making, both quarterbacks will need to improve. Similarly for both players, there are too many times where they foolishly throw the ball into traffic, or throw an errant pass with a defender lurking. This is a bit more of a problem for Darnold than it is for Rosen, but it’s significant for both quarterbacks. I’m going to call it a tie as I think both prospects are in a similarly good place mentally.
Athleticism is definitely not a strength for either of these players, but it’s not a crippling weakness either. Darnold ran a 4.85 forty yard dash at the combine and used his solid athleticism a fair amount at USC. It wasn’t uncommon to see him pick up yards with his legs, though he likely won’t be doing too much of that in the NFL. More importantly though, his athletic ability shines when he’s working in the pocket. Rosen, on the other hand, ran a 4.92 forty yard dash at the combine. It’s rare to see him gain yards with his legs as he had negative rushing yardage totals in each of the past two seasons. However, he’s shown the ability to make athletic plays in situations where it’s his last resort. Neither of these quarterbacks have flashy athleticism, but Darnold has the clear edge.
Mechanics are a huge part of playing quarterback and projecting a quarterback’s success in the NFL. Rosen’s mechanics are uniquely flawless for a college quarterback prospect. He’s got a tennis background and his footwork is truly a joy to watch as he keeps his feet active and organized. He also has a very quick release of the football with a beautiful windup to go along with it. Darnold is a far step down from Rosen mechanically. His footwork is inconsistent and at times very sloppy. He also just doesn’t look like the pure passer that Rosen is. He has a harmfully big windup with that takes way too long along with other mechanical issues when it comes to strictly throwing the football. It’s fair to say he’ll need somewhat of a mechanical overhaul in the NFL. Rosen has the easy advantage in this category above any quarterback in the class.
Ability in the Pocket
Having good skills in the pocket is one of the most important tools a quarterback can have, and both prospects check that box. Darnold is an absolutely phenomenal player in the pocket as he often draws comparisons to the remarkably evasive Aaron Rodgers. Darnold has great poise and instincts against any degree of pressure. His ability to evade defenders and improvise in the pocket is nothing short of special as well. Rosen isn’t the player that Darnold is in this regard, but he’s quite good. He, too, is great against pressure and knows how to maneuver the pocket to his advantage. He’s definitely more mobile and active within the pocket than he gets credit for as this is a clear strength. Rosen just doesn’t have the same talent level that Darnold has in the pocket. Darnold’s one of the best pocket-quarterback prospects we’ve seen in a long time.
The main takeaway from this analysis should be that both players are great prospects. They both have pro-bowl potential due to their outstanding arm talent and football I.Q. It’d be thrilling to have either prospect become Gang Green’s next franchise quarterback. My preference though, is Rosen by a slight margin. He’s the more polished quarterback giving him less bust potential. On top of that, his skills as an accurate “rhythm passer” would be perfect for the Jets’ presumably west coast offensive system. What the Jets need most is the safest and best quarterback prospect in this year’s draft class, and that would be Josh Rosen.