Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. The topics of this edition include:
-- How will the Pats use their bundle of draft picks?
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I might be on an island with my assessment of the UCLA star, but I really believe he has all of the tools to be the most successful quarterback prospect from this class. From his A-plus arm talent and flawless mechanics to his exceptional intelligence and football aptitude, Rosen has always checked off all of the boxes as a potential franchise quarterback. He is the quintessential player at the position, and we should be celebrating his arrival as the NFL's next great quarterback.
Now, I know I'm fueling the hype train by suggesting No. 3 has the potential to be one of the elite quarterbacks in the game, but my eyes tell me that he is the most polished quarterback to enter the league since Andrew Luck. I've outlined why in full detail in my scouting report on Rosen, and I'm sticking with him as the top quarterback prospect in this class.
You can @ me all you want for suggesting Rosen is a superior prospect to some of the other talented passers in this class, but I'm dying on this hill because I believe the best quarterbacks in the game are not only MLB pitchers with a wide array of pitches at their disposal, but they are tactical surgeons capable of dissecting defenses with their minds.
That's why I can't understand the backlash Rosen's received for supposedly being very inquisitive during the game planning and practice process. Quarterbacks need to understand the whys behind what they're asked to do. While coaches craft schemes on notebook paper or whiteboards, where the Xs and Os don't move, players are the ones really involved in the chess match on grass, needing to adjust in real time to the unexpected changes that happen on the field. Whether it's a different coverage or an exotic blitz or a misread by a defender, quarterbacks have to make split-second decisions that require a mix of instinct and intelligence.
With that in mind, I continue to believe a talented, high-IQ quarterback should be celebrated instead of chastised in the scouting community. Remember, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and others entered the VIP club primarily due to their ability to crack the defense's code at the line of scrimmage. They are able to decipher pre-snap disguise to accurately assess coverage, and their superb mental recall allows them to quickly come up with the right answers to counter every tactic.
Thus, I believe Rosen's intelligence and inquisitiveness will serve him well in the NFL, particularly with a team that has a solid supporting cast in place on the perimeter. If he has a few veteran pass catchers with the capacity to make "hot" reads and sight adjustments, Rosen should be able to handle the responsibility of pre- and post-snap route conversions as a young quarterback. At a time when a number of quarterbacks are spoon-fed information from their coaches on the sideline via placards and hand signals, Rosen's acumen should make old-school coaches comfortable since they are obsessed with verbiage, tags and conversions.
"[Josh] needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn't get bored," former UCLA coach Jim Mora told The MMQB. "He's a millennial. He wants to know why. Millennials, once they know why, they're good. 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. He has so much ability, and he's a really good kid."
To that point, I believe Mora's comments about his quarterback should be received positively from teams looking for a franchise quarterback. The UCLA head coach basically told potential coaches that his former quarterback embraces being overloaded with information and responds to being given a lot of responsibility as a quarterback.
Now, I'm sure people will take issue with the last part of Mora's comments because they suggest that Rosen isn't an "all in" guy, but there are plenty of quarterbacks who've succeeded while maintaining other interests. Manning, Brady, Brees, and Rodgers have all been involved in various off-field endeavors (business ventures, 7-on-7 leagues, TV shows, etc.) and those activities certainly haven't taken away from their brilliance or greatness as players. That's why it's a little presumptuous to assume that Rosen's outside interests will detract from his focus on football. Remember, each of these guys grew up as accomplished student-athletes in the classroom and on the field, so it's possible to succeed at the position without being a one-dimensional guy.
This brings me back to my original point about Rosen being the best quarterback in the draft and why it's foolish to downgrade him for his inquisitiveness. The top guys at the position want to know the ins and outs of their scheme because it allows them to know all of the answers to the test before they step onto the field on Sunday.
When I look at Rosen, I see the combination of talent and intelligence that separates good from the greats at the position. If I had a chance to grab that player as my franchise quarterback, I'm getting him and I'm not worried about the "Whys" that he will pepper my coaches with over the next decade. It'd be up to me and my staff to make sure we have all the answers.
JERRY JONES IS RIGHT: Cowboys are legit contenders in NFC
"I think that if the gap is defined as them winning the Super Bowl and [us] not even getting in the playoffs, then we've got to close the gap," Jones said recently, via ESPN's Todd Archer. "I think that we should've been in the playoffs. We weren't. But I don't believe that us not being in the playoffs this past year is the size of the gap."
Guess what? He's right. The Cowboys are legitimate contenders in the NFC, with Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott buoying their chances of making a run at the title this season. Now, I know the Cowboys' overall performance is tied to more than just the play of No. 21 and No. 4, but the dynamic duo has the capacity to mask all of the flaws on the team's roster when they're on the field together. Just look at the numbers.
In 2016, the Cowboys surged to a 13-3 record behind an offense that averaged 26.3 points per game, surrendered just 19.1 points per game and owned a plus-5 advantage in turnover differential. Those numbers dipped in 2017 when Elliott missed six games due to suspension. The team finished with a 9-7 mark, scoring just 22.1 points per game, allowing 20.8 points per game and posting a minus-1 turnover differential.
"They've got a team that mirrors us in a lot of respects," Jones said. "I like a lot of things that we have that they have. We've got a running game, offense and quarterback that I'm so proud of for looking ahead and building off of. They probably have more, to say the least, they probably have more names on defense. When I say names, just say they probably have what we'd like to continue to get to. But we've got some guys that I think we can get to there."
Say what you want about the saltiness of his commentary, Jones hit the nail on the head when assessing his squad. If the Cowboys' offensive stars show up in 2018, Dallas could be the last team standing at the end of the tournament.
Looking at Prescott's performance the past two seasons, it is apparent the Cowboys' young QB1 is capable of getting it done. He won the 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year after posting a 104.9 passer rating and a 23:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Although Prescott's production declined a bit in 2017, he certainly didn't play as poorly as the narrative suggests, posting a respectable 86.6 passer rating and 22:13 TD-to-INT ratio. Sure, those numbers aren't exactly eye-popping, but he played without his RB1 and left tackle for a significant portion of the season.
Think about it this way: If you take the top offensive threat and blindside protector away from most of the NFL's QB1s, they would struggle. Prescott is no different. He needs No. 21 behind him to dictate the terms to the defense, particularly in a scheme that wasn't designed with Prescott in mind. Remember, Stephen Jones referenced this point early in the offseason when he said the Cowboys were going to make the offense more "Dak-friendly."
"Everybody here is all-in in terms of their belief that Dak can be a great player in this league and will be," Stephen Jones said on 105.3 The Fan's Ben and Skin show. "How do we put concepts in place, how do we put a system in place that fits his skills? Obviously, it worked out great even though we were predominantly running a Romo-friendly offense with a few wrinkles that took advantage of Dak being young and fresh-legged and being able to have the mobility that he had.
"We were able to do that, but I think as we move forward, we have to really go in and critique and make sure that our concepts and what we're doing offensively give Dak every opportunity to utilize his skill set and get the most out of him."
With that in mind, Prescott will likely regain his Pro Bowl form in an offense designed to accentuate his strengths as a dual-threat playmaker. He can torment opponents executing RPOs, play-action passes, options and quarterback-designed runs with the threat of Elliott running between the tackles. The thought of No. 21 running inside is enough to make a handful of defenders pause, which creates bigger passing and running lanes for Prescott.
That brings me back to Elliott and his importance to the squad. The 2016 NFL rushing leader averaged 108.7 rushing yards on 21.5 attempts (5.1 yards per carry) with 15 rushing touchdowns as a rookie. Although his production dipped in 2017, he still averaged 98.3 rushing yards per game on 24.2 rushing attempts (4.1 yards per carry) with seven rushing touchdowns in 10 games. Elliott's rushing yards per game led the league, with Todd Gurley (87.0), Le'Veon Bell (86.1) and Kareem Hunt (82.9) well off the pace.
Thus, it's not a coincidence the Cowboys' offensive performance suffered when he served a six-game suspension from Weeks 10 to 15. During that span, the Cowboys' offense not only averaged 6.1 fewer points (from 24.4 to 18.3) but fewer total yards (from 354.7 to 294.0), rushing yards (from 144.2 to 121.3) and passing yards (from 210.5 to 172.7) when compared with the 10 games Zeke played.
That huge dip in production explains why Jones is so optimistic the Cowboys are right there with the Eagles. With Elliott on the field, the Cowboys are a more explosive and dynamic offense. No. 21 sets the table for the entire unit, including the QB1, and allows the team to employ a keep-away strategy (dominate time of possession and reduce the defense's exposure) that led to plenty of W's in 2016.
THREE AND OUT: Quick takes on big developments across the league
1) Why change what's not broken, Bill?
Why in the world would Bill O'Brien want to overhaul the Houston Texans' offense after watching DeShaun Watson shred the league as a rookie?
That's the question that I asked anyone within earshot at the NFL Media newsroom when I heard NFL Netowrk's James Palmer's report on "NFL Up to the Minute" last week from the Annual League Meeting. Palmer disclosed a conversation he had with O'Brien during which the Texans' head coach shared plans to install an entirely different offense from the version Watson operated in as a rookie when he lit up the league.
Now, I certainly understand wanting to stay one step ahead of the creative defensive coordinators who are spending their offseasons crafting plans to stop a Texans offense that averaged an NFL-best 34.7 points per game with Watson at the helm, but the collegiate-like scheme from last year produced fireworks that we've never seen in NRG Stadium under O'Brien. No. 4 helped the team amass 18 passing touchdowns while averaging 266.2 passing yards (6th) and compiling a 108.4 passer rating (4th) during his brief stint as a starter.
Think about that. A rookie passer who some questioned as a passer and playmaker was not only leading the NFL in passing touchdowns at the time of his injury, but he was shattering NFL records at every turn. He has the most touchdown passes of any NFL quarterback in his first seven career games since 1970 and became the first NFL player with 400-plus pass yards, four-plus touchdowns and 50-plus rushing yards in a single game. In addition, Watson is tied for the most three-plus passing touchdown games by a rookie in a single season in the Super Bowl era.
Looking at the All-22 coaches' footage, Watson's early success as a quarterback was partially due to the Texans scrapping the scheme they started the season with in favor of a game plan that featured a number of concepts that were prominently featured in Clemson's offense and other schemes designed around dual-threat quarterbacks in recent years. The Texans blended a mix of RPOs, option plays, movement passes and traditional play-action concepts to showcase No. 4's unique talents as a dynamic playmaker. With the team also featuring an extensive number of quick-game passes from spread and empty formations, the Texans' offense was essentially an upgraded version of a spread offense ripped from a high school/college playbook.
I don't mean to be dismissive when I make that characterization; I'm actually complementing the Texans' coaches for their creativity in crafting an offense that not only suited their rookie passer but also accentuated the talents of their top playmakers on the perimeter. Remember, each of the team's skill players (DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller and Bruce Ellington) played in a version of the spread offense as collegians, and their individual and collective success with No. 4 running the unit should prompt O'Brien to continue featuring a non-traditional offense.
"It's a player's game," an AFC head coach told me. "You should always build your scheme around the strengths of your players, particularly the quarterback. If you can make him comfortable, he will make the rest of the players better. That's why everything that you do [offensively] should be done with the QB in mind."
To that point, I asked O'Brien at the Senior Bowl about building an offense around Watson and he told me that he and his staff spent a lot of time studying what the Washington Redskins did with Robert Griffin III during his spectacular rookie season. He raved about Kyle Shanahan's creativity with the former No. 2 overall pick, and how misdirection and the option kept the defense on its heels. O'Brien also told me that he spent a lot of time talking to Watson about the concepts and tactics that he liked at Clemson.
Naturally, any reference to Watson's college offense and his role as a dual-threat playmaker leads to a discussion about his health and durability (he's suffered two ACL tears), but he has shown an uncanny ability to avoid big hits on the perimeter.
"He has a really good instinct for maybe gaining the 5 or 6 yards and then going down before he takes the shot," O'Brien said recently, via Sarah Barshop of ESPN. "That's a big thing that young quarterbacks usually have a problem with. He seems to have an instinct for being able to stay out of harm's way."
It's hard to imagine O'Brien moving away from a game plan, even one rooted in high school and college concepts, that consistently put up 35 points per game in a league where topping the 30-point mark typically leads to wins. Sure, he may tweak the system to protect his QB1, but letting his franchise quarterback ball out in the system he prefers is the best way to keep the Texans in title contention in 2018.
"He's a very talented quarterback who's had a lot of success in this league early on," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "So we're excited about it. We felt like we needed a No. 2 quarterback. You look at the veteran quarterbacks out there ... I mean, where we're at right now, I'm pretty excited about this player. I'm really feeling like we got a steal."
It's easy to disismiss Harbaugh's excitement as simply coach-speak, but I really think the Ravens are the perfect spot for RGIII to rediscover his game. From a coaching standpoint, the team has a pair of coaches in Marty Mornhinweg (offensive coordinator) and Greg Roman (tight ends) with a strong track record with mobile quarterbacks. Mornhinweg, in particular, has worked with the likes of Mike Vick, Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia, Steve Young and Brett Favre during his career, with each guy earning Pro Bowl honors under his tutelage. He understands how to help mobile passers master the footwork and fundamentals needed to succeed as passers (see Vick's play in Philadelphia after serving 19 months in prison), which is critical in RGIII's case.
From a skills standpoint, RGIII is certainly talented enough to play in the league as a backup quarterback/spot starter. He flashes enough arm talent to make every throw in the book while also displaying above average athleticism as a runner. Although the former Pro Bowler has flawed mechanics and inconsistent footwork that impact his accuracy and ball placement, he is an adequate thrower from the pocket, particularly when he's able to make pick-and-stick throws without hesitation. He lacks outstanding anticipation as a thrower but has a good enough fastball to fire the rock past defenders when he sees the open window. Griffin is at his best hitting crossers at short and intermediate depths and firing the ball to receivers on isolation routes (hitches, slants and hinges) on the outside. In addition, he is an effective deep-ball passer (go routes and post routes) following hard play fakes in the pocket (full flow play-action).
With RGIII also showing promise as a passer on the move to either side, he is definitely worth a look as a developmental/backup option. As an experienced player with 40 career starts, he is more than capable of filling in as a short-term sub for a squad with a solid supporting cast on the perimeter. Given the Ravens need for a quality QB2, the decision to sign RG3 on a low-risk, high-reward deal could be a wise investment down the road if he rediscovers his game in Charm City.
When the New England Patriotstraded Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams for the 23rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the team immediately became one of the power brokers of draft weekend. The team owns five picks within the first 100 selections, including a pair of 1s (Nos. 23 and 31) and 2s (Nos. 43 and 63) at their disposal. Plus, the Patriots have a third-round pick (No. 95) also available in their war chest.
With so much capital at their disposal, the Patriots are sitting in the cat bird's seat when it comes to controlling the board. They can package multiple picks to move up the board to snag a blue-chip player, or they can trade out and acquire more picks to fill out their roster with inexpensive talent whose specific skill sets match New England's scheme.
In theory, the New England has the ammunition to retool its roster to help them remain a contender for the foreseeable future. But with Tom Brady turning 41 in August, the Pats are really at a crossroads: Do they remain in "win-now" mode or use the 2018 draft to prepare for life after Brady. Often, teams in this position tend to take a step back, fall out of the playoffs, and then use this moment as an opportunity to build toward the future. But the Pats under Bill Belichick are unlike any other team we've ever seen, making 15 playoff appearances in 18 seasons, including nine straight tournament appearances to date.
"It's tough to remain in 'win-now' mode and build for the future," said a former NFL scout. "You want to keep chasing rings with TB12, but you also want to avoid getting caught holding the bag when he eventually retires."
To that point, the Patriots have to decide if 2018 is the time to snag their quarterback of the future with a top pick. Belichick can see if one of the top quarterback prospects unexpectedly slides out of the top 10 and parlay some of those picks to move up and land a prospect like Baker Mayfield or Josh Rosen if they're within range. Granted, the Patriots have typically snagged quarterback prospects in the second or third rounds, which would put players like Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, Richmond's Kyle Lauletta, Washington State's Luke Faulk and others in the conversation as developmental prospects with long-term potential.
If the Patriots opt to continue with their win-now approach, the team could stay put and pick a handful of solid players to address their biggest needs. Sitting at No. 23 and No. 31, the Patriots should be in range to take an offensive tackle, pass rusher and/or tight end to add some sizzle to their squad. Notre Dame's Matt McGlinchey and UCLA's Kolton Miller could fill the void at left tackle created by Nate Solder's departure. If the team looks for a complementary tight end to play opposite Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots could set their sights on South Carolina's Hayden Hurst, South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert or Penn State's Mike Gesicki.
Given the team's need for a pass rusher, Ohio State's Sam Hubbard, Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch and Georgia's Lorenzo Carter could draw interest at the bottom of the first round. Keep in mind, the Patriots could auction off a few picks to shoot up the board to snag an elite edge defender like N.C. State's Bradley Chubb to fill the void along the frontline.
Based on what the Pats do on April 26, we will get a better idea of how Belichick envisions the future playing out in New England.