Laying out the case for each quarterback
The New York Giants enter the 2019 draft process facing more questions than answers. Are they actually going to trade Odell Beckham? What is the future of safety Landon Collins? How can they address the cornerback position? What about the linebacker corps? And of course, what is the future of the quarterback position? While the other questions are incredibly important, if you’ve read this far you probably know that I will be addressing the final one.
So let’s address that question in a totally whimsical manner that bespeaks of the seriousness with which we view this situation, and play ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’
Behind door number one you have a rising second-year quarterback in the NFL. He was viewed as some as the best quarterback in last year’s draft, but a rough rookie season and a new head coach for his organization have created rumblings that he might be available via a trade.
Behind door number two you have an incoming rookie quarterback. He might be the best quarterback in this year’s draft class, but as many believe, this is a down year at the quarterback position. He is more of a prototypical pocket passer, not overly athletic, and oh yes, he has just one year as a starter.
Which do you choose?
Before laying out the case for each quarterback, and then my final verdict, we should lay some ground rules. It would be foolish to engage in this exercise keeping the quarterbacks “in a vacuum,” as there would clearly be an associated cost with trading for Rosen. So, without delving into whether this would be the actual price, we will assume for this discussion that the cost is the sixth overall pick. So that gives us this question: Haskins at six overall, or Rosen for the sixth overall pick? (That might not be what it takes to acquire Rosen – if he is even available – but let’s use this framework).
Door Number 1 – The case for Rosen
In the run-up to last year’s draft, there were many who were bringing high praise to their discussions of Rosen. Lance Zierlein from NFL.com wrote that his “…footwork and mechanics make him as pretty a quarterback as you will find in this year’s draft.” For me, Rosen was my top-ranked quarterback, and I loved his footwork in the pocket, his mechanics, and his mental approach to the game. But he turned out to be the fourth quarterback selected, falling to the Arizona Cardinals, and that apparently left Rosen, for lack of a better phrase, “pissed.”
Unfortunately, Rosen’s post-draft ire did not translate to huge success on the field, and there’s a reason this hypothetical situation is on the table. The Cardinals currently hold the first overall selection, and have welcomed a new head coach into the fold. That head coach? Kliff Kingsbury, who has previously spoken of his affinity for Kyler Murray — with whom he shares an agent. Those coincidences and connections have created the pre-draft buzz that Rosen might be available.
Also contributing to that speculation was the production from the rookie QB. Rosen struggled in 2018, and his Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANY/A) of 3.53 ranked 33rd in the NFL a year ago, dead last among qualified passers. Fellow rookies Sam Darnold (5.24) and Josh Allen (4.37) ranked 31st and 32nd, respectively. Rosen also threw 11 touchdowns against 14 interceptions, and his completion percentage was below 60 percent.
Supporters of Rosen will point to the situation around him (a leaky offensive line, a lack of weapons) and argue that with some decent pieces in place around him, that he could have the kind of success in his second season that we saw from another quarterback given the early “bust” label, Jared Goff. That also appears to be the model the Cardinals are hoping to emulate, given how they hired a young, offensive-minded head coach to help develop their young passer. But given these rumblings, would a player with Rosen’s track record be worth it for the Giants?
Looking at the film you can still catch glimpses of what he can do as a passer, despite the rough start to his career. Take, for example, a few plays from his first NFL start, against the Seattle Seahawks, a playoff team. On this fourth quarter throw to tight end Ricky Seals-Jones (86), Rosen (3) needs to deliver into a tight throwing window. He does:
With the cornerback cheating down toward the line of scrimmage and the safety playing half-field, there is a window to deliver on a vertical route to the two TE side of the formation. This throw, into the “turkey hole,” will need to be delivered with pinpoint accuracy, ahead of the cornerback in trail coverage and before the safety can rotate over.
This is a very impressive throw into a tight throwing lane, but the rookie quarterback puts this pass “into a shoebox,” to borrow a phrase from Gus Johnson. Seals-Jones pulls in the perfect throw and the Cardinals are on the move.
On another play in that game, Seals-Jones gets isolated in a man coverage situation with Bobby Wagner (54), a talented and athletic linebacker. The tight end gets upfield and perhaps has a step on the linebacker, but Wagner is in very good position underneath the tight end, right in his hip pocket. Rosen still looks to the tight end:
This is a prime example of “NFL open.” Seals-Jones has a step on Wagner, and while the linebacker is in good position this is a throw that quarterbacks need to make. Again, it needs to be put “in a shoebox” and Rosen does exactly that. When watching it on the broadcast replay angle, the throw is even more impressive:
This is a perfect throw from Rosen and as Mark Schlereth points out in the booth, “you can’t throw it better than that.” The pass is delivered with enough touch to get it over Wagner, but with enough velocity to arrive before the safety can make a break on Seals-Jones. A truly impressive pass.
Finally, look at his first touchdown pass, that marries the mental approach with his crisp footwork in the pocket.
This is a maximum protection, two-receiver route with both Fitzgerald and Williams running crossing routes. Fitzgerald comes underneath while Williams goes over the top. The primary receiver on this play is Fitzgerald, and the offense is hoping that play-action in the backfield draws the linebackers down toward the line of scrimmage, freeing up the intermediate route to Fitzgerald.
Two of the linebackers, Barkevious Mingo (51) and Wagner display pretty good discipline on this play. While they both crash down initially, each makes a quick retreat into his underneath zone, taking away the throwing lane on the dig route to Fitzgerald. Rosen then looks to the other option, Williams, as he crosses into the red zone. But now the QB needs to worry about free safety Earl Thomas (29) in the middle of the field, so he puts this throw to the outside and away from the safety.
He does this while using his feet to slide and create space in the pocket. Another impressive throw.
However, are these limited instances worth the sixth overall pick? Let’s peek behind the second door …
Door Number 2 – The case for Haskins
Now let’s look at Haskins, the Ohio State product with one year as a starter under his belt. In that one season Haskins put up impressive numbers, throwing for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns against just eight interceptions.
When studying Haskins you can see some similarities to Rosen. He is not an overly athletic quarterback, who needs to rely on footwork and presence in the pocket to avoid pressure and buy time to throw. He is not, as some have described him, “a running quarterback.” Haskins is more of the prototypical pocket QB, who will use his size, frame and feet to keep plays alive and avoid the pass rush.
Also with Haskins, you can see the mental approach coming into focus despite just one year as a starter. It begins in the pre-snap phase, before the play begins. (As an aside, when you sit down to study quarterbacks in the weeks ahead if your analysis begins at the snap, you’re missing half the battle). Haskins is very involved in the pre-snap phase of the play, and it does not come from the sidelines all the time as it does with other college quarterbacks. You can see him calling out blitzes, identifying the MIKE defender, sliding the protection, moving players around as necessary, and it often pays off in the post-snap phase of the play.
Haskins is also a more natural manipulator of defenders with his eyes, in comparison to Murray for example. Whether it is moving a deep safety on a vertical passing concept, or even influencing an underneath linebacker in the quick game, Haskins can manipulate defenders with his eyes, get them out of position, and exploit the defense in a flash.
You can also see the mental approach show up on anticipation throws, and not just on those backside hitch routes when the cornerback is playing 8 yards off, but on throws over the middle of the field when you need to throw a receiver open between zone coverage defenders. Take, for example, this throw on a crossing route against Purdue University. The Boilermakers drop into zone coverage here, and Haskins (7) starts his throw before his intended target clears one underneath linebacker, throwing him open into a soft spot in the coverage:
Haskins makes this throw on time, in rhythm and with good anticipation in the middle of the field, which is usually a rare trait for college quarterbacks to display. In addition, he gets blitzed on this play, but does not let the incoming pressure influence him.
He also checks the “competitive toughness” box. My favorite game of his to study this season was Ohio State’s loss at Purdue, and we already saw a play from that game. Despite trailing for most of the game, and often by more than two scores, Haskins kept battling in that contest, throwing more than 70 times and hanging in the pocket on multiple third down plays to make a throw before taking a shot from a pass rusher.
One play that might sum up Haskins’ strengths as a quarterback is another snap from the Purdue game. This comes on a fourth-and-5 play late in the game, with the Buckeyes trailing by 22. As you can see, Haskins adjusts the protection and slides the tight end into a wing to help in pass protection, anticipating a blitz. The blitz does not come, but Haskins still throws a rope on a quick post route for a score:
These are the little things that you need to do in the NFL to be successful, and Haskins is showing those traits and tools while still in college.
There is also an economic argument to be advanced with Haskins. Both he and Rosen will be on a rookie contract, so the salary implications are not as drastic as they might be with acquiring a veteran passer. But with Haskins you will get one more year of him on the rookie dead as opposed to Rosen, who already has a season under his belt. One more piece to consider.
Now comes the hard part: Making a call. There is merit to either route. With Haskins, you get a rookie quarterback who shows an advanced understanding of the game, which might put him at the top of many team’s boards at the quarterback position. Locking up the top-ranked quarterback for four years with that fifth-year option, at a cost-controlled value, is a smart approach. Are there areas where Haskins needs to improve? Of course. Will there be bumps along the road? For sure. But that is certainly an approach worth exploring.
But for me, in this scenario, I’m “Rolling With Rosen.” While you would lose out on one year of a cost-controlled quarterback, the Giants would also miss out on that rough, “learning experience” of a rookie season. One of the issues with Rosen’s rookie campaign was the lack of weapons around him. Now he’d be stepping into a situation with one of the game’s best wide receivers, a talented and dynamic young running back, a matchup weapon at the tight end position and another young talent at slot receiver. Solidify the offensive line in front of him, and in my opinion Rosen would flourish in New York. Haskins might be a great quarterback some day, but Rosen is closer, and a more advanced passer right now.
Whether he is truly available … and whether the Giants’ front office would share my opinions … are questions for another time.