UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is an early favorite to be the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Yeah, I know the NFL regular season isn’t even over yet, but projections for these things actually begin sometime around five minutes after the previous year’s draft has ended.
Rosen, who still has a year of eligibility left, is considering his options as far as staying in school or declaring for the draft. Matt Leinart may have cost himself millions by staying at USC another year because well, he LOVED being the star quarterback in LA. He was majoring in PlayStation and hot girls, so I never begrudged him that fifth year of no real classes, football, and fun.
Peyton Manning stuck around at Tennessee for four years, presumably so he could take a few acting classes in preparation for being in every third commercial you see. But Rosen’s thinking of staying in school is not because he’s not ready for the lights and not because he’d miss being the big man on UCLA’s campus. He’s considering waiting another year because he doesn’t want to play for the Cleveland Browns, who locked up the number one overall pick.
I recently wrote a piece detailing the colossal failure that has been the Cleveland Browns reboot, so I know what you’re afraid of, Josh. You’re worried about the short NFL lifespans of Browns quarterbacks. You’re worried that a room full of guys who lost every game a year ago won’t provide you with much support. You’re worried that playing for Cleveland and losing in Cleveland will hurt your chances at big free agent dollars when you get your chance to jump ship.
I get it, man. But not everyone can be John Elway or Eli Manning. Not everyone can refuse to play in a particular city for a particular team. So, in that spirit, I’m going to attempt to talk you into leaving college for the NFL this spring. Here are some pretty solid reasons you’d rather hear your name called by Roger Goodell in April than play your senior season in 2018.
You’re Going To Suck At First
Archie Manning told Peyton this very same thing in 1998. Having been through it himself, he knew how much faster the linebackers and defensive backs were at the next level. Guys who look open to you, like they did in high school and college, are actually pretty well covered by a world-class athlete. And some of those balls you could get away with throwing at your alma mater will be picked off and taken the other way in the NFL.
Tom Brady’s stats in the beginning of his career were certainly good, but he didn’t put up any 50 TD/8 INT seasons in those first years. The Patriots ran the ball more, played good defense, and waited patiently for the chance to air it out. As he matured, Brady didn’t always need good protection or separation for his receivers or superstar rosters to drop 300 yards and a pair of TDs on even the best defenses.
Rosen, if he were to choose the draft, will have the same ups and downs as the guys whose names we barely remember. The same ups and downs as the guys whose names we’ll never forget. That’s just the nature of the business. Better to get that part out of the way as fast as you can. Consider that first NFL season like a dress rehearsal for the rest of your career.
Rebuilds Can Happen Fast… Even In Cleveland
The Browns are staring at a 0-16 season and a 1-31 record over the past two seasons. The idea of becoming a part of that has to be intimidating. To be that bad, a team has to struggle both running the football and protecting its quarterback. All of that sounds like a recipe for getting a fresh-faced rookie quarterback killed.
However, history has shown that hitting the absolute bottom doesn’t mean staying there forever. The inaugural Tampa Bay Buccaneers season of 1976 was the first winless campaign in the league’s modern era. In fact, they followed a 0-14 season by losing their first 12 games in 1977 before finally breaking through for their first ever win. Two years later, behind a future Super Bowl MVP quarterback Doug Williams and a talented defense, the Bucs fell just nine points short of a trip to the Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning’s Colts won only three games in his first year under center. The following year, they won 13 and made the playoffs.
The Detroit Lions were the first team to reach that not-so-magic total of 16 losses in a season The franchise even set an NFL record by going nearly four years between wins away from home.
Then they drafted Matthew Stafford, who embraced the challenge of a total rebuild. Okay, the results have been mixed. Stafford has led the Lions to three playoff berths yet no playoff wins. But hey, it’s the Lions. That’s tantamount to winning it all for a team that hasn’t won the whole thing since the days of Bobby Layne and “Night Train” Lane. The point is, turning this ship around is possible, even in Cleveland.
Playing In New York Is Tough
Eli Manning and his father, Archie refused to play for the team that drafted him in 2004. Eli did not want to play for what he considered a dysfunctional franchise in San Diego. His father had more faith in a quick turnaround in New York with the Giants.
There were other factors that neither of them considered, one being how hard it is to win over the media and the fans in the Big Apple. Only five quarterbacks in history have thrown for more yards than Eli Manning. Only seven men have thrown more touchdown passes than Eli Manning.
All of the names ahead of him on these lists are household-name legends. I’m not saying Eli is Dan Marino, John Elway, or Brett Favre, but that’s pretty amazing company to share a list with. Eli has won two Super Bowls, being named MVP in both. Both of those featured last-minute drives to beat the mighty New England Patriots.
He should be loved by the fans, but New York fans are hard to win over. Some said his first title was a fluke. Some point to the team’s struggles since their second title as proof that Eli was never as good as he was promised to be. They see his accomplishments as more a function of playing every Sunday than achieving every Sunday.
For a franchise which dates back to 1925, there are always ghosts. People look back at a Charlie Connerly or a Y.A. Tittle and see them as the epitome of quarterbacks for this accomplished franchise.
The fanbase always negatively compared Phil Simms to that legacy, even after leading the Giants to its first NFL title in 30 years in 1986. Those same fans now look at Eli and say he’s no Phil Simms.
Should Rosen manage to impress the Giants enough to make him a priority in this year’s draft, I have a word or two of warning for you, Josh. It’s hard out there for a Giants’ quarterback. You may be fighting ghosts, both real and perceived, every time you take a snap. Like Eli, you may do it no matter how many times you win.
All Of This May Be For Nothing
Sam Darnold or Baker Mayfield could have better pro days than Rosen. Maybe Rosen’s average statistics and record in college will cause his stock to drop. Maybe he’ll end up being taken later in the draft and he’ll be more worried about getting a chance to prove the doubters wrong.
Either way, I think Rosen should take his chances in the NFL. Knees tear and bones break in football so who knows what your future will hold? He could get hurt and never get the chance to suit up for an NFL team.
I know that a 0-16 team can’t be the NFL situation of Rosen’s dreams, but the city itself has improved dramatically over the last 30 years. Cleveland is one of the cleanest big cities in the midwest, and that business is thriving there. LeBron James will instantly become a follower Twitter. All of that trumps another year in college. Do yourself a favor and come out for the NFL Draft. Maybe you’ll be the reason things turn around in Cleveland. Besides, it won’t take much to impress your new fans.