The run-up to the NFL Draft is a minefield of misinformation, replete with scouts, execs, and NFL information brokers scrambling to outflank each other and throw up various smokescreens. It is also, simultaneously and hilariously, a realm of comically serious and idiotically wised-up analysis, which takes the form of Football Knowers charting the unquantifiable aspects of the prospects in front of them. NFL teams are risk-averse, and want to know everything they can about players—Does he work hard? Is he smart? How will he respond to struggles?—before they bet big on them. This makes sense, but that attempt at diligence tends to take the form of teams asking players stupid questions at the combine.
This brings us to Josh Rosen, who is, depending on who you ask, either one of the best quarterback prospects in next month’s draft or a dangerous miscreant whose priorities and zany ideas make him a toxic commodity unsuited for war in the NFL trenches. Simply put, NFL teams tend to want a single type of player, the single-minded grinder who worships at the altar of FOOTBALL and WORK, and Rosen strikes a very different figure. He called out the incompatibility of college football and school; he once expressed a political opinion; he might not be particularly religious; his spunky attitude draws “questions;” he dares to have interests outside of football; he “questions authority;” he’s “too smart” to kowtow to a dumbass like Trent Dilfer; his privileged upbringing means he won’t have the drive to succeed.
This is all bullshit! None of those personal characteristics have anything to do with whether Josh Rosen will be a good football player or not. Handwringing over how much Josh Rosen’s opinion-having will affect him in the no-nonsense, buttoned-up NFL honors a completely false equivalency between how the NFL evaluates players and how those players actually do or don’t pan out.
NFL teams are wrong all the time, and now that players are starting to wise up to the fact that football is inherently dangerous—some of them to the point that they actually retire rather than stay in the league—the teams are running scared. As a result, they seem ever more inclined to pick players who fall within a narrow personality bandwidth and project a league-approved type of seriousness. Perception has far superseded reality if someone like Josh Rosen is being bumped down on draft boards because teams are scared that someone who does not like President Trump (not a novel sentiment in NFL locker rooms) will sow discord among the team.
Here is what matters: Josh Rosen was very good at playing quarterback in college, and he might well be very good in the NFL. We won’t figure any of that out until he plays. The rest is just noise.