This is the latest in a series of in-depth features on potential quarterbacks for the Bills.
INDIANAPOLIS — UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen says his special ability to throw goes way back.
"My parents always said that coming into my crib room was always dangerous because bottles would come flying out of nowhere," Rosen said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I've kind of always had an arm of some sort — pitching in baseball, tennis, football. It's just a lucky ability I was blessed with."
When it comes to throwing the football, everyone agrees Rosen is a natural.
"Rosen is the best pure passer I’ve seen in several years," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. "He’s on balance on every throw. He’s accurate short, intermediate and deep."
"I think as a pure passer, being under center, taking 3, 5, 7-step drops, the most artistic, picture-perfect, pure passing quarterback, it’s Josh Rosen," said ESPN's Mel Kiper.
"On signing day out of high school, we said he's the most pure passer in the conference right now," said Yogi Roth, the Pac-12 Network's lead analyst and a former Southern Cal QBs coach. "Josh is that. Josh is gifted. He's big, big, big time, in my opinion."
Both Mayock and Kiper rank Southern Cal's Sam Darnold and Wyoming's Josh Allen (or vice versa) as the top two quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft.
If you believe them, that would leave Rosen as a prime Buffalo Bills trade-up target, presuming the Bills have a high enough grade on the UCLA QB to try to move into the top five.
Rosen's accuracy has to be appealing to Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who spent so much time in the New England precision passing scheme.
Watch Rosen's games this season, and it's amazing how he's able to hit receivers in perfect stride. Time after time, UCLA receivers got every yard after catch possible because Rosen's ball placement was on the proper shoulder as they were moving forward.
"Josh throws a perfect ball," said UCLA receiver Jordan Lasley on Friday. "Dig routes, curls. He doesn't let it go outside of the framework of your body. He throws a ball that's right under your facemask. You can catch it and just go. Josh's ball placement is by far the best, in my opinion. He throws to where you're gonna be."
Rosen completed 62.5 percent of his passes in 2017 in leading UCLA to a 6-6 record. He didn't have a ton of help. Laskey, the Bruins' top receiver, is a seventh-round draft prospect. The offensive line was shaky. The UCLA defense ranked 123rd out of 130 in the nation in yards allowed.
Mayock and Kiper rate Rosen behind Darnold and Allen largely because those two have slightly stronger arms and better mobility.
But there's a lot to love about Rosen. He has classic height at 6-foot-4, and his hands are big. At 9 7-8 inches, they're second in the QB draft class to Allen (at 10 1-8). That helps him spin the ball.
And he's smart.
"I've been asked is he too smart for his own good at times?" Roth said. "I don't think so at all. I think he's trying hard. I think he's playing at a higher playing field than a lot of people. He'll walk into that NFL building with probably the most elasticity in his neuro-agility. I bet if you could measure it, it might be higher than some of the people coaching him."
"He's a guy who will ask his offensive coordinator every single question about every single play," Roth said. "He wants to have answers and tools when that one thing happens one time out of 100 times they run that concept."
Sometimes Rosen's intelligence and willingness to speak his mind has made him stand out from most college star athletes.
After UCLA and Under Armor signed a 15-year, $280 million apparel contract, the largest in college sports history, Rosen posted on social media: "We're still amateurs though ... Gotta love non-profits #NCAA."
In a Bleacher Report interview in August, Rosen said: "Look, football and school don't go together. They just don't. Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs."
He took some flak for that quote, even though it's widely accepted that college football players spend 40 to 50 hours a week on their sport during the season.
Rosen posted a photo of hiself playing golf in 2016 while wearing a cap that read "(Expletive) Donald Trump."
"I think what they want to get to know," Mayock said of NFL teams, "is what’s his passion for the game? Does he love it? Is he committed for the next 10 years to be the best he can be? Or is he going to be content with just being a pretty good player and hanging out?"
"The No. 1 thing that probably gets overlooked," Mayock acknowledged, "is his teammates loved him. I think he'll fit in fine."
Said UCLA enter Scott Quessenberry: "We're always in tune with the latest lawsuits and stuff like that, and that's because of Josh. Josh is very insightful on things that are going on in college football. He wants to be an advocate for players in college football. He loved being in college, he loved playing college football and loved the relationships that he made, and he wants to see everyone, from No. 1 to No. 120 get the same treatment."
"If that means he's going to rub some people outside of college football the wrong way," Quessenberry said, "it doesn't bother him because he knows in that elusive college football fraternity, the people that are going to support him are the people that are his contemporaries."
Rosen missed half the 2016 season due to a soft-tissue injury in his right shoulder, which required surgery. He played 11 games in 2017 but missed the regular-season finale and UCLA's bowl game due to a concussion.
Rosen had his weight up to 226 this week, but he's not a thick-framed guy, which causes some to worry about his durability.
"I've watched Josh get hit right in the mouth and he came back the next play, nose bleeding, and threw a touchdown against Arizona State," Lasley said. "Josh is tough as nails, man. I don't know if anybody else out there really knows that about him but he'll do anything for a win. He's a very unselfish guy."
"The problem I have with him is there’s a durability issue, a shoulder issue in ’16 and two concussions in ’17," Mayock said. "When you combine that with an inability to escape from the pocket, I’m concerned. I’m concerned whether or not he can play enough games to make a significant dent in the NFL. So I love his talent but I’m very worried about his ability to survive."
Injuries are hard to predict.
One thing is certain: Rosen is going to impress some teams with his articulate, thoughtful answers in interviews.
Rosen on leadership: "I think leadership is a personal thing that there aren't really any shortcuts to. It' takes time. You have to build relationships and you have to treat each individual individually. Some guys respond to a kick in the butt a little better. Some guys respond to encouragement or inspiration. Some guys get down on themselves so you have to help them up a little bit. You have to lead in your own individual way. I'm not really a big rah-rah guy. And if I tried to be I think my teammates would see through it. It's not about me it's about the team."
Rosen on his pocket presence: "I think I make very quick decisions. I always say if you can get to three four reads into your progression, you give yourself more opportunities to get the ball down the field. If you're a 1-2 and run guy and you throw the ball 40 times a game, NFL 30 times a game, you're giving yourself 70, 80 opportunities to get the ball down the field. If you can get to 1, 2, 3 and 4, then you're giving yourself 150, 160 – twice as many opportunities to actually push the ball down the field. That’s where I think my best attribute is. I can sit in the pocket and really pick defenses apart."
Rosen on whether he needs to convince teams he loves football: "Kind of. . . . I love football with all of my heart and soul. If I didn't, I don't think I'd have been able to make it through the grind of college. Football is an unbelievable team sport. That's what's so cool about it. I'm not playing exclusively for my own passions. I'm playing for all of my teammates. So it's cool when you can throw a touchdown at the Rose Bowl and turn to the sideline and see 120 of your best friends all jump for joy. . . . If teams still questioned my love for the game after this week and after they get to know me it would bother me. But I think coaches can really see what I care about."