Eli Manning came from money out of Ole Miss back in 2004, with an arrest for public drunkeness on his record. He could be so mild-mannered and composed as to appear aloof in games, and he refused to play for the San Diego Chargers, influencing a draft-day trade just so the seemingly entitled QB could play for the Giants.
No one holds Manning’s affluent background against him now, nor his minor slip-up with the law, nor his lack of a rah-rah demeanor, nor his kicking and screaming to make sure he’d play in New York. Instead, he has two Super Bowl rings and is praised for his steady demeanor, intelligence, and remarkable example as a franchise QB.
Josh Rosen is Eli Manning — minus the arrest. Or at least the UCLA quarterback is the closest thing to the next Eli in this heralded 2018 QB draft class. And after a decade-and-a-half of stability at the sport’s most important position under Manning, it’s fair to say the Giants’ search for a franchise QB this spring is essentially the hunt for Eli 2.0.
Rosen is that, from his perceived flaws to his strengths, and those who know him will do you one better: Rosen in some ways might be more like another Manning — Peyton.
“I don’t view Eli on the same intelligence level as Rosen,” one NFL scout told the Daily News this week. “I once heard they used to tape episodes of Seinfeld for Eli, while Peyton used to ask for advanced film on teams or background of GMs in NFL. I think (Eli and Rosen) are about the same athlete. Rosen throws a prettier ball and has a better arm.”
In fact, Chad Johnson, Rosen’s high school offensive coordinator and QB coach at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif., told the News he and Rosen “modeled” the Braves’ “philosophy and offense” after Peyton’s Colts due to Rosen’s mental capacity as a QB.
“We wanted to make sure the defense was always wrong,” Johnson, now the head coach at Mission Viejo, said on the phone Thursday. “And Josh in eighth grade, we realized how smart he was, and we always worked on that, approached the offense by learning the defense. I remember telling Josh, ‘I don’t know if you’ll ever be Peyton, but you’re so smart and you understand the game so well, I think you could run this offense.’”
“Like Peyton, we’d try to get a three-play menu in each situation and he could get himself into the perfect play,” Johnson added. “And the best part about Josh — a lot of QBs I’ve had, they make the run checks but when it works and hits, they don’t get overly excited about it. But when Josh checked to a run play and it would hit, he would come over excited like he threw an 80-yard bomb, and all he did was check to a run play and hit for 60. He got it. He wasn’t all about throwing the ball. He got it. He loved the chess game of football so much.”
Rosen’s college coach Jim Mora has framed the quarterback’s intelligence and curiosity as negatives, telling The MMQB that Rosen “needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored.” But Johnson said Rosen, who visited the Giants this past Tuesday and Wednesday in East Rutherford, is misunderstood.
“You’ve gotta remember, this kid was in all AP classes,” Johnson said of Rosen, who is fascinated, for example, by SpaceX founder Elon Musk and the prospect of life on Mars. “His group of friends on a Saturday night were, like, building robots. They’re still his friends. That’s him. He just happens to be an NFL caliber quarterback.
“He’s an outstanding kid. He didn’t have any problems with any of our kids at Bosco,” Johnson continued. “Josh is so smart. When he gets in conversation, he likes to debate, he likes the mental sparring. But maybe it’s different when you do it with the football team than with your friends in AP class? I don’t know. He’s probably learned over the years that he doesn’t have to make everyone feel he’s the smartest guy in the room.”
But that’s a lesson that Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers never learned, right? Rosen’s recent visit with Rodgers — who fell to 24th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft basically for being too cocky as a prospect out of Cal — showed two quarterbacks who always have a follow-up question, or an extra thought or opinion, verbally sparring. There are worse qualities to have than being demanding.
“I don’t think in any business being smart and thoughtful is a bad thing,” Greg Cosell, senior producer at NFL Films, told the News Saturday after a detailed scouting evaluation. “I think Rosen is a better prospect than (2016 first overall pick) Jared Goff coming out … Stylistically, (Rosen and Manning) are similar in that they’re more pure pocket players. Rosen, his mechanics are probably a little more refined, cleaner overall than Eli’s were … But if you’re not gonna draft him because he’s smart, thoughtful and questioning, that’s silly.”
Rosen is, after all, the son of father Charles, an orthopedic surgeon, and mom Liz, the great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Wharton of Penn’s Wharton business school. Just as Peyton and Eli Manning learned how to closely study from former NFL QB father Archie, Rosen learned from his parents, now divorced, to be inquisitive and involved. That translates to football and helps the offense; it doesn’t hurt it.
“He definitely likes to question things, and I liked that,” Johnson said. “You have to explain why you’re doing things. The days of telling players to shut the ‘F’ up and do what you need to do are over. And if you can’t explain it to your quarterback, it probably shouldn’t be in the game plan, right?”
Rosen no doubt is much more socially and politically vocal and controversial than the Giants’ Eli Manning. He has admitted to mistakes, including wearing a ‘F— Trump’ hat in public, posting a photo with a young woman in a hot tub in his dorm room, and using Under Armour’s UCLA partnership as a platform to criticize NCAA amateur status.
But Manning also at the moment is still embroiled in court in an alleged memorabilia scandal, yet his name still was sparkling clean in the eyes of Giants fans who revolted last season when Ben McAdoo benched him. Perhaps Rosen said it best in his recent revealing ESPN interview about a comparison with Rodgers.
“I think if teams went back to that draft, they’d rethink some of their critiques of Rodgers,” Rosen said. “If he’s the best pure passer in the draft, the best QB, with no legitimate off-field issues, that should be your answer — that’s your QB.”
For the Giants, too, there are myriad similarities to Eli. Rosen made his name with a comeback for the ages, throwing for 491 yards, four TDs and no INTs in a 45-44 win over Texas A&M on Sept. 3, 2017. The Bruins trailed 44-10 with 4:08 to play in the third quarter and scored 35 unanswered. Manning’s signatures are his two fourth-quarter comebacks in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI on the mighty Patriots, winning the championships and MVPs.
Off the field, Johnson said Rosen “really does care about people” — influenced by his father, who has fought pharmaceutical and medical malpractice — and is intent on getting involved in the community he joins. Johnson cites the story of Rosen once designing discount cards for local businesses to raise money for Bosco teammates’ trip to Hawaii.
“Josh designed that plan on his own without any of us asking or knowing about it. He comes into the football office one day wearing a shirt and tie and suit,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘What are you doing, it’s 90 degrees? He said I’m making these discount cards to sell them so our kids can go to Hawaii. He drafted the contract himself.”
“Josh is a lot like Eli as a human,” another friend of Rosen shared. “Eli is the Walter Payton Man of the Year, he’s business savvy, he’s cognizant of his position in New York. Everything you’ve become accustomed to with Eli, you’re getting that with Josh. He’s a guy who’s not gonna go out and get in trouble.”
Durability looks like a discrepancy: Manning just completed a streak of 210 straight NFL regular season starts, while Rosen had surgery to repair a soft tissue injury in his throwing shoulder in 2016 and sustained two concussions this past season. Johnson, however, said there are easy answers to Rosen’s toughness and ability to take a hit.
“The Chargers asked me about Josh’s toughness,” he said. “I told them, ‘You want to find out about Josh’s toughness? In basketball, he’s a power forward, a stretch four. Bring him in, have him play Antonio Gates one-on-one, and you’ll see how tough he is. He’s a physical basketball. And he’s stupid athletic.”
Finally, maybe the most intriguing similarity to Eli? The best sense I get from reporting on this story is that Rosen might be as excited to play for the Giants now as Manning was back in 2004. No, he isn’t orchestrating a hostile takeover like Manning did, and he’ll give his best to whatever team drafts him. But Rosen made early comments about preferring to land with the right team and my feeling is he’s hoping for the Big Apple spotlight.
Johnson, 38, who actually played college football at Hofstra under late Pride coach Joe Gardi, knows Rosen, knows New York, and says they’d be perfect for each other. (That also makes Johnson a former teammate of Giovanni Carmazzi, one of the infamous Brady Six — the six QBs drafted over Brady in 2000.)
“I think Josh would flourish in New York,” he said. “Obviously with his background, he’s Jewish, I think it’s definitely a place he would be welcomed. The Jewish community in New York City is very strong. And Josh is going to give back, and that more than anything is going to win over a locker room. He will do amazing things for the community to help people when he doesn’t have to do anything, and people will see that.”
So there’s only one unanswered question left: what do the Giants see?
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