by Cameron Rivers
New York Giants general manager, Jerry Reese, found a solo spot in the back of the University of Southern California (USC) end zone, leaning against the goalpost as he watched the Trojans Quarterback, Sam Darnold.
Reese’s focused stare was interrupted by a soft tap on the shoulder from his New York Jets counterpart, Mike Maccagnan, who stopped by to say hello. They engaged in conversation for about two minutes, creating this ironically appropriate scene:
These are the top football men in New York, both in search of a young franchise quarterback for the future standing about 10 yards away from the potential top pick in the 2018 draft. On the other side of the field was UCLA’s Josh Rosen, who many believe is the elite quarterback prospect.
NFL executives are not allowed to comment or discuss about underclassmen but it’s pretty safe to say Reese and Maccagnan wouldn’t have made the cross-country trip to see USC’s and UCLA’s kickers.
For the Jets, Giants and a multitude other teams, it was one-stop scouting Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was the quarterback match up of the year. Two stars. Darnold versus Josh Rosen.
New York is used to stardom at the quarterback position. However, two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning, has been benched for Geno Smith and is 36 years old is in the back end of his Giants career, and the Jets haven’t had a transcendent player at the quarterback position since Broadway Joe Namath.
Even though Josh McCown has been playing at a pro bowl level this year.
This 2018 NFL draft could be a special one for the New York teams. The Giants (2-9) could have a top-three draft pick and the Jets (4-6) could end up being in the top 10, setting up some New York-style quarterback drama in April’s draft. The Jets and Giants never have both selected quarterbacks in the top-10 picks in the same year.
What if Darnold and Rosen took their rivalry from college to the Big Apple?
“They’re both can’t-miss guys,” said former Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer, a California-raised quarterback who has known both players since they were in high school in Southern California. “Without speaking in hyperbole, they’re two of the best prospects we’ve had in a while.”
Darnold still has the option to return to USC for another season.
Keyshawn Johnson, a former No. 1 overall pick who made the jump from USC to the New York stage as a member of the Jets, believes both players have the talent and mental toughness to survive the glare of Gotham.
“I think Sam would be perfect in New York,” said Johnson, who knows Darnold through his alma mater and coached Rosen in a 7-on-7 summer league that traveled the all-around country in high school. “Sam doesn’t say anything, and he’s a football guy. Josh has a little more Broadway Joe in him, a little Keyshawn Johnson in him. He’s gonna bite back. He’s a little more colorful.”
NFL representatives all turned out to watch the first (and probably last) college duel between Darnold and Rosen. The game was a perfect summary of their careers. Rosen made the “wow” NFL throws and put up outstanding numbers (421 yards and three touchdowns), but Darnold came in the clutch making timely plays and won the game. 28-23 Darnold comes up with the win. Rosen puts up big numbers.
“The most talented passer in the country,” one AFC scout at the game said of josh Rosen.
For both Rosen and Darnold it hasn’t been all smooth sailing this season. Darnold’s turnovers (an FBS-high 17) became a big story, with some critics saying the weight of expectations in the pre-season got to him around midseason. But Since then, Darnold has played four strong games.
Josh Rosen put on a clinic in front of NFL scouts with 400-plus passing yards in a loss to USC. John Cordes of Icon Sportswire wrote The knock on Rosen, something that has followed him since he was a freshman, is that he lacks maturity. He can be difficult to coach. He has a sense of entitlement.” Recall back to his 2015 infamous hot tub photo that remains the main point in every conversation that questions his football character.
“People say he’s spoiled because he’s a private-school kid from Manhattan Beach who drove an Audi in high school. That’s what that is,” Johnson said. “So, he had a hot tub in college. That’s what everybody’s looking at? If I were him, I’d have a hot tub, too.”
Dilfer acknowledged Rosen “can be edgy and polarizing,” but however he did say the UCLA star has matured a lot in recent years. In high school, Rosen was a participant in Dilfer’s Elite 11 quarterback camp and returned last summer as a counselor. Dilfer said Rosen “really grew” as a person in that time.
New York can be a vicious place for quarterbacks. Hello, Mark Sanchez, the former USC golden boy who flamed out after a real promising there years. Hello, Geno Smith, who was verbally ripped by New York fans and even worst has gotten his jaw broken by his own teammate ending Smith’s career as a starter with the Jets.
However, the future seems bright for these two California stars who could dominate Broadway for years to come.