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Jake Browning vs. Josh Rosen: Who’s the Better QB?

A totally unbiased look at the two quarterbacks.

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Josh Rosen was the first true freshman to start a season-opener at quarterback in UCLA history.
Josh Rosen was the first true freshman to start a season-opener at quarterback in UCLA history.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The hot-hot-hottest thing to do in the college football-verse this offseason was to pick Washington (7-6, 4-5 last season) to win the Pac-12 and represent the league in the College Football Playoff. Those prognosticators not swank enough to actually pick the Huskies have at least included them in their Dark Horse columns.

Chris Petersen’s team returns most of the starters on its Pac-12 best scoring and total defense, so the expectation is that a leap in offensive production will turn many or most of those six L’s into W’s come fall. That offense, which finished ranked 9th in the conference in scoring and total offense last season, was lead by two true freshmen, running back Myles Gaskin, and quarterback Jake Browning.

Browning has received fair praise for his play as a true freshman in 2015. ESPN’s Ted Miller had an excellent piece earlier this week comparing him to Kellen Moore, the undersized quarterback who torched WAC defenses on the blue turf for four years at Boise State. The article also reveals an important current of thought running through Washington-hype culture: that Jake Browning was as good or better than a certain other true freshman who started at quarterback last season, Josh Rosen.

Sure, Rosen is custom-built to play the quarterback position in the NFL and has a missile launcher where his right arm is supposed to be, but Browning fans and some credible sources argue, was actually better as a true freshman, and stands to be the better college quarterback.

Let’s Look at the Stats

If you take a quick glance at the stats for 2015, it looks like a wash. Rosen passed for more yards; Browning had a better completion percentage. Rosen had a better touchdown to interception ratio; Browning had a better YPA. Rosen finished with a higher QBR; Browning finished with a better passer rating. Which quarterback you think performed better depends on which measure you prefer.

Josh Rosen 292 487 3,670 60.0 7.5 70 23 11 15 134.3 65.4 68.4
Jake Browning 233 368 2,955 63.3 8.0 81 16 10 30 139.7 56.0 60.8

But Browning beat up on the little guys and struggled against better defenses. His season stats include a game against FCS opponent Sacramento State, and do not include the game against Pac-12 champion Stanford, which Browning sat out due to injury. If you only look at games played against FBS opponents, Rosen gets a better passer rating than Browning, and in games played against Pac-12 opponents, Rosen is better than Browning in all statistical categories except completion percentage. Most notably, as Miller pointed out in a mailbag responding to Washington umbrage in February, Rosen threw 15 touchdown passes to 5 interceptions in league play, while Browning threw only 11 touchdown passes to 8 interceptions.

Still, Pro Football Focus, which uses an objective/subjective grading system that I don’t totally understand but absolutely respect, grades Browning as not only better than Rosen, but the quarterback most likely to break out in 2016.

That Was Last Year

Chris Petersen hasn’t been able to get the offense going yet in his first two seasons at Washington. He’s hoping that his young offense led by Gaskin and Browning plays better with another year of experience, and that getting speedy WR John Ross III back from injury can improve the unit.

But the Bruins are not content to have a great pro prospect be merely good in college then flourish in the NFL. So Jim Mora is bringing pro football to Westwood.

Back in June, Ian Boyd of SB Nation wrote an article on why the pro-style offense will be better for Josh Rosen. Boyd notes:

"The UCLA coaching staff has two goals with its changes. The first is to embrace an offensive approach that will set up Rosen to attack opponents with the vertical passing game via play-action. The second is to give Rosen more control at the line of scrimmage to move pieces around, probe defenses and get after the weaknesses he finds."

In other words, the switch in offensive systems is not just about Rosen’s physical attributes, but also his intelligence. A spread system, built for simplicity and speed, can’t fully take advantage of Rosen’s mind.

Mora explained to Pete Thamel in May:

"I wanted to give him a little bit more control of the pace of our play, the tempo of our play and the plays that we get in and out of at the line of scrimmage. [...] With a quarterback like Josh who has a great understanding of defensive concepts, it only makes sense to give him an opportunity to dissect a defense before the ball snaps so he can make the best decision."

So who’s the better QB, Jake Browning or Josh Rosen?