Yesterday the Carolina Panthers made another roster tweak as they cut Idaho RB Princeton McCarty from the practice squad to add TE Nelson Rosario of UCLA who was released following Jacksonville's rookie mini-camp. On the surface it's easy to dismiss Rosario as a 'camp body', especially when he was one of the Jaguars' castoffs. Look a little deeper though and you see a player who is an utter enigma, and whose upside is such that he warranted a look alone.
The Miami Dolphins invested a third round pick in Missouri TE Michael Egnew in the 2012 draft. In many ways Rosario is an equivalent talent, but could be had at no price. Both Egnew and Rosario are athletic pass catchers, mediocre blockers and players who haven't peaked yet. What's fascinating about the decision to sign Rosario is that it's the first time we've seen the Panthers under Ron Rivera sign a player who's known for having a bad work ethic.
More after the jump
When he was signed by Jacksonville the folks at 'Big Cat Country' went over to SB Nation's UCLA blog 'Bruins Nation' to get their insight on our new TE:
Nelson Rosario could best be described as frustrating. The talent is there, but that whole "trying hard" thing was a problem for him for four years. Naturally, the UCLA fanbase, and probably coaches, spent four years wanting to both hug him and smack him. If Rosario decides that the NFL dollars are more motivating than UCLA co-eds, he could have a productive career in the pros.
A quick comparison to Justin Blackmon shows a guy who has NFL level physical talent. Blackmon holds an edge in speed, running the 40 about a tenth of a second to a tenth of a second and a half faster that Rosario, which is significant, but nobody is claiming Rosario should be the fifth pick in the draft. Rosario is four inches taller than Blackmon, though, and jumped higher in the vertical. With his size and jumping ability, Rosario can be a real force.
You cannot underestimate Rosario's size and jumping ability. He's 6'5'' with wide shoulders and gigantic hands, which allowed him to make some truly incredible catches at UCLA. He's a good enough jumper that he competed in the jumps at UCLA and finished sixth at the Pac-10 Championships in the long jump. That's not world class jumping ability, but that is awfully impressive, especially for somebody his size.
With his size, Rosario could be deadly in the red zone, over the middle and blocking. Few defensive backs are beating him to a jump ball and he does an excellent job using his body to screen off defenders coming over the middle. He can also push guys around when blocking, but these are all things that require real effort and that's the hard part for Rosario.
At UCLA, Rosario had some games that he absolutely dominated. He had stretches of games where he dominated. The Bruins didn't have a halfway decent QB and that QB spent most of games on his back (so he shouldn't have much trouble adjusting to the Jaguars!), and yet he finished fifth on the school's all-time receptions list and receiving yards list.
Then there were the rest of the games. He sleepwalked through them and dropped balls left and right. The crisp routes that were getting him three yards of separation the game before were sloppy and the cornerback was all over him. He would give up on balls and he did as good of a job getting downfield and blocking as a blocking sled.
Simply put, Rosario has the talent. He can run fast enough and nobody is going to match his physicality...when he cares.
They said it better than I ever could. He's a player who may be more Vincent Jackson than Greg Olsen- by which I mean his true ability could be as a WR, rather than an in-line TE. If the Panthers' locker room can pull him in, show him the ropes and have him buy in the sky is the limit. One thing you can't teach a player is how to care, and that will be an uphill battle.
Best Outcome: Unseats Gary Barnidge as backup TE
Worst Outcome: Cut during training camp
It's a move hat has no real downside, and all the potential in the world. It was a smart football move.