The Steelers’ 2018 draft will be remembered for its polarizing picks, if nothing else.
Safety Terrell Edmunds was the most surprising pick of the entire first round. Some loved the pick, some hated it outright. Others loved the player, but felt he could have been had in a later round.
In the second round, Pittsburgh opted for the safe pick, taking receiver James Washington in a move that can only be called a no-brainer.
But the controversy was back in the third round, when the Steelers selected a quarterback no one seems to be able to fully figure out, and then took a tackle with a prototypical left-tackle build, but with roughly a kitten’s demeanor.
Mason Rudolph, Quarterback, Oklahoma State
New receiver James Washington will see a familiar face when he arrives for rookie minicamp, because the Steelers selected the guy who threw him all those touchdowns the last several years when they traded up to select Rudolph with the 76th pick. They clearly believed the Cincinnati Bengals wanted Rudolph, because they jumped only the Bengals’ consecutive picks at 77 and 78 the get him. In doing so, they left Cincinnati asthe only AFC North team to not draft a quarterback in the first three rounds this year.
Rudolph is hard to peg. On the one hand, he completed 65 percent of his passes in 2017. On the other hand, he has some mechanical issues that cause the ball to sail away at times. Clearly, there is work to be done with him, but if he can’t learn behind Ben Roethlisberger and under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, he simply can’t learn.
What stands out most with Rudolph are his deep throws and intermediate throws over the middle. I agree with NFL analyst Mike Mayock that there was no better deep-ball passer in college football in 2017 than Rudolph, and he throws frozen ropes over the middle. Clearly, he is comfortable with these throws, which featured heavily in the Oklahoma State offense.
It’s the little things that Rudolph struggles with. Particularly on short throws, he doesn’t turn his lower body into the throw consistently, resulting in balls that float rather than drive to their target. He tries at times to correct for this by aiming lower, but that just ends in the ball skipping off the ground in front of the receiver.
Another area of concern are his smallish hands. In Pittsburgh, the winters are cold, and grip is at a premium. It remains to be seen hif he can adapt to playing on cold weather, but ball security was at times a concern for Rudolph in the past.
But he does many of the fundamentals well. He has active feet in the pocket, and is capable of getting through his progressions if the first option or two are not open. He usually sets his feet before he throws. He holds the ball high when scanning from the pocket, and has a lightning-quick release. There is a lot to like here.
There’s just a lot to fix, too. And that’s why he was available 76 picks in.
Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
The departure of Chris Hubbard in free agency left the Steelers with a hole at offensive tackle. With few other options at positions of need, this pick mad at least a little sense. Still, I would have preferred guys like Virginia Tech defensive tackle Tim Settle, Indiana tight end Ian Thomas, or Alabama cornerback Anthony Averett. With no fourth-round pick, this would have been the time to reach for someone they wanted before the fifth round.
Perhaps they see something in Okorafor that I don’t. What I see is a guy with a prototypical built, but who conspicuously lacks the tenacity and mean streak to play tackle in the NFL. At 6’-6” and almost 330 pounds, hes a mountain of a man with no ferocity.
He has the technique down pretty well in most cases. He simply doesn’t move fast enough. But it’s not a lack of speed or quickness that I see, but rather a lack of conviction. He’s a much better pass blocker than a run blocker, so maybe it’s related more to being slow to identify his blocking targets in the run game than it is a lack of want-to.
Despite all this, though, if anyone can make at least a solid backup out of Okorafor, it’s Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak. It’s time like these where it’s better to simply trust the system.