The Pittsburgh Steelers traded up in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft to select quarterback Mason Rudolph out of Oklahoma State. Many viewed Rudolph as a potential first round pick, and if not a first rounder, a second round selection. His descent to the third round landed him in Pittsburgh behind future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger.
With his destination already known, the question now is will he be a boom, or a bust, at the game’s highest level? Prior to the draft, ESPN Insiders took a stab with analytics to show which quarterbacks have the best shot to be the next great quarterback in the NFL, and which players will fizzle out after their rookie contract expires.
For those wondering how they come up with this analysis and analytics, here is their explanation:
The lessons of history can at least help us figure out how much of a risk each quarterback prospect will be. That’s the point of Football Outsiders’ Quarterback-Adjusted-Stats-and-Experience (QBASE) projection system. It looks at college performance, experience and expected draft position (to incorporate scouting information that college stats will miss). To allow some time for development, QBASE projects a quarterback’s efficiency (passing only) in Years 3-5 of his career, according to Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) metric. 50,000 simulations produce a range of potential outcomes for each prospect, with players drafted later generally having a larger range of possibilities.
QBASE favors quarterbacks expected to go high in the draft who also have a relatively long résumé of college success according to the stats. Those stats include completion percentage, yards per attempt and team passing efficiency. These numbers are adjusted both for the quality of the defenses that a prospect had to face as well as the quality of his offensive teammates. QBASE is meant to only be used on players chosen in the top 100 picks; after that, the judgment of scouts becomes even more important, and statistics become even less predictive.
It’s important not to overestimate the importance of a small difference in the QBASE projections. Most of this year’s top quarterbacks are grouped together in the middle of the scale. It’s a bit of a surprise that Sam Darnold came out with a lower QBASE rating than some of the other top prospects -- Josh Rosen, for example. But if I were the analytics director for an NFL franchise, I would feel no need to disagree with a scouting director who placed Darnold ahead of Rosen.
However, there is one top prospect who QBASE clearly likes ahead of all the others, and one top prospect whose statistical profile is a gigantic red flag. We explain both projections below, along with the QBASE projections for six other top quarterbacks based on Scouts Inc. rankings for the 2018 draft.
Each big-name quarterback entering the draft was given a series of grades based off these analytics.
Mean Projection, Years 3-5: DYAR
Bust (< 500 DYAR): %
Adequate Starter (500-1499 DYAR): %
Upper Tier (1500-2500 DYAR): %
Elite (>2500 DYAR): %
Here is what the Insiders had to say about the newest addition to their quarterback room, Mason Rudolph:
Rudolph isn’t quite at the Baker Mayfield level, but his raw stats last season were outstanding.
A 10.7 AYPA far surpasses the rest of these prospects, thanks in large part to 37 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. A completion rate of 65.0 percent is also second among these 2017 prospects.
Rudolph’s QBASE is lower for two reasons. First, QBASE is factoring in that scouting consensus has Rudolph as a third-round selection, not a first-rounder. Second, unlike Mayfield, Rudolph is getting penalized for putting up his big stats against an easier Big 12 schedule. Mayfield had five games against pass defenses ranked in the S&P+ top 20, while Rudolph had only two (No. 15 TCU and No. 16 Texas).
So, how do they statistically rank Rudolph?
Projecting Mason Rudolph
Mean Projection in Years 3-5: 343 DYAR
Bust (< 500 DYAR): 54.2%
Adequate Starter (500-1499 DYAR): 24.8%
Upper Tier (1500-2500 DYAR): 15.5%
Elite (>2500 DYAR): 5.6%
Needless to say, the Insiders have used their formulas to show Rudolph has a high rate of being a middle-of-the-road quarterback in the NFL. He does have a high percentage of being a bust, but his numbers to be an adequate starter and upper tier quarterback are very similar to other quarterbacks in his class.
Take a look at some of the other projections for quarterbacks who were selected in the 2018 NFL Draft:
Projecting Baker Mayfield
Mean Projection, Years 3-5: 1480 DYAR
Bust (< 500 DYAR): 29.3%
Adequate Starter (500-1499 DYAR): 21.8%
Upper Tier (1500-2500 DYAR): 20.7%
Elite (>2500 DYAR): 28.2%
Projecting Josh Allen
Mean Projection in Years 3-5: -83 DYAR
Bust (< 500 DYAR): 62.7%
Adequate Starter (500-1499 DYAR): 20.7%
Upper Tier (1500-2500 DYAR): 11.5%
Elite (>2500 DYAR): 5.2%
Projecting Sam Darnold
Mean Projection in Years 3-5: 412 DYAR
Bust (< 500 DYAR): 51.9%
Adequate Starter (500-1499 DYAR): 29.0%
Upper Tier (1500-2500 DYAR): 15.1%
Elite (>2500 DYAR): 4.1%
Projecting Josh Rosen
Mean Projection in Years 3-5: 623 DYAR
Bust (< 500 DYAR): 46.9%
Adequate Starter (500-1499 DYAR): 24.8%
Upper Tier (1500-2500 DYAR): 18.0%
Elite (>2500 DYAR): 10.4%
Projecting Lamar Jackson
Mean Projection in Years 3-5: 656 DYAR
Bust (< 500 DYAR): 46.2%
Adequate Starter (500-1499 DYAR): 26.9%
Upper Tier (1500-2500 DYAR): 18.5%
Elite (>2500 DYAR): 8.5%
While analytics can tell a lot about a specific player and his ability, it doesn’t tell the entire story. For instance, each one of these quarterbacks was drafted on a team brimming with top notch talent, yet some more than others. The more talent surrounding a player can elevate them to new heights. The same can be said about a player drafted on a team lacking talent. Some players never truly reach their pinnacle due to those around them.
I believe Rudolph has landed in a great spot, and the Steelers didn’t have to mortgage their future to select him. This is a win-win situation for the black-and-gold, and fans should be excited about his future.