I remember the moment quite well. The moment that it was announced that the Pittsburgh Steelers had selected Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. I was shocked at the select if I am being honest. I felt the full spectrum of emotions, ranging from excitement to bewilderment.
On one hand, the selection seemed like a good value pick. Many draft pundits and publications had Rudolph projected as a second round selection, with a few even suggesting a late first round possibility. The Steelers appeared to get excellent value with this third round selection, but why was the record setting college QB still on the board?
I watched Rudolph torch my West Virginia Mountaineers on multiple occasions, but the Mountaineers were far from the only team to experience the full impact of his talent. Rudolph feasted on Big 12 defenses, which admittedly isn't a conference known for playing hard nose defense, but his collegiate statistics were impressive nonetheless. Maybe that was the reason he was still on the board? The problem with that theory is Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield had just won the Heisman Trophy competing against those same defenses, and he was the first overall selection of the draft. Rudolph was substantially taller than Mayfield, without all the character concerns that shadowed Mayfield's selection. Rudolph actually seemed to be more the prototypical NFL passer than Mayfield did. So competing in a perceived weaker defensive conference must not have been the main reason for Rudolph's draft position.
Rumors have swirled since the selection that the Cincinnati Bengals were waiting with bated breath to pick Rudolph with their next selection and that they envisioned him being Andy Dalton's eventual successor. Obviously I can neither confirm or deny those rumors, but if they have merit then Mason owes the Steelers a huge debt of gratitude for saving him from such a fate.
Many teams had to have questioned how much of Rudolph's collegiate success was predicated on the wide open Oklahoma State style of offense, and how would his abilities transition to the NFL? However these up tempo, innovative offenses permeate such a large segment of the landscape of modern college football that they have become the norm, rather than the exception to it. Most college football programs don't possess the overall talent required to succeed with a strictly pro style offense. Therefore I strongly doubt that the style of offense Rudolph orchestrated in college hindered his draft position in any way.
That brings us to the biggest concern I had about Rudolph prior to the draft. The proverbial elephant in the room if you will. Can Mason Rudolph make a living throwing outside the numbers in the NFL? Furthermore, can he do so effectively late in the season in the open air stadiums of the AFC North? That remains to be seen and only time will tell.
As I have stated in previous articles, not every QB is a good fit for every offense. Some excel in a particular system and environment. Warm weather conditions and domed stadiums can help lessen the need for a QB to have a elite throwing arm. They can mask their lack of arm strength to a large degree by relying on superior timing and accuracy. Part of the responsibility for their success inevitably falls on the offensive coordinator to recognize these limitations and design a game plan accordingly.
Most QBs that have enjoyed sustained success in the AFC North division as it is presently constructed have possessed superior arm talent. They have had the arm strength necessary to drive the ball through the wind and the elements of cold weather conditions. Ben Roethlisberger has been elite in this regard. Just recall how many lasers he unleased toward the sideline twenty yards downfield into a window where only his receiver could catch it and do a quick toe tap for the completion. Think about how many of those not only kept the drive alive but allowed the Steelers to retain their timeouts in the process. This was a regular occurrence and an extraordinary ability that I fear many took for granted.
Previously mentioned Andy Dalton has struggled mightily in bad weather conditions due to this lack of giddy up throwing the ball. Defenses can take away the middle of the field and dare you to beat them outside. Our own Tommy Maddox struggled to make a living throwing outside the numbers, with many of his failures resulting in six points the other way.
I have been impressed by Mason Rudolph thus far since he took over for the injured Ben Roethlisberger as starting QB of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many of his predraft strengths have been more than evident. His intelligence, preparation, competitiveness, and leadership skills have been obvious and he appears to learn from his mistakes. The moment in no way has seemed too big for him to handle. That is an impressive quality for any young QB.
The Steelers need the rest of this season to confirm just what they have in young master Rudolph, but so far so good. But all Steelers fans must keep in mind "Winter is Coming!"