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Valuing experience vs. pedigree in the Steelers battle to backup Ben Roethlisberger

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Between Joshua Dobbs, Mason Rudolph, and Devlin Hodges, their on-field play will determine who wins the reserve role in 2019

NFL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In the Steelers first preseaon game, all three quarterbacks vying for the backup position were given an opportunity to showcase their skills at various points in the game. Joshua Dobbs got the first opportunity against the Buccaneers on two drives resulting in three points. Mason Rudolph was given twice as many drive chances resulting in 17 points. To finish up, Devlin Hodges had four drives yielding 10 points. While all three faced various levels of competition, their overall play would be safe to qualify as “satisfactory.”

With three more games to earn the position, the main question moving forward will be how the playing time will be distributed. Josh Dobbs started game one based on his experience and the fact he held the job last season. There is a good chance Mason Rudolph will start Week 2 if Ben Roethlisberger sits out like he is expected to do. Whether or not Hodges gets a chance to start the game in Week 4 is anybody’s guess.

So what determines who gets the most snaps at quarterback in both preseason games and in practice? In a close battle, whoever gets the most in-game chances may be who very well wins the job. With opportunity being such a big factor, what determines the breakdown in playing time? In my opinion, the two driving forces are a combination of experience and pedigree.

Experience is pretty much self explanatory. Josh Dobbs already has two seasons under his belt with the Steelers, so he holds the advantage in this category. Rookie Devlin Hodges is obviously at the bottom of the list. With all other things being equal, experience will be the determining factor.

Another factor which sometimes take precedence over experience is the notion of “pedigree.” As described by BTSC podcaster Lance Williams, pedigree is determined by how the player became a Pittsburgh Steeler. If signing as a free agent, the pedigree factor is pretty much determined by salary. When the Steelers signed two free agent wide receivers in 2019, Donte Moncrief has a much higher pedigree than Johnny Holton merely based on the contract each was offered by the Steelers. Moncrief’s higher pedigree instantly gives him an easier track to the 53-man roster. As for draft picks, where they were selected determines their pedigree.

While experience appeared to be the driving force behind the order the quarterbacks appeared on Friday night, pedigree may be more of a factor when it comes to the final depth chart when the Steelers make their roster cuts on August 31. Not only was Devlin Hodges not drafted in 2019, he wasn’t even an initial undrafted rookie free agent in Pittsburgh. It took an invitation to Steelers’ rookie minicamp for Hodges to get a contact with the Steelers.

As for Joshua Dobbs, he was drafted 135th overall in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft. When it comes to fourth-round picks, they can be hit or miss. Since 2010, the Steelers have drafted nine players (not including 2019) in the forth round with four players not playing more than 8 games in Pittsburgh. So while fourth-round picks generally make the team initially, there isn’t necessary a need to keep players drafted in the fourth round or later if they are not proving they deserve a spot on the roster.

When it comes to pedigree, Mason Rudolph leads the way among the current players battling for the backup quarterback position. Drafted 76th overall in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft, Rudolph has just as much in common with the Steelers’ second-round picks than he does his fellow third rounders. With the 79th overall draft pick from the Martavis Bryant trade with the Oakland Raiders, the Steelers traded up three more spots to secure Rudolph. With the Steelers usually drafting toward the bottom of each round of the draft, when the Steelers acquire a higher pick it almost acts like a pick from the previous round much like Diontae Johnson‘s selection at 66th by the Steelers in this years’ draft. Even in his own draft class, Rudolph was taken exactly the same distance behind second-round pick James Washington as he was ahead of third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor.

A case could be made that Mason Rudolph’s pedigree is even higher than his draft position. Many Steeler fans have written off the possibility of Rudolph taking over the starting job after Ben Roethlisberger simply because he wasn’t drafted high enough. What some fail to realize is Rudolph was projected by some as a first-round pick. The fact the Steelers got a steal with Rudolph when they drafted him 59 spots ahead of Josh Dobbs the year before should be taken into consideration.

So how much does pedigree matter compared to experience? I believe it is a lot. If the Steelers were to cut Devlin Hodges, nobody would think much of it. If Josh Dobbs were to be released, fans would complain more about “wasting the pick” rather than letting go of the player. But as for Mason Rudolph, his pedigree all but guarantees him a spot on the roster. So even though Josh Dobbs currently has the experience advantage, Mason Rudolph’s pedigree may soon bump him ahead when it comes to the allotment of playing time.