The Mason Rudolph/Dwayne Haskins camp battle has been entertaining, but it has certainly been blown out of proportion.
For what is at its core a battle for the backup quarterback spot, it has been heralded by some fans and writers as a competition to be the Steelers’ future at the quarterback position.
But Rudolph and Haskins’ rough pasts as NFL starters tell a much different story.
On one hand there’s Mason Rudolph. The 2018 third-round pick had been graded higher by the Steelers organization and was undoubtedly seen as a good value pick by the front office. However, despite Rudolph’s pedigree there’s no evidence to believe that the organization ever counted on him being more than a reliable backup behind starter Ben Roethlisberger. Rudolph did get his chance to lead the team following Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury in 2019, but the good was greatly overshadowed by the bad, with the team limping to an 8-8 record. Needless to say, after 2019’s glimpse of the franchise’s supposed future, fans were more than ready to go back to Roethlisberger the following season. A stronger showing against Cleveland in the 2020 season showed an improved Rudolph, but hardly one that looked like the future of a franchise.
On the other hand there’s Dwayne Haskins, who was undoubtedly drafted with much higher expectations than Rudolph. The 15th overall pick in 2019, Haskins was thrust into a starting role in Washington that resulted in an incredibly rough rookie season. Haskins remained the starter heading into 2020, but multiple instances of poor play and questionable maturity led to benchings and ultimately his release from the team at the end of the year. The Steelers later signed Haskins to a risk-free futures deal for the 2021 season, making it clear that the talented-yet-embattled quarterback wasn’t even guaranteed a roster spot.
Rudolph and Haskins met in training camp in Pittsburgh for the 2021 season, with Rudolph seemingly a lock for the #2 quarterback spot. Haskins would be tasked with challenging Joshua Dobbs for the third spot on the depth chart. But an unremarkable camp by Rudolph, paired with some impressive showings by Haskins, increased the possibility of Haskins ascending farther up the depth chart than anticipated.
By the time the first preseason matchup of the year rolled around, Rudolph vs. Haskins was the biggest story surrounding the game. However, nothing spectacular ever happened, with Rudolph looking like his usual game-manager self. Haskins showed off his superior arm talent — but also his inaccuracy, failing to provide much of a spark himself. In fact, the oft-forgotten Josh Dobbs looked just as good, if not better, than Rudolph and Haskins. And although talented, no one would confuse Joshua Dobbs with a future franchise quarterback.
It seems as if draft pedigree is the lone reason why so many still see Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins as starting-quality quarterbacks. But Rudolph was only a third-round pick, hardly the draft position of a presumed NFL starter. Still, he received plenty of time to prove himself as one during 2019 and even 2020, but ultimately failed. Haskins had much higher expectations as a first round pick, but busted spectacularly.
Both quarterbacks had their chance to prove themselves as starters, and they fell short.
This isn’t a shot at either athlete — being an NFL quarterback is incredibly difficult and not many succeed. But at this point, expecting Haskins or Rudolph to be anything more than backups would be unrealistic. That isn’t to say there isn’t still a possibility they could find themselves starting in Pittsburgh post-Roethlisberger, but it would likely be as a stopgap to give a rookie time to develop. And while there’s always a chance they improve enough to be seen as long term solutions, it’s very unlikely.
Due to the lack of major storylines in the preseason, it’s all too common to see some news stories made out to be far more important than they really are. That certainly seems to be the case regarding the battle on the Steelers’ quarterback depth chart. It’s never a bad thing to look ahead concerning the Steelers’ future, but with so much uncertainty it’s best to stay in the present.
For now, let’s just enjoy Ben Roethlisberger’s final few seasons as a Pittsburgh Steeler instead of looking for a successor that likely isn’t even on the roster.