Mason Rudolph: Steelers’ Answer to Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson?
Mason Rudolph, the 3rd starting quarterback in the AFC North from the 2018 NFL Draft Class, seeks to establish himself in Pittsburgh against Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns
Mason Rudolph is sitting pretty with a 4-2 record as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and there is a vague suspicion he will join Baker Mayfield of the Browns and Lamar Jackson of the Ravens as legitimate starters in the AFC North, via the Class of 2018 NFL Draft.
Rudolph is starting because of a severe elbow injury by mastodon future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger which required surgery. Though the Steelers have not released detailed medical information on the big man, the buzz is that the surgery was not as severe as Tommy John surgery, and a full recovery is expected.
In the 2018 draft, many analysts including this one rated Mason Rudolph as a potential first-round pick. The attractive attributes include accuracy, low interceptions, size (6-foot-5, and 235 lbs), and athleticism.
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He also had four seasons in the Big 12 Conference, and a 37-9 TD/INT ratio as a senior, along with 4904 yards. A kid with four years of experience is way more prepared than a kid who comes out as a college junior as Sam Darnold did.
If you have to ding him for something, his arm is strong but not superhuman like Mayfield’s or Josh Allen’s. Also, you could argue that Big 12 stats are somewhat inflated because of the up-tempo style of play.
It was crazy that Rudolph slid to the third round. He is a viable quarterback. Probably the draft freefall was because the quarterback-hungry teams gorged themselves on the likes of Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Jackson in Round 1. The Steelers were happy with their existing backups (Joshua Dobbs and Landry Jones) but felt compelled to take Rudolph.
If Big Ben comes back as anticipated, there is no question he will start again. He’s a future Hall of Fame quarterback with two Super Bowl rings and six Pro Bowls to his credit. But in the meantime youth will be served. In the AFC North, the oldest quarterback is rookie Ryan Finley who is a few months older than Mayfield.
As for the other AFC North quarterbacks from the Class of 2018, Mayfield has fallen upon hard times as his team has gone 3-6, so some pundits have started to question him. The quarterback, of course, always gets blamed for everything up to and including the flavor of the mustard in the concessions stands.
Mayfield has thrown into a few double coverages this year and made a few bad decisions. However, in this analyst’s opinion, most of the issues derive from the team’s poor pass protection and weird play calls. Playcalling concerns have been well documented this season, based on coach Freddie Kitchens’ obsession with surprise plays and long passes at odd times.
Last year, Mayfield showed that he can be a star passer, and there may be time to show it again this season. It’s going to get fixed, either this year or next year with a new coach.
As for Lamar Jackson, by now it is clear that he is a threat for the Pro Bowl in his second season. He’s leading a Baltimore offense that is destroying the NFL on the ground, with Jackson doing enough additional damage through the air to give Baltimore one of the league’s most formidable offenses.
Crabby football purists may complain that Jackson is not a pure pocket passer like Brady, and runs plays from the spread including run-pass option (RPO). But they could also complain that Brady doesn’t run for 1,000 yards a season and is not very good at the RPO.
A touchdown is still worth six points regardless of whether it was thrown from a seven-step drop or rollout. The point is, Jackson is very hard to stop. We will update that story on December 22, when the Browns and Ravens knock heads again.
In any case, Mayfield, Jackson, and Rudolph figure to be active for many years, making the AFC North a dangerous place to live for defensive backs. It would be a mistake to assume that the Steelers are not a threat through the air, though at this point in their careers, a slight edge goes to Mayfield, at least in the estimation of this analyst.
The rivalry with Jackson and the Ravens does not resume until December 22, but the Browns will see Rudolph and Steelers on Thursday night.