Don’t Rush to Judge Mason Rudolph

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 16: Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers drops back to pass during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on August 16, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Mason Rudolph has had a rollercoaster ride in the short two months he’s been the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had to take over for the franchise quarterback in the middle of the second game of the season. Just a few games later, he was on the receiving end of a wicked hit that quite literally knocked him out of a game. Rudolph is off to a 3-2 record as a starter and helped guide Pittsburgh back to a 4-4 record. There’s been a lot of debate asking if Rudolph is the future franchise quarterback for the Steelers. While that is a debate worth having, no one on either side should rush to judgment just yet on Mason Rudolph.

No One Should Rush to Judgment on Mason Rudolph – Yet

Physical Attributes and Talent Are There

Rudolph has the physical measurables you want in an NFL quarterback. His physical attributes mirror Ben Roethlisberger, the future Hall of Famer he took over for. Yet, for all those physical attributes, Rudolph has played cagey like most people would expect rookies to do. In college, Rudolph re-wrote the record books at Oklahoma State. He also finished as one of the top-15 passers in yards in NCAA history. However, in his five starts, Rudolph is averaging less than 200 yards per game through the air. Only 43 percent of his yards are considered air yards or yardage picked up through the air before the catch was made. There hasn’t been much of an effort to push it down the field, and when they have it has led to incompletions or turnovers.

Playcalling and Execution Could Be Better

The lack of downfield attempts is partially a product of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner‘s playcalling. Most advanced passing metrics paint Rudolph as an average or below-average quarterback. That’s not to say Rudolph is an average quarterback, however the numbers he has put up so far are less than impressive. Rudolph has also been slow to read defenses properly.

Too many times Rudolph has forced passes into tight coverage or simply checked down because he missed a read or couldn’t check out of a play. Rudolph’s command of the offense is much smaller than Roethlisberger’s. That is expected because Big Ben is a veteran, but it highlights the struggles of young quarterbacks. There is a lot of reliance on Fichtner to make the right calls and for Mason to execute. Generally, Rudolph has done so, but there is still something left to be desired.

Rudolph’s Production Holds up Against His Draft Class

It’s important to remember how young Mason Rudolph is. He has just five career starts in the NFL to his name. Rudolph’s NFL career spans only 20 quarters across six games. That is an incredibly small sample size from which to extrapolate an entire career. Relative to the 13 other quarterbacks that were drafted or signed last season, Rudolph looks pretty good.

In their first five career starts, only Kyle Allen and Lamar Jackson have a better record. Allen threw nine touchdowns, but Rudolph and Baker Mayfield each had eight. Allen had fewer interceptions while Rudolph and Jackson had the second-lowest with three each. Only Allen had a completion percentage higher than 60 percent just like Mason. Mason lacks the passing yards of his contemporaries, falling 24 yards shy of 1,000. Only Jackson and Josh Allen had fewer passing yards among guys that made five starts.

Mason Rudolph Similar to Ben Roethlisberger Through Five Starts

We should also view Rudolph’s first five starts against those of his predecessor. Roethlisberger has developed into a Hall of Famer throughout 15 seasons. However, he didn’t light defenses ablaze in his first campaign. Aided by a strong defense and running game, Big Ben won his first 13 games to start his career. He was efficient and managed games well. The playcalling protected the rookie and the rest of the team rallied around him. In his first five starts, Roethlisberger completed 84 of 117 passes. He threw for 957 yards and had seven touchdowns with just two interceptions. Rudolph has completed 97 of 146 passes. He has thrown for 976 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. Ben had veterans around him with a running game and a great defense to supplement him. Mason is playing at a similar rate with fewer veterans on offense and a young, improving defense.

What To Expect Going Forward

Mason deserves every chance to develop and grow just like Roethlisberger did in his first season. Rather than pile on and claim he isn’t the future of the team, fans should take a moment to evaluate the numbers. He is playing like one of the best in his quarterback class. Rudolph is even playing at a rate that is virtually identical to Roethlisberger. The difference is the wins, but that isn’t solely on Rudolph. He needs the running game and his receivers to step up. He needs the defense to consistently play to their fullest potential.

As the season unfolds, the offense will gradually open up. Rudolph will continue to improve with more experience. Expecting him to play at the level of Roethlisberger, who has 15 seasons of experience, is very unrealistic. However, if he continues to grow and develop as Big Ben did, then the Steelers could have someone special. However great or poor Mason does turn out, what is certain is judgment cannot be made after five starts. Time, and most importantly patience, is necessary.

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