There were six quarterbacks being talked about as potential first-rounders heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. Those were Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, and Mason Rudolph.
Two of them would go in the top three, including the first-overall pick, with four being taken in the top 10. The Baltimore Ravens would trade back into the first round with the final pick to nab Jackson. But Rudolph would have to wait all the way until late in the second day of the draft to hear his name called.
And it was prefaced by “…the Pittsburgh Steelers select…”.
Rudolph is the third quarterback that the Steelers have drafted since 2012, and the second in as many years. But while all of his peers who were drafted ahead of them at least served immediately as backups and eventually took over the starting job—only Darnold was the outright starter immediately—Rudolph would never even dress for a game as the number three quarterback.
Not that that didn’t have its benefits, and to hear him tell it, it even sounds as though perhaps he knew it was for the best that way, to play behind Joshua Dobbs, the second-year quarterback, as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup.
“I was telling my college coach that I talk to a lot, beginning of the season I was like, ‘wow, NFL football, it’s crazy’”, he told Chris Adamski. “And then the middle of the season, I was like, ‘I’m really starting to understand this, just the way the week flows, to game day’”. But then he added, “the last couple weeks, it was, ‘I can play now if I had to’”.
The Steelers would surely like to see him put himself in the position to be the man who is one snap away from playing in his second season. He had a pretty lackluster preseason overall despite some positive moments, and frankly I didn’t think either of the backups won the backup job.
But the Steelers pulled the trigger on Rudolph—in fact, traded up three spots to draft him—because they believed that he is a player with first-round ability. They only drafted him because of how far he had fallen based on how highly they rated him. And a lot of that has to do with what he has going on upstairs.
“I have stayed motivated to help this team in whatever way I can, whether it’s [Randy Fichtner], Ben, our receivers, whoever”, he said, “just with gameplanning and adding a nugget or two of tendency here or there to Ben or Randy every once in a while whenever they do need it”.
It’s probably a good sign that he was comfortable enough with where he was mentally and in his relationship with his teammates that he could provide some pointers here and there where he felt useful. But if he is to be Roethlisberger’s backup in 2019, he has to be both a second set of eyes and ears and a player capable of leading the offense in a meaningful game.