Everybody has an opinion about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ race for the backup quarterback position between third-year incumbent backup Joshua Dobbs and 2018 third-round draft pick Mason Rudolph. And everybody is confident that they’re right. Including the ones who think that Devlin Hodges should be the backup, but this one isn’t about those people.
The latest to chime in with their take regarding the roster battle is Pro Football Focus, with Gordon McGuinness posting a breakdown of the performances of both quarterbacks. Through the first two preseason games, the site has actually graded both quarterbacks exceedingly well, with Dobbs the receiving the fourth-highest grade at the position and Rudolph the sixth.
I think McGuinness summed it up fairly well at the end of his article, so we’ll start with that:
Dobbs has dropped back to pass just 14 times in the regular season, and that is 14 times more than Rudolph in his career so far. We’re going to see who can stake their claim to being the top option behind starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger over the next two games, but as of right now it would be a decision between the higher graded passer in Rudolph or the player who has shown the ability to make some plays with his legs when things have broken down.
It’s true that Rudolph has made some plays by scrambling—I personally think his six-yard scramble on third and five in the last game was arguably the highlight of his career to date in terms of individual performance on a single play—it’s also true that Rudolph has shown greatly improved mobility as a pocket passer from last season, which is tremendously important.
One area that currently separates the two is that Dobbs has had success on deep passes of 20 or more yards in the air, completing four of eight for 130 yards, while Rudolph has only attempted three and completed none—though he did complete a 19-yard pass to James Washington that went for over 20 yards on third and 11.
Both have struggled under pressure as well, in their charting, with Rudolph completing only two of six passes under pressure, while Dobbs is one for four for 13 yards and an interception when he is facing pressure. But, obviously, quarterbacks perform worse when they’re under pressure, and these sample sizes are exceedingly small.
A lot of people try to diminish the value of the backup quarterback position, and dismiss it by saying that if a team has to play its backup quarterback, its season is lost anyway. But Nick Foles aside, there are plenty of incidents in which a starter misses a handful of games. If a team can get competent play from the position for a short-term stint, that could be the difference between the playoffs or staying home, or a first-round bye and a wildcard spot.