It would not be easy to come up with a more divisive, click bait title than that one, but I mean it – if for different reasons that most people are going to assume. I view these things as a dedicated draftnik whose main focus is to build and ideal team for the long haul. I would support another middle-round quarterback pick because I believe it would help to accomplish that goal.
First things first. Let’s agree on the target we want to achieve. Pittsburgh’s #1 team-building priority for the next however-many years comes down to this: we need to draft and develop a franchise Quarterback as the true Heir To Ben (“HTB”). Nothing else can even come close.
There is a normal and expected cost for finding a franchise QB: somewhere around two Top 10 draft picks. There is a 50% bust rate even on Top 10 QB’s, so one pick is not enough. And the rate goes up drastically as you proceed down the draft, so it is hard to spread the risk out.
Yes, there are the famous exceptions. Brady, Montana, Unitas, and many others in the GOAT debate were all picked much later, along with recent examples like Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, etc. But those are the exceptions that prove the rule, and I am actually taking them into account. Look at the numbers a little closer. If we have a 50% bust rate on Top 10 QB’s, a pair of them only gives you a 75% chance of landing a franchise QB. That’s basic math. I am using those exceptions to weight the odds a bit for a fair guestimate that the value of two Top 10’s is closer to actually finding a franchise QB (100%) than to only that 75%.
We can argue the point in the comments if you wish, but I think this is close enough to frame the conversation. A franchise QB costs two Top 10’s, or else requires some combination of a really high pick and a whole lot of luck. Pittsburgh has never managed to find that luck. Bradshaw was the #1 overall pick in 1969, and Roethlisberger the #11 overall of a legendarily good year. Our history translates to, “Top 10 or nothing.”
Of course, no true fan wants to suffer through what it takes to earn two Top 10 picks. Nor do we want to sacrifice the draft capital it would require to trade up that high. We want to do it on the cheap. But how?
Starting about five years ago the Steelers draft-fan community reached a consensus that the team should start to spend a Round 2-5 pick basically every year in order to take an annual swing for the fences. The logic went something like this:
- “If we make enough one-in-ten bets, there’s a decent enough chance of success to avoid the early-1st big money bet. The team is good enough to afford that constant drain on the draft capital, and more bodies will create the competition that could help churn the cream to the top. Besides, promising young QB’s are about the best trade bait there is. They hold their value better than other investments even if they don’t provide any help on the field.”
Josh Dobbs was the first of those long shot bets. He didn’t quite measure up, and sure enough he got traded in the end. Mason Rudolph was the second. He looks a lot better, but I suggest that the basic logic still holds true.
- Getting to a franchise QB is the ultimate goal;
- Competition among promising young QB’s is the best way to help them rise to that level;
- The benefit of getting a franchise QB is worth the cost of losing a Round 2-5 pick each year (including 2020); and
- Busts aside, the young QB’s who don’t win the competition will still have trade value.
Let me be clear up front: I do not intend this article as a slam on Mason Rudolph. Far from it. He has already shown enough for Kevin Colbert to confirm that he is going to be “at least” an NFL-level backup. He did not bust out; he learned an NFL playbook; he beat out Josh Dobbs; he played ‘okay’ if not ‘well’ when thrown into the fire last year; he came back strong after getting benched; and he’s shown a certain amount of class in dealing with the process even if he doesn’t seem to exude the natural charisma of many other QB’s. All of those are solid accomplishments and good signs for the future.
Rudolph has brought his floor all the way up to “legitimate NFL backup” and his ceiling still hasn’t been found. But that is nowhere close to saying that he has established himself as the HTB. He hasn’t.
All of which means that helping Rudolph to continue his growth, or finding someone to surpass him, is still the biggest long term priority we have.
So… How do that? I argue that both options have a common solution. Bring on QB prospect #3.
Saying that isn’t “disloyal” to Mason Rudolph. Heck, Rudolph himself would scoff at the idea! In the Steelers locker room[*] he has matured into an alpha-type competitor who welcomes competition with a distinct “Bring it on!” flair. He’d probably object to time spent competing against a jerk, but that just makes “no jagoffs” a required part of the draft profile for any prospect being considered. Remember: this is a young man with his head screwed on straight enough to get the bottom line: He will do better by getting better, and anything that helps is all to the good! I will bet you dollars to dog poop that Mason Rudolph would say (and mean) exactly that in exactly those words. He does not want to be protected against competition, so we have no business trying to protect him.
[*] NOTE: This is one of the secret advantages of the Steelers Way. The team locker room and culture insists on that kind of maturity and approach. Men who had the misfortune of maturing in other environments (or on other teams) will understandably view things a little differently. “I want to keep my job, and if that means cutting out any potential competitors, so be it!” This is one of the special things that makes me love Pittsburgh’s team above all others.
So as I see it, giving Mason Rudolph a challenger worthy of his steel will help them both; will thereby increase the odds that Rudolph (or the other guy) can grow into the HTB; and thus will help the team as much or more than any other pick. QB should not be dismissed as a possibility if the right prospect happens to be there at the right point in the draft.
I am not writing this article to push for a particular quarterback. Maybe Jalen Hurts or Jacob Eason or Jake Fromm would do the job better. Or Anthony Gordon or Steve Montez in a later round. All I insist is that Mason Rudolph needs – and deserves – to have at least one real prospect nipping at his heels and pushing him to keep on growing.
Could the answer lie in one of the guys already on the team? Maybe. I’d love to be convinced. Paxton Lynch has teetered on the edge of going total Ryan Leaf, but he isn’t there yet, the talent is real, and he might still be able to find his footing. If he does, that would be perfect! J.T. Barrett reads like a lesser version of Hurts, if I may be allowed the conceit of using amateur scouting reports as guides to real people a few years later. He has the “it” factor if he can move up from being an athlete to being an NFL Quarterback. Duck Hodges has that too, and could become the guy we need if an offseason of physical training can manage to build up an NFL-level arm.
But someone has to do it. The position is too important to ignore.
Remember what we are talking about. TWO TOP-10, FIRST ROUND PICKS! And we’re hoping get that value with a Round 4 (Dobbs), a Round 3 (Rudolph), and whatever else gets spent to keep the development pipeline running at full speed. This isn’t the time to get cheap.
No one wants to waste one of our precious picks at 3:comp, 4.a, or 4.b. Least of all me. I do not advocate picking the “best available QB” because of what I wrote above. I am arguing that QB needs to be on the table along with all the other subsidiary-want positions, and should be the pick if a QB happens to be the BPA from a skill perspective. Whatever it takes, the big picture win is finding that Heir To Ben. Going “all in” and ignoring the future for a backup at some other position is not the best way to do business.