When the Pittsburgh Steelers moved up in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft to take Mason Rudolph out of Oklahoma State, they did so with the understanding that they were, for the first time in a decade and a half, taking a quarterback whom they viewed as having sincere potential to develop into their next starter.
Through the first two years of his NFL career, that has become more and more difficult to see, as he certainly had his highs and lows during his eight starts and 10 games played in last year following Ben Roethlisberger’s injury. He was even benched in the middle of the year in favor of an undrafted rookie in Devlin Hodges.
Hodges ended up starting the final five games of the season (and six overall), but it wasn’t without issue. In fact, he only started the season finale because of Rudolph getting injured after Duck himself was pulled in the previous game. Rudolph came in and played well until he suffered a significant clavicle injury that put him on the reserve list and took him months before he was throwing again.
While it wasn’t much—just 14 for 20 passing for 129 yards and a touchdown pass over 33 snaps—that performance against the Jets in the penultimate game of the season was an important salve, not just for Rudolph, to end his season on something of a silver lining, but also for the organization.
“Yeah, I think that’s something you can build on going into this year”, he told reporters over the weekend about what that playing time and his good showing at the end of the season meant for him moving forward.
“I thought there were things there that you could build a foundation upon” from that game, he continued. “It was hard, but that’s football and there’s injuries. But, yeah, I think every game you could pull something from. I think, yeah, I am very confident right now going into this year, putting a finishing touch, even though obviously with the injury and losing the game eventually, but I think there were some things to build on”.
Through his first five games, including the second half of the Seattle Seahawks game, Rudolph was 83 for 130 passing for 897 yards with nine touchdown passes to three interceptions, of which two were the fault of the receiver—first Donte Moncrief and then JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Over the next four games in which he played, leading up to his benching, he completed 79 of 133 passes for 739 yards with just three touchdown passes to six interceptions, four of which came in the dismal loss to the Cleveland Browns on the eve of his being pulled in favor of Hodges.