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If Mason Rudolph Wins The Starting Job… Will Pittsburgh Have A Better Season Than In 2019?

Prior to the start of training camp, many believed that the Pittsburgh Steelers QB competition was a two-man race between Mitch Trubisky and rookie Kenny Pickett with incumbent Mason Rudolph more likely a trade candidate than an actual contender to win the job.

Fast forward to the completion of the first four practices, and Rudolph has been the best of the three, completing nearly 69% of his passes for 181 yards (5.7 YPA), 4 TDs, and 0 INTs with 8.2 YPC according to the charting done by Alex Kozora on-site in Latrobe for training camp. He has received praise from Chase Claypool and Matt Canada, being called the most accurate QB thus far in camp and a real contender to be Pittsburgh’s starting QB come Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

There still is plenty of training camp and preseason action yet to be played, but many following the competition (including myself) probably need to issue an apology for writing Rudolph off so quickly as he is firmly in the mix.

This raises the question. If Mason Rudolph wins the starting job out of the preseason, should we expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to put together a better season in 2022 than when Rudolph last started in 2019?

This topic can be analyzed from a variety of different angles. In terms of Rudolph himself, it would be fair to suggest that he should perform better this season as the starter in 2022 than in 2019 when he was thrust into starting action after Ben Roethlisberger went down with an elbow injury at the beginning of the season.

Rudolph would go on to play in ten games in 2019, starting eight of them and completed 176 passes on 283 attempts (62.2%) for 1,765 yards and 13 TDs to nine INTs. He posted a 5-3 record as the starting QB and did this in his second season in the league. While the win percentage comes off as a positive for Rudolph, the INTs were high considering the number of pass attempts as well as the fact that he was pulled for Duck Hodges during the season as Pittsburgh looked for a spark on offense when he was struggling.

Still, while Rudolph had his moments of struggle in 2019, he represented himself well as a former third-round pick that wasn’t expected to jump in as the team’s starting QB. The offense struggled to keep any consistency either running or passing the ball and leaned on their defense to keep them in games, finishing the season 8-8 and just missed the playoffs.

From a team comparison standpoint, below are listed the primary starters on the 2019 team and the projected starters for the 2022 unit:

2019 Steelers Starters:

QB: Mason Rudolph

RB: James Conner

WR: Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Washington

TE: Vance McDonald

OL: Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Matt Feiler

DL Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Javon Hargrave

OLB: T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree

ILB: Devin Bush and Vince Williams

CB: Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton

S: Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds

2022 Projected Steelers Starters (Excluding QB):

RB: Najee Harris

WR: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and George Pickens

TE: Pat Freiermuth

OL: Dan Moore Jr., Kevin Dotson, Mason Cole, James Daniels, and Chukwuma Okorafor

DL Cam Heyward, Chris Wormley, and Tyson Alualu

OLB: T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith

ILB: Devin Bush and Myles Jack

CB: Cam Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Levi Wallace

S: Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds

As you can see, the roster has experienced a complete turnover in some areas while remaining completely untouched in others. The entire offensive line has been redone and is not to the caliber of the 2019 unit. The same can likely be said for the defensive line with the losses of Tuitt and Hargrave, although the Steelers have added significant depth to the unit. It can be argued that Pittsburgh should be better at RB and TE with cornerstone pieces there with Harris and Freiermuth, respectively. The LBs and CBs may be a wash with the addition of Jack and Highsmith showing signs of a breakout, and the WR core in 2022 is probably better than 2019 with Johnson older and Pickens likely above Washington.

In short, the rosters themselves look fairly similar from a talent and ability standpoint, meaning that should Rudolph win the job, the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022 will come down to him showcasing how much he has developed since his second season in the league. Obviously, the play of the defense and the aid of the running game will be key components as well, but if Rudolph can show that he can move the offense on scoring drives and be more consistent this season than in 2019, there’s no reason to think that Pittsburgh shouldn’t at least match their win total of eight games this year, if not surpass it.

What are your thoughts on Mason Rudolph? Do you think that he a legit contender for the starting QB job? Should he win the job, do you think Pittsburgh will have a better season this year than when Rudolph last saw extensive starting action in 2019? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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