It was supposed to be a test against Pitt on Saturday, but Mason Rudolph’s stat line by the end of the first half read this way: 20-for-28, 423 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INT, and a commanding 49-14 lead.
What more could the senior possibly do?
The answer would see to be “pretty much nothing.” If Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy kept his foot on the pedal and left Rudolph in the game, getting to 800 or 900 yards wouldn’t have been out of the question. And yet, on the actual tape, some NFL scouts swear there’s still plenty to be desired.
“He’s O.K.,” said one AFC scouting director. “He’s playing in a great, quarterback-friendly offense. Probably has a top 10-caliber group of receivers. Gundy is a great coach and does an outstanding job with that offense. I’m not sold on him as a top guy . . . He’s a decent athlete. He’s tough and runs that offense well. But not sure the video game numbers he’s gonna put up this year will translate to the NFL.”
“He’s got good size,” was the positive an AFC personnel exec found before echoing the sentiment, “but his arm strength is lacking and he’s inconsistent with his accuracy.”
Added an area scout: “Not as good as the media wants everyone to believe; he’s a Day 3 guy. His accuracy isn’t as good as the numbers show—his receivers make a lot of tough catches for him. Arm strength is adequate, not tops. What’s the difference between him and Bryce Petty?”
And that is the crux of the matter for Rudolph.
We’re gonna get to a new feature here—the start of our big board (with input from a few team scouts)—and the other weekly staples in this still-new endeavor of mine that is the draft column. But we’ll start with, yes, another prospect in what could be the most intriguing quarterback class since Andrew Luck left Stanford in 2012.
You could bill this as “The Mason Rudolph Problem.” But, in a way, we addressed it last week in looking at Luke Falk. Those two are among the quarterbacks who are mentioned most often when I ask evaluators if anyone could crash the party that the assumed top 3—USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen—are expected to throw next spring.
To be clear, I’m not telling you to tune out Gundy, Rudolph and Oklahoma State, because the show they’re putting on is one of the most entertaining ones at any level of the sport. I feel that way about watching Mike Leach, Falk and Washington State too, and their game against USC two Fridays from now will be a barnburner.
But, in regards to the NFL draft, you should know what you’re watching. There have been 12 quarterbacks in major college football history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season, and just three of them—Derek Carr, Patrick Mahomes and David Klingler—went in the first five rounds out of the draft. The other nine? Two sixth-rounders, two seventh-rounders, a ninth-rounder (when that round still existed) and four undrafted free agents.
Some of the more aged names on the list (like Klingler or Hawaii’s Colt Brennan) played in the old run-and-shoot. More recent members of the club played in its schematic descendent, the Air Raid.
So what set Carr and Mahomes apart? Simple: traits.
If you come from one of these systems, your traits need to be special because there will be skepticism. Both Mahomes and Carr had unquestionable arm talent, and each carried leadership qualities that made teams believe they had the commitment level needed to transition from those offenses; the latter can only truly be gauged after the prospect leaves campus and enters the pre-draft process.
“At at a minimum, [Rudolph] has to have the arm talent,” the AFC scouting director said. “He might have the mental ability, but we don’t learn that until we get our hands on them after the season.”
So enjoy Rudolph’s final season in Stillwater. It should be blast. February and March and April figure to be a lot tougher on him.
FIVE FROM SATURDAY
1. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley was on the fast track to the first round already, but he showed something important on Saturday: He can catch. His four receptions went for 142 yards, and he now has 11 catches in three games after catching just 48 balls total over his first two seasons. The NFL prototype is becoming the 230-pound, three-down back (think Ezekiel Elliott or Joe Mixon). If Barkley proves to be that, he could go very high in April.
2. Clemson’s defensive talent jumped off the screen on Saturday in the Tigers’ rout of Louisville, and in particular we saw it where we usually see it from them: up front. Last week, we mentioned Dexter Lawrence as a potential top-5 pick in 2019. His interior partner, Christian Wilkins, is trending toward being a high first-rounder in the 2018 draft.
3. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen came on my podcast last September and explained why his version of the spread incorporated more NFL elements than most people realized. That is why, he argued, Dak Prescott’s transition wasn’t as difficult as many expected. If that’s true, then we should keep watching Nick Fitzgerald, who just captained the Bulldogs’ blowout of LSU.
4. It’s also worth monitoring the the high-profile jobs—Tennessee and Texas A&M are two schools on the list—that could come open in November and December, since the college and NFL coaching pools are always intertwined.
5. Finally, this was technically from Friday: The rumblings over whether or not Lovie Smith is still all-in on coaching, which surfaced after he was fired by the Bucs after the 2015 season, might be worth revisiting now. Smith’s Fighting Illini got run out of the coach’s old workplace, South Florida, 47-23. It was the Bulls’ first win over a Big Ten team and it was never in doubt; it was 37-9 going into the fourth quarter.