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The Maddening Enigma That is Mason Rudolph

Somehow, a backup quarterback has become one of the most polarizing figure on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 2018, the Pittsburgh Steelers took a shot at drafting a quarterback that many saw as the eventual successor to Ben Roethlisberger. That fresh-faced, young quarterback named Mason Rudolph had fans drooling over him like a brand new Corvette. Despite Roethlisberger still having success, the fans felt they had a potential franchise quarterback in the wings with Rudolph.

Just four years later, Rudolph is one of the more polarizing figures in all of Pittsburgh sports.

Some people are holding out hope, citing things like his winning record as a starter in Roethlisberger’s absence in 2019 and his 300+ yard performance against Cleveland in week 17 last season. His detractors cite his performances like the one Sunday against the Lions, where he made a handful of wildly inaccurate throws even though he still gave the Steelers a good chance to win the game.

In 16 career NFL games, 10 of those being starts, Rudolph has amassed a 5-4-1 record. He’s thrown for 2,331 yards with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Rudolph has even shown flashes of being mobile enough to escape the pocket and gain some yards when nothing is available downfield.

Taking all that into consideration, I think it’s fair to surmise that Rudolph’s ceiling is a really solid NFL backup quarterback.

Before pelting me with rocks and other hard objects, at least consider what a backup quarterback’s job is.

Unless you’ve got a protege sitting in the wings behind your franchise quarterback, realistically, all you can do is ask your backup to give you a chance to win the game. Sunday, Rudolph actually did that. Sure, his awful miss on the potential touchdown to Ray-Ray McCloud loomed large in the outcome of the game. Maybe the Steelers don’t even get to overtime and win outright before the extra period.

However, in overtime, Rudolph saw his receivers fumble not once but twice as the Steelers got close enough for Chris Boswell to attempt a game-winning field goal. With the help of the receivers, Rudolph pushed the ball down the field and gave the Steelers that chance to win. Even head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged as much after the game.

Now, with Roethlisberger’s status an uncertainty for Sunday night’s matchup with the Chargers, Rudolph must again prepare as if he is the guy in the bright lights of national television.

A nationally televised game where the Steelers must bounce back on the heels of a tie against the lone winless team left in the NFL is the perfect stage for Rudolph to show exactly what he is and can be. I almost feel as if the Steelers need him to start the game.

I won’t be campaigning for Rudolph to be the eventual starter after Roethlisberger’s departure. But if the Steelers do eventually draft a quarterback and he’s fairly raw and not guaranteed to start day one, Rudolph at least deserves a chance to compete for the job with the rookie.

The Steelers brass claimed they had a first-round grade on Rudolph when he came out of Oklahoma State in 2018. Looking back, however, there is a reason he lasted as long as he did in the draft and his flaws outweigh the positives in him eventually becoming a franchise quarterback.

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At the end of the day, however, it’s unfair to say that Rudolph isn’t an NFL quarterback at all.

There are plenty of worse options out there, in my opinion, than Mason Rudolph. Go ahead and tell me he was benched for Devlin Hodges. That much is indisputable. Upon his return from that injury in 2019, he almost backdoored the Steelers into a playoff spot.

Even if the Steelers make it into the playoffs this season, there is a distinct chance that they can still end up with one of these quarterbacks coming out. The experts don’t have a ton of stock in these quarterbacks.

Could the Steelers take a first or second-round flier on one of the top guys hoping they find something? Absolutely. If Roethlisberger’s final season in a Steelers uniform comes this season, they absolutely should. A lot of Steeler fans want to see a certain Pitt Panthers quarterback just switch locker rooms.

Mason Rudolph is an enigma nonetheless but absolutely has a place as a backup quarterback in the NFL, whether it is in Pittsburgh or another NFL organization.

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