Pro & Cons of Duck: The Good and Bad of Starting Devlin Hodges

Donnie Druin

Devlin Hodges is a world champion duck-caller. 

Now that we've got that out of the way, we can move on to more recent news: Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced on Tuesday that Hodges will be their starting quarterback as the team prepares to host the Cleveland Browns in a pivotal match-up that may very well damage the playoff hopes of whoever walks away with a loss. 

The change was well received by black and gold faithful, as many Steelers fans wanted Hodges as the starter when the Steelers again take the field this week. How much faith did Mason Rudolph lose over the last few weeks? In a poll conducted by yours truly via Twitter, 90%(!) of fans voted Hodges over Rudolph as their chosen starter for the rest of the season. 

"And really, the decision is clear for us (to choose Hodges as the starter), and there are some really clear reasons why. Like I talked about after the Bengals game, I thought he provided us a spark in-game, and I’m hopeful he’s capable of continuing to provide that spark as we step into this stadium (Sunday)” Tomlin said during his press conference. 

Tomlin emphasized that the move is not indicative of Rudolph's days in Pittsburgh, but like SteelerMaven Senior Writer Noah Strackbein pointed out, it could mean everything for Hodges and his future with the organization. 

Hodges has indeed taken the long road to becoming an NFL starter. After going undrafted, he was released from the team after final preseason cuts only to be brought back after the Steelers traded quarterback Josh Dobbs to Jacksonville early in the season. 

It's evident Steelers' fans are confident in Hodges, yet how confident are they in either his or Rudolph's ability to take over the reigns after Ben Roethlisberger walks away? In a related poll to the one above, 86% of people say that neither Hodges or Rudolph would be a viable starter after Roethlisberger retires. 

Whether thinking short or long-term, there will be pros/cons to every decision made, and the Steelers hold no exception to this rule. What are the benefits of starting Hodges over Rudolph? Is there any downside to Rudolph sitting? 

To jump-start this discussion, it's important to take what coach Tomlin said into consideration. 

"The decision is clear for us, and there are some really clear reasons why" 

Hodges definitely brings a different wave of energy to this fan base, the coaching staff and most importantly, his fellow teammates. When Hodges walked on the field for his first drive, the Steelers appeared to find a new-found confidence with number six under center. 

Hodges' mobility and willingness to take chances downfield should be a breath of fresh air for Steelers fans come this Sunday, and if things go accordingly, perhaps the rest of the future. 

Yet if things don't go accordingly, and they very well might when considering the current state of the Browns, where do the Steelers go from there? Do they ride Hodges out, or return back to Rudolph? Hodges was handed keys to a car while essentially riding shotgun, as Pittsburgh's defense and rushing attack carried the Steelers to a win in primetime. Like many on social media have pointed out, should you remove the 79 yard touchdown pass to James Washington, Rudolph and Hodges' numbers are nearly identical in the Steelers win over the Bengals. 

However, as coach Tomlin would put it, we don't play hypotheticals. 

It's clear the Steelers made this move to put themselves in position to win now, as Rudolph just wasn't cutting it. Did poor play derive due to the concussion he suffered against Baltimore? Or perhaps the events that unfolded in Cleveland were weighing heavily on his mind? Whatever it may be, this is the NFL, where if you're not established and failing to do your job on a consistent basis, you'll quickly find yourself out of a job. 

Experience doesn't necessarily translate to success, yet it certainly helps, and that's one department where Rudolph has the advantage. Aside from having a full year advantage in terms of understanding the system and digesting the overall fluidity of the league, Rudolph (494) has out-snapped Hodges (119) significantly in 2019. Practice reps are great, yet there is no true substitution for live action snaps during games. When the going gets tough, you would like to think the experienced player can have his number called and be relied on. 

On the other side of the coin however, the lack of involvement of Hodges simply means less tape available for other teams to use against him. The Browns' only film of Hodges in a professional setting exists where he played a total of 26 snaps against Baltimore after Rudolph was hurt, one full game in Los Angeles where the Steelers attempted just 20 passes, and one half of football in Cincinnati. 

On the stat sheet, Hodges is also the better quarterback prospect. Duck outperforms Rudolph in nearly every category when assessing game averages, including completion percentage, yards per attempt (both true and adjusted), and quarterback rating. 

Are Hodges' advantages just a simple matter of small sample size? Perhaps. His willingness to sling the ball deep and take more chances may result in more turnovers. Yet given that small sample size, Hodges has helped guide Pittsburgh to two crucial victories while losing by a mere three points in his sole loss. Results are the only thing that matters down the stretch of a season, and Hodges has brought exactly that to the table thus far. 

It's important to succeed no matter the position you're in, and when Roethlisberger went down, many thought the Steelers would simply mail the season in and play with house money. Not many expected the Steelers to make a deep playoff run without Big Ben, as 2019 could have been viewed as developmental year for many young players on the team. Now with six weeks left in the regular season and Pittsburgh clinging on to the last playoff spot, the Steelers put themselves in a territory not many foresaw just two months ago. In the short-term, Hodges appears to be their guy. 

However, the only gray area in this decision may be the minor long-term effects. Realistically speaking, neither of these quarterbacks will see the field if Roethlisberger is healthy and still desires to play football. 2019 was supposed to be our one full season of Rudolph starting to properly gauge his readiness in a post-Roethlisberger era. Pittsburgh invested a third-round pick in Rudolph, as he showed the potential to one day fill an immense pair of shoes at the quarterback position. The results? Not great thus far, yet Rudolph stuck through the good and bad and will now be robbed of a full season's worth of evaluation to see what he's made of while suffering from an offense that has been incredibly injury-stricken and an offensive coordinator that many feels is incompetent. 

Yet Hodges is dealt with the same hand, and has typically produced better results. 

Could we be overreacting? Sure. Rudolph could very well emerge as the starter again with a clean slate and take off running. In a society where we are quick to form judgments/opinions on players (I encourage you to dive deep here), we sometimes jump the gun too quickly when evaluating players. Mason being benched doesn't cancel all probability of him starting in a Steelers uniform ever again, as Rudolph has all the tools to succeed in this league and earned the right to play when Roethlisberger went down.

However, Hodges has now earned that right as well, and if it were up to him, duck season may be extended in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future.

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