A Look at the Actual Draft: Round 3a
After Round 2 saw the selection of a wide receiver, how many of you saw Round 3 featuring not one but two picks of offensive players? Me either.
But offensive players they were, and you would have thought it was actually offensive, given the cries resounding from Steeler Nation’s collective throat.
I won’t deny this was surprising. But let’s begin with the “two picks” part, because this is the result of something even more surprising—a plethora of trades by the Steelers.
Most of them actually happened before the draft began—in fact, they happened during 2017:
- 2018 4th round pick (128) traded to the 49ers in exchange for their 5th round pick (148) and Vance McDonald.
- 2018 6th round pick (202) to Cleveland in exchange for Justin Gilbert.
- Cleveland trades 202 back to Pittsburgh in exchange for 2019 7th round pick and Sammie Coates.
- The Steelers traded the 2019 Cleveland pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for the Buc’s 2019 pick and J.J. Wilcox.
- Ross Cockrell was traded to the NY Giants in exchange for NYG’s 7th round pick (220).
- Martavis Bryant was traded to the Raiders in exchange for Oakland’s 3rd round pick (79). And finally:
- The Steelers traded pick No. 79 and pick No. 220 (the ones from the Giants and the Raiders) to Seattle for the Seahawk’s 3rd round pick (No. 76.)
I don’t know about y’all, but I can’t remember the Steelers ever doing so much horse-trading. I suppose I’ll have to actually look this up at some point, but for the moment let’s take it as a given that this is an unusually frenetic level of trading for the Steelers.
So what amazing defensive player were the Steelers moving up three spots to nab? Let’s see who was available. (All players listed were graded higher by Lance Zierlein than the 5.66 grade of the player they did pick.):
DEs/OLBs: Rasheem Green (5.88), Sam Hubbard (5.82), Da’shawn Hand (5.73), Jalyn Holmes (5.71).
DTs: Maurice Hurst (5.94), Harrison Phillips (5.83).
S/CBs: Tarvarius Moore (5.83), Ronnie Harrison (5.82), Kyzir White (5.73) Armani Watts (5.67).
ILBs: Umm, none with grades over 5.6, which tends to reinforce the idea that the Steelers didn’t think much of the guys below the first four. In fact, if you put much stock in Zierlein’s grades, it seems like there was a lot of “reaching” for ILBs going on.
Okay, if the Steelers were going to go offense, I suppose it makes sense for them to move up to grab a great TE (this was a good class for them) or an offensive tackle (which they needed, more than they even knew at the time, given the very recent and possibly season-ending injury to Jerald Hawkins.) Or how about a promising RB so we could then kick that preening jackass L. Bell aut a tawn? (Hopefully you all realize I’m speaking for Steeler Nation rather than myself at this point…)
And of course they did none of those, picking quarterback Mason Rudolph, and outraging an awful lot of people.
This to me is a fascinating pick, because it’s more the flashpoint for this draft than even the (apparently) highly unsatisfactory first round pick, Terrell Edmunds. In the years to come, when one can actually judge such things, it is either going to be seen as pure genius or a stupid waste of a pick.
Mind you, there are those who still think Landry Jones was a stupid waste of a 4th round pick. A competent backup quarterback for the 115th pick in the draft seems reasonable, although there are plenty who would argue with the “competent” part of the previous statement. There are also plenty of people who think we should have Aaron Rodgers (or his equivalent) sitting on the bench in case Ben gets hurt.
And those people ought to be happy, because Mason Rudolph, although definitely grading below the five quarterbacks picked in front of him, had a first-round grade from many draftniks. (Bucky Brooks of nfl.com had him mocked at No. 12 to the Bills.)
But then there’s the Ed Bouchette school of thought—that picking Mason Rudolph this year means that the pick of Josh Dobbs last year was a wasted pick. [For the record, he was another 4th round pick, but a good bit nearer the end of the round (135) than where Landry Jones was chosen (115).]
Of course, Jones will be a free agent at the end of this season, but what does one do with Dobbs in the meantime? Unless one of the guys comes down with an IR-able injury, you’re going to have to cut somebody, or expose them to the waiver wire. So there’s certainly a point to Bouchette’s objection.
And before we look at Rudolph himself, there’s one other thing about the pick which has to be considered—it has apparently served as a complete rejuvenator for Ben Roethlisberger. Let’s look at the timeline:
February 2017: Roethlisberger is “considering retirement.”
February 2018: Roethlisberger would like to play “2-3 more years.”
April 2018: Roethlisberger expects to play “3-5 more years.”
Apparently the combination of the non-retention of Todd Haley and the drafting of a possible replacement has somehow triggered a surge of health and heartiness in Ben not seen for some time. Training camp should be even more fascinating than usual.
But let’s see what we actually have in this most controversial of draft picks. First off, because of the Steelers’ 2nd round pick, WR James Washington, it’s difficult not to consider them as somewhat of a package. After all, during the 2017 season they combined for 1,549 yards in receptions, with 15 touchdowns. Washington won the Biletnikoff Award for most outstanding receiver. Rudolph led the nation in passing yards (4,904), was fourth in touchdowns (37), finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting, and won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Sammy Baugh Trophy.
Apparently the two picked up right where they left off, connecting a number of times in rookie camp.
Of course, for this to be particularly meaningful, Rudolph would have to be on the field. How likely is this to happen?
Hopefully not very likely, at least this season. This would have to mean the following:
In training camp, Rudolph beats out Joshua Dobbs for the No. 3 spot. (I think we can take it that if this doesn’t happen the Steelers made an enormous mistake.)
This puts Rudolph on the roster. The next question is, can he beat out Landry Jones for the No. 2 spot? Part of the question is, can a guy straight out of college overcome Jones’ place in the Circle of Trust? While lots of people would say this ought to be easy, Jones has proven of late that he can perform under pressure, something that was an issue earlier in his NFL career. The only way to prove this is to be under actual pressure—in other words, in a situation in which the games matter.
If he should manage to do so and claim the No. 1 backup spot, then Roethlisberger would have to be unable to play—scarcely an ideal circumstance. However, if this should happen, at least Rudolph will have experience in this realm. He was expected to redshirt his freshman year, but injuries to the two QBs ahead of him thrust him onto the field early. His first game, against then-ranked No. 7 Baylor, was a loss, but he won a game against Oklahoma on the road the following week.
Of course Roethlisberger grabbed the starting job in just that fashion, and never gave it back. However, he was considered in the top three of a historically good quarterback class. The jury is still out on this one. But it is unfair to expect the same level of competence from Rudolph.
And although I’ve expended a great many words on this pick without yet discussing the actual player, there’s no way not to consider the issues that have made him so polarizing. Now let’s look at him strictly from the personal standpoint, which is always my preference anyhow. Is he the sort of young man we would like to be a Steeler?
He received CBSSports “highest grade for character” in their draft profile. They also noted “he has become an exemplary leader in his time at Oklahoma State.”
He certainly doesn’t lack in confidence in himself. He was disappointed to be drafted as late as the third round, not surprisingly, given that he was more than competitive on a national level in college with the guys who went in the first round. (The confidence issue has, I think, has been somewhat of a knock on Landry Jones.) Check out some of these quotes (from an article in buffalonews.com):
I’m very accurate with the ball. A lot of production, a lot of games, a lot of starts, durable….I’m very, very confident in my ability to pick up a new offense, a new system and command the huddle*…you ask any of my teammates, my coaches, they’ll tell you I command the huddle and I’m able to pick up on a lot very quickly.
*This isn’t just talk. It was favorably commented on after May OTAs:
His teammates have already been singing his praises of his command in the huddle, his presence on the field. Not comments that often come when it’s a rookie you are referring to.
More specifically, Marcus Tucker, who, as he is still technically a rookie, was at his third rookie minicamp, commented about Rudolph: “Certain guys just take command of the huddle, and I think he’s one of those guys that really grasps the togetherness of the offense.”
But this impressed me more, from the same Teresa Varley article on steelers.com:
The Steelers final OTA practice of the week was over, and the field was clear. Except for two players.
Standing out there, taking snap after snap, was rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph, the team’s third-round pick out of Oklahoma State.
Repetition after repetition he was working, until he reached that point where the comfort level was starting to come.
“We had some bad snaps,” said Rudolph of the day’s practice. “Bad center/quarterback exchange. It’s on both of us. At the end of teams, I wish we could have ended on a better note. We’ll get it right. We still have a lot of centers filtering through. We’ll get on the same page.”
The guy who knows Rudolph best, James Washington, commented: “He doesn’t like to be sloppy. If it’s sloppy, he’s going to redo it. No matter what. That’s something that will help him at this next level.”
Rudolph gives a great deal of credit to the guy he needs to beat out, Landry Jones:
We were filtering through a new center and he just gives me tips on hand placement, cadence and voice inflections and stuff like that. He’s been awesome.
But once again I’ve strayed into footbally kind of stuff. It’s more difficult to do in this circumstance, I fear. But perhaps there is a consolation for those who wanted him to be an ILB—growing up, Rudolph played “a lot of linebacker.”
In this video on nfl.com, part of a series titled “Path to the Draft,” the interviewer noted that his family was very athletic, and asked about this:
“With your father being a college linebacker, your brother being a linebacker at Clemson, did you take a lot of hits growing up, in the backyard?”
“I played a lot of linebacker growing up—I played a lot of defense. I enjoyed smashing my face in there and making the tackle. I wasn’t always the biggest, I wasn’t always the bulkiest, but I enjoyed the contact.”
His family has always been of central importance to Rudolph. OSU head coach Mike Gundy put it this way:
I said this three years ago, and I’ll say it again. I have three sons, and if they could grow up to be as squared away off the field as Mason is, it would make me comfortable as a dad. That’s the kind of kid he is.
His grandfather is a preacher (and was also the head of the Virginia chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Rudolph says:
I was brought up with a biblical background. With an idea that I could and should do what I could in my community. If I were to get a platform through football or something else, I didn’t want this just to be a gain for myself. I wanted to give back and impact people.
As a freshman, he met John Talley, a member of the Oklahoma Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Talley set him up with a roto of community work, including speaking at elementary schools and various community efforts. Talley commented:
He’s worked with thousands of kids across Oklahoma and spoke to thousands of people at different events. I would guess in four years he’s been directly in front of 50,000 people. Every couple of years, you get someone who does a lot. Mason started off involved when he got here and stayed involved.
A supposed one-off connection with a tiny (4-year-old) brain cancer survivor turned into a relationship as Rudolph reached out to the family and remained involved. He has stayed close to the family, even after the boy relapsed and died. The boy’s mother Angela says “It is a bond that will never go away. I count him as part of my family. I feel like he’s a son.”
Finally, I am, as always, interested in the academic part of a player’s, you know, academic career, and Rudolph doesn’t disappoint. He made second team All-Academic last year. He was a marketing major at OSU, but considered declaring for the draft before his senior year. In the end he stayed, for two primary reasons—he wanted to “leave a legacy” and he wanted to graduate. Which I presume he did, although with the usual coyness, I can’t find anything other than he was “on track” to graduate with his class. Of course I love the fact that this was part of his consideration.
Persistence, consistency, and the willingness to go above and beyond, both on and off the field, seem to be part of Rudolph’s DNA. It’s certainly a good start. Welcome to the Steelers, Mr. Rudolph, and may you confound your critics and fulfill your potential.