Updated: Jul 8, 2021
During the Ben Roethlisberger era in Pittsbugh, few backup quarterbacks have come in as accomplished as former Oklahoma State star, Mason Rudolph.
Rudolph did not make much noise his rookie season; 2019 however, was a completely different story. When Roethlisberger went down in week 2 with an eventual season-ending elbow injury, all the attention turned to him, as he would take over the game; thus marking the beginning of the Rudolph era.
Rudolph's 2019 season was somewhat of a tale of two extremes. At times, he showed shades of the efficient play; at the same time, there were instances where he displayed his inability making effective decisions against certain defensive fronts. Many have questioned his ability to perform at a reasonable level against opposing defenses; hence why experts suggested the idea of drafting a quarterback in April's NFL Draft. The fact that they did, could be an indication of their belief in Rudolph as Roethlisberger's backup.
When evaluating his value using analytics, what we receive is a player that is still very much an enigma in terms of his ability to consistently produce and win games. For what it is worth, Rudolph has been in the NFL for just two seasons, meaning he may not be close to reaching his ceiling
As described by football writer and analyst, Josh Hermsmeyer, completed air yards are the measure of standard receiving yards minus yards after catch (YAC). In general, it is a depth measurement of a quarterback's quality of throws. From the 1,765 passing yards Rudolph collected last season, 854 of them were completed air yards. With the median set by Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill last season, Rudolph unfortunately stood at the lower end. His intended air yards (the average depth of the target ) were 8.1, which placed him in the middle of the pack among active quarterbacks.
From the presented statistics, the major area concern was accuracy. Last season, Rudolph produced very few money throws, while throwing a healthy amount of interceptable passes to opposing defenses. Perhaps the most revealing number from this table, was the amount of danger plays he accumulated last season, 26 of them. This particular stat takes into account the amount of dangerous plays, as a result of taking unnecessary risks or lack of awareness. From this number, it is clear that Rudolph has much work to do when it comes to making sound decisions with the football.
When comes to efficiency, Rudolph's numbers indicate this as an area of weakness, and one that may not entirely be his fault. His true completion percentage (factoring both dropped passes and unpressured throwaways) was near the lower end of the spectrum at 67.7%. His play-action completion percentage was surprisingly low, considering that he came from a system at Oklahoma State, that was heavy on play-action and RPOs. In this regard, we can also point to play-calling as a source of the problem, as he was not given enough opportunities to run these types of plays.
In the red zone, Rudolph was very efficient at 64.5%, most notably in week two against the Seattle Seahawks, where he threw two red zone touchdowns. His deep ball completion percentage proved to be an undesirable number, which could be indicative of issues with both accuracy and decision-making skills. When pressured, Rudolph posted a percentage of 33.3%, a decent number considering the shaky play of the offensive line, and Considering the top-ranked defenses he played against last season, such as the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills.
Considering the circumstances that led to his first start and the collective way the Steelers offense struggled all last season, Rudolph did not have many expectations and still, he alongside backup Devlin Hodges came close to guiding their team into the playoffs. For Rudolph, if placed in positions where his strengths can shine, these numbers can vastly improve. As it stands, he can only one direction from this point forward, that way it up.