NFL: Steelers’ QB Mason Rudolph was Made to Play at Heinz Field

One of the biggest storylines of the 2019 NFL season has been Ben Roethlisberger’s injury. The typically durable Steelers’ quarterback is out for the year, leaving the team’s fate in the hands of second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph.

Steelers fans should find comfort in this, however. Rudolph has a great history at Heinz Field that predates his pro career. In fact, this is one of the primary reasons the team drafted him.  

Mason Rudolph’s college football career

Rudolph was a three-year starter for the Big 12’s Oklahoma State Cowboys from 2014 through 2017. Here’s how he performed at OK State: 

  • 915 completions on 1,447 attempts
  • 63.2 completion percentage 
  • 13,618 yards passing 
  • 9.4 yards per attempt 
  • 92 touchdowns (good for eighth all-time in Big 12 history)
  • 26 interceptions 
  • QB rating of 159.2 
  • Winner of the 2017 Johnny Unitas “Golden Arm” Award for most outstanding senior quarterback  
  • Winner of the 2017 Sammy Baugh Award for most outstanding passer 

In his final season, Rudolph led Oklahoma State to a 10-3 record and 45 points per game (the fourth-best total in the NCAA). His college performance led Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to refer to him as “Mr. Consistent” during a one-on-one interview.

Mason Rudolph’s transition to the NFL gave Rudolph a prospect grade of 5.66, which means he has a “chance to become an NFL starter.” Then, the Steelers made him the 12th pick of the third round in the 2017 NFL Draft. 

One person, however, wasn’t a fan of the Steelers drafting Rudolph. Roethlisberger had this to say about the decision:

I was surprised when they took a quarterback, because I thought that maybe in the third-round, you know, you can get some really good football players that can help this team now. And nothing against Mason. I think he’s a great football player. I don’t know him personally, but I’m sure he’s a great kid.

I just don’t know how backing up or being the third guy, who knows where he’s going to fall on the depth chart, helps us win now.

Whether Roethlisberger truly wanted to target a different position or just felt threatened, it doesn’t matter now. Roethlisberger ended his 2019 season with an elbow injury, which thrust Rudolph into the spotlight. Through Week 4 of the 2019 season, the 24-year-old has played in three games and put up the following stats

  • 50 completions on 74 attempts 
  • 515 yards passing
  • Six touchdowns 
  • Two interceptions 
  • A 67.6 completion percentage 

In Week 4, Rudolph led the Steelers to their first win of the season with a 27-3 shellacking of the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s played very well despite being put in difficult circumstances. 

While the Steelers are glad they have Rudolph, it still raises the question of why they would have drafted him when they already had Big Ben. The answer goes back to Rudolph’s college career and his performance at Heinz Field. 

Why Mason Rudolph was made to play at Heinz Field

Rudolph confirmed his status as a future Steelers pick when he faced the University of Pittsburgh during his senior season. CBS Sports explained:

Rudolph tore apart Pitt in one half of work in September of 2017, with a large contingent of Steelers scouts and brass watching closely, which, sources said, was a key moment in their interest in him and created a significant buzz in the organization.

The Steelers share training facilities and a stadium with Pitt, and had positive reports on Rudolph from 2016, both from their scouts and from Pitt staff, and his status as a draft target was further cemented by his exploits at Heinz Field two years ago.

In two career games against the Pitt Panthers, Rudolph completed 49 passes on 78 attempts with 1,037 yards and seven touchdowns. It was enough to convince the Steelers that he was their quarterback of the future. If last week’s game is any indication, they nailed it.