2018 NFL Draft preseason evaluations: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 7 : Quarterback Mason Rudolph
STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 7 : Quarterback Mason Rudolph /

After the top tier of quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft class, there are a few intriguing names, and Mason Rudolph figures to be among them.

Armed with 2018 NFL Draft first-round wide receiver prospect James Washington and a bevy of weapons, Mason Rudolph led one of college football’s most exciting passing attacks last season. Rudolph finished his junior year with a whopping 10.0 adjusted yards per pass attempt, tossing 4,091 yards with 28 touchdowns and four interceptions. This made him one of the country’s most productive passers, as Rudolph was 10th overall in passer efficiency rating.

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Despite the fact that Rudolph’s completion percentage looks solid, he shares the same problem that Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and, to a lesser extent, Lamar Jackson do as passers. Rudolph’s accuracy is inconsistent. On intermediate throws, Rudolph more or less looks the part, and he’s far more adept at checking down than either Rosen or Allen.

However, Rudolph struggles mightily on deep passes, and I can’t get behind the praise for his deep ball passing. Jackson and Allen, for example, are far more accomplished deep passers. Although Rudolph shows more than enough arm strength when zipping the ball over the middle or on out routes into tight windows, he frequently underthrows receivers. Rudolph did have 540 passing yards against Pittsburgh, but he missed many passes. He merely took advantage of some of the most bizarre coverage scheming and abysmal safety play I’ve seen.

If Rudolph wants to be considered a first-round prospect and a future franchise quarterback, he must address his issues down the field. Although he looks the part height-wise and has a strong enough arm, that doesn’t automatically make him an effective quarterback on 20-plus-yard passes. He fails to understand where to place the ball so his receiver can make a play, and it doesn’t even seem like he tries to account for where his receiver is headed and where the defensive back is positioned. Rudolph will simply just chuck the ball and pray that one of his talented receivers, most likely Washington, comes down with the spectacular play.

I see some similarities between Rudolph and Rosen. Both quarterbacks struggle with deep accuracy and anticipation, but they are both tough and can navigate the pocket well. You’ll see Rudolph frequently doing an effective job of climbing the pocket and when he does face that pressure that is unavoidable, Rudolph makes far fewer poor decisions than Rosen. This is evidenced by the fact that Rudolph tossed just four interceptions last season, but I counted several inaccurate passes that should have been picked (watch the Baylor game).

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On the subject of accuracy issues, Rudolph fails to put his pass-catchers in an optimal position to gain yardage after the catch. Worst of all, he leads his receivers into trouble, which won’t exactly work out well for him at the pro level.

When comparing Rosen and Rudolph, you might be inclined to prefer Rudolph. The latter’s stats are better, and the Oklahoma State signal-caller is the lesser of the two evils in terms of accuracy issues. However, Rosen’s pocket movement is even more impressive, and it is important to note that UCLA’s skill position talent is inferior to Oklahoma State’s.

If I were to offer any sort of a pro comparison for Rudolph, I would say that, at this point in time, any team thinking of drafting him is hoping for a Kirk Cousins-type player. Rudolph has the tools, but he’s too inconsistent and too limited in the regions of the field where he’s accurate. This makes him reliant on the talent around him. Although Rudolph looked good in the pocket when under pressure, he rarely faced enough pressure to ever feel rattled. His offensive linemen did an excellent job of keeping him clean. Rudolph is the type of quarterback who needs the right talent and the right system to succeed.

Rudolph is an interesting quarterback prospect and is talented enough to hear his name called in the third round or so. The problem is that he just doesn’t have enough standout traits to be considered a first-round pick. In fact, Rudolph isn’t particularly “great” at any one thing as a passer right now, but the potential is there. I could envision Rudolph being a big riser next season if he’s able to learn how to anticipate routes and leverages, but he’s also more experienced than many of his peers in this class (RE: he probably won’t significantly improve, since most quarterbacks don’t suddenly “click” in their senior years).

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I just have a hard time projecting a quarterback with good-but-not-great arm talent and limited mental traits. While Rudolph isn’t a bad prospect by any means, there’s just too much talent in this class to get behind some of the bullish projections out there. I’ve seen him mocked in the top five, and it just doesn’t make sense to me. Again, he could succeed much like Cousins has in the NFL, but is that worth a top-20 pick? I’m not so sure, but I am willing to sit back and watch how he attacks the 2017 season.