Mason Rudolph: The Most Hated Man within the Pittsburgh Steelers - Behind The Steel Curtain

Week one of training camp is in the books and Mason Rudolph has surfaced as the quarterback having the best camp thus far. His performance alongside the reported struggling of Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett has begun to change some of the fan base and media opinions of Rudolph and his positioning in the roster. Prior to training camp many predicted, including myself, Rudolph would be traded or released. If Rudolph can continue to play solid in camp, I don't see him losing the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, and if Trubisky can’t distance himself, I can see a real QB battle in preseason.


But there should be no shock that the only incumbent quarterback on the roster wouldn't look the best. Rudolph has the most time spent in the area, with the roster, in the playbook and with coaches. Rudolph having a solid camp and still being hated; raises the question why does he get so much hate?


He wasn't a 1st round pick with wildly high expectations, he has a winning record as a starter for the Steelers, and has zero off the field issues.


Rudolph didn't have the warmest of welcomes into the league. Just after being selected 76th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by Pittsburgh, future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, while on 93.7 the Fan, stated:


“I was surprised they took a QB because I thought maybe in the 3rd round you can get some really good players that can help this team win now. I just don’t know how backing up or being the third, who knows where he’s going to fall in the depth chart, but helps us win” and “If he asks me a question, I might just have to point to the playbook.”


Ben’s interview on The Fan sparked debate and questions amongst the Steelers fan base, causing a split.


The Steelers fan base, including myself, are extremely superstitious. That’s why some fans will watch a game topless, not to mention any names...Bryan Davis, or like myself will change out my jersey until the Steelers begin to play favorably. In 2019 “signs” where everywhere when Mason Rudolph replaced an injured Ben Roethlisberger. The similarities between Rudolph's NFL debut and Roethlisberger’s entrance in 2004 for an injured Tommy Maddox are uncanny. Rudolph’s similar debut as of Roethlisberger and the team announcing they had a 1st round grade (3rd round pick) catapulted expectations for Rudolph’s performance and when he did not meet the expectations or had a similar success as Roethlisberger, the fan base turned on Rudolph.


Then along came a Duck. Devlin “Duck” Hodges, an undrafted rookie quarterback out of Stamford, replaced an unconscious Rudolph, who was knocked out by Safety Earl Thomas of the Baltimore Ravens, at the time. On that play, in a pivotal time of the game, backed inside the 15, on a 3rd and long, Rudolph created time with his legs, extended the play and threw the ball down the field for a 1st down. Hodges and the Steelers were unable to win that game, and the following week Hodges would start for the concussed Rudolph and would lead the Steelers to victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in prime time. Hodges’ performance would reignite the split on Rudolph, this time between a “duck” and a “reindeer”.


Hodges’ story was better than both the performances of Hodges and Rudolph that season as Rudolph outperformed Hodges. Both quarterbacks started 8 games, Rudolph had 62.2% passes completed, 13 TDs to 9 INTs throwing for 1,765 yards to Hodges’ who had 62.5% passes completed, 5 TDs to 8 INTs throwing for 1,063 yards.


After being benched for a few games, Rudolph made his return to the field and replaced a struggling Hodges against the New York Jets. Rudolph would impress in the game throwing 14-20, 70% passes completed with a long touchdown to Diontae Johnson. Rudolph, unfortunately, would not finish the game as he left due to a sternoclavicular joint dislocation, which ended his season. Rudolph was 5-3 as a first-year starter.


Covid would stop preseason games in 2020, so the next time anyone saw Rudolph get meaningful playing time was in the season finale against a desperate Cleveland Browns team trying to make the playoffs. At this point in the 2020 season the Steelers had solidified their positioning in the playoffs and Rudolph would be handicapped as many of the starters on both sides of the ball did not play, and yet Rudolph still came close to upsetting the fully stacked Browns.


Rudolph wouldn't take another meaningful snap until Week 10 of the 2021 season against the Detroit Lions. Roethlisberger, the day before the game, tested positive for covid and with less than 24 hours notice Rudolph lead the Steelers a tie against the then winless Detroit Lions. Rudolph took more blame for the tie than he deserved. Yes, he shouldn't have one hopped a ball to Ray-Ray McCloud and his interception was horrible.


He also didn't fumble twice in overtime.


It's a team game and in the elements the team tied as a whole. Also, the 2021 Lions were the complete opposite of the 2020 Steelers, where the Steelers were considered the worst 11-0 team, the Lions were the best winless team to that point. The Lions had a lot of close games with really good teams in 2021.


I don't get it, especially when fans or the media say they know what Rudolph is when he hasn't even had a full season of starts under his belt yet. It’s comparable to a person claiming they know one's ceiling when that player hasn't taken a professional snap. And, like the 2022 season for the Steelers, I like an underdog story, and I hope Rudolph continues to do well in camp as I do for all the quarterbacks participating in this battle. I will be cheering hard for whoever lines up behind Mason Cole this year at the quarterback position.


What is your opinion on Mason Rudolph? Do you think the criticism is warranted, too much or not enough? Let us know in the comment section, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold.