Outside of the highly-touted group of passers expected to land in the top ten picks of the draft, Mason Rudolph is an option for the Buffalo Bills who could be had without negotiating a trade. Does the Oklahoma State quarterback have the traits worthy of a franchise quarterback? Let’s take a look.
Rudolph is a pocket passer with prototypical size for the position, standing nearly 6’5” and weighing 230 pounds. His hands are a tad small at 9.125 inches. Rudolph won’t wow anyone with his athleticism, running a 4.9 forty-yard dash and only hitting 26 inches on the vertical leap. He’s not able to move sideways through the pocket with any real speed, and on rollout passes he doesn’t bring much of a running threat.
Rudolph has a decent arm that’s probably good enough to play in the NFL, but he’d benefit from strengthening exercises or from playing in a dome. Even when he puts his whole body into the follow-through, an opposite-hash fifteen-yard out will start to hang in the air.
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Rudolph throws with an overhand motion. He can adjust his release point to different levels for different trajectories, launching the ball early for a deep shot, or a bit late for a short pass designed to be low and away from a defender. Though he plays in an offense with plenty of shotgun and pistol looks, Rudolph is comfortable dropping back and setting his feet, then taking hitch steps in the pocket.
His footwork is a work in progress, and there are times (like shorter plays or in the red zone) where he abandons all pretense of a dropback and takes the snap flat-footed. This leads to occasional inaccuracy.
Rudolph is a great deep ball thrower. Like Carson Palmer, he really is a great judge of distance downfield, and even sets up good 50-50 situations along the sidelines. In fact, his overall precision is great, and it’s something that really surprised me when I went back to re-watch him.
If his feet are set, Rudolph can put the ball exactly where it needs to go. If he’s on the run? That’s another story. Rudolph really prefers to establish a throwing platform to deliver the ball.
I have no issue with Rudolph’s accuracy. However, sometimes he will make life harder for himself by placing a pinpoint pass when a defender is draped over his intended target.
Processing speed and decision-making
These traits are where Rudolph’s three years of starting really shine through. Rudolph has great pocket presence, and is very comfortable standing in a messy pocket to deliver throws. He has a well-trained internal clock that can sense pressure closing in and allow him to get the ball out.
You know how Tom Brady will step around an edge rusher, calmly survey the field, then deliver a pass to a wide-open target? Or the way he coolly throws the ball into the dirt when a play is blown up and the defense is closing in? Rudolph plays with that same attitude.
As long as pressure doesn’t catch him flat-footed, and as long as he doesn’t need to extend the play outside the pocket, Rudolph will happily reset or step up until he finds an open receiver.
Rudolph’s ability to scan the field, anticipate players coming open, and read the defense post-snap is much less developed. He played in a simplified offense at Oklahoma State which played to his physical strengths, performing better than he was trained. A typical play might look like this: Referee spots the ball and runs back. Rudolph snaps the ball immediately, fakes a handoff to his running back, rears back, and tosses deep.
When Rudolph made his reads, he usually worked on only two or three options, and I didn’t see him anticipating his receiver coming open or appropriately choosing his throw based on separation from the defender. He’d pick a target and send the ball essentially on a whim. Sometimes, he missed very obvious openings.
I believe he can develop this skill in the NFL with repetition, but it’ll make him susceptible to turnovers early in his career.
Rudolph checks many boxes, and in a normal year he might well end up as a top ten pick. A three-year starter, graduating senior with an excellent win-loss record, great college stats, and a few standout skills, he has the potential to develop into a franchise starter for the team he joins.
Pocket presence and accuracy are two of the most important traits for a quarterback to possess, and Rudolph has both of those. His arm strength might hold him back, but other passers have improved their arm strength during their careers. My main concern is his processing speed and the depth with which he reads the field. If he can figure the mental part of the game out, he can be part of this league for a long time.
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