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Mason Rudolph: Career backup or potential franchise QB?

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If Giants pass on quarterbacks early, Rudolph could be a day 2 option

Oklahoma State v Pittsburgh Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The New York Giants are faced with a potentially transformative offseason in 2018.

They might have taken the first step toward looking forward to life after Eli Manning last year with the selection of Davis Webb in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. After a disastrous 3-13 season which secured for them the second overall pick, the Giants are still faced with that eventuality.

This year, however, they are also faced with a quarterback class as being held up in the same rarefied air as the 1983 class (which produced John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly) and the 2004 class (which produced Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Philip Rivers).

On top of all that, 2017 saw the Giants made the rare — for them — move of firing their head coach mid-season, as well as their general manager, which is unheard of — for them.

As a result, the Giants not only have a new coach and GM setting the agenda, but should have their pick of (most of) the top quarterback prospects.

With all that in mind, we are doing a deep dive and taking a close look at each of the Giants’ options for the future of their quarterback position — Davis Webb [Deep Dive], Mason Rudolph, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, and Sam Darnold.

This week we turn our attention to Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.

Rudolph was one of the most productive passers in the nation in 2017, completing 318 of 489 attempts (65 percent) for 4,904 yards, 37 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions.

But the box score only tells us so much about a player. Let’s take a closer look.

Measurables

Athleticism

We have a slightly incomplete picture of Mason Rudolph’s athleticism when compared to the other top quarterbacks in this draft class. He suffered a foot sprain in the second half of the Camping World Bowl, though he played through the injury in Oklahoma State’s win over Virginia Tech. He did not participate in the 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl while he recovered — though he was in attendance to meet with NFL teams — and only competed in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump. Neither result was particularly inspiring, with a 4.9 in the 40 and a vertical of 26 inches, which put him in the 35th and fifth percentiles (respectively) among quarterbacks.

On tape, Rudolph’s athleticism is probably best described as being “functionally adequate.” He is able to move around the backfield, execute bootlegs and roll-outs, and pick up yards with his legs when a defense gives him the opportunity.

He isn’t going to be a “dual threat,” or even scrambling threat at the next level. However, Rudolph isn’t going to be an immobile statue in the same vein as Ryan Mallett or Mike Glennon.

Physically, he has a prototypical build for an NFL quarterback, with the height (6 feet, 5 inches) and thickness (235 pounds) that teams look for. His hand size might fall below some teams’ thresholds at 9 1/8 inches. The concern would be that he won’t be able to grip a ball well enough to throw with touch in all conditions and fumbles could be an issue. They aren’t unheard of for Rudolph, with 17 fumbles (10 lost) in the last three seasons (39 games).

Arm Talent

Arm Strength

Like his athleticism, Rudolph’s arm strength might best be described as “adequate.” The ball doesn’t explode off his hand, and he doesn’t have a “big” arm. But while he probably has the weakest arm of the top quarterback options, Rudolph still has the arm strength to reach all areas of the field. His arm is strong enough to be able to fit the ball in tight windows on short passes, and he shows good accuracy all over the field.

Curiously, throwing deep passes with accuracy and anticipation is probably his strongest quality. Despite not having the arm strength of the other quarterbacks, Rudolph did not see much of a decline in the accuracy of his deep passes, averaging completing 52 percent of his catchable passes on attempts over 20 yards. He was best throwing to his left, completing 62 percent of his passes for 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. That number declined to the mid-40s on passes to the deep middle and right, but that is still a strong showing.

If there is one caveat with his deep passes, it is that he tends to throw put a lot of air under his deep passes.

That high trajectory is likely necessary to compensate for his more average arm strength, and the slower arriving pass could give NFL defenders more opportunities for interceptions.

Mechanics

Rudolph is generally mechanically sound. His footwork is usually efficient, and his release is quick and compact. As a result, he is generally consistently accurate.

Because of his rather pedestrian arm strength, Rudolph needs to have the time and space to step into his throws and generate power with his lower body. When he isn’t able to step into his throws well, he can struggle to generate velocity or reach deeper targets.

On the other side of that coin, there is something just a bit off somewhere in his kinetic chain, which occasionally leads to the ball sailing on over-throws.

That deficiency is partly hidden by the receivers to which Rudolph threw. Marcell Ateman is a big-bodied receiver with a large catch radius and the ability either catch the ball over defenders or out-fight them at the catch point. On the opposite side of the field was James Washington, who’s arm length and ability to adjust to the ball while it is in the air are simply rare. It doesn’t always seem to be an issue, but it does crop up occasionally, and his receivers aren’t always able to adjust.

What, exactly, is off will probably need a close look from a dedicated quarterbacks coach to figure out.

These passes, though they do crop up more than you would like to see, are in the minority. Much more often Rudolph throws with good anticipation and puts his receivers in position to pick up yards after the catch.

Intangibles

Mental Processing

Rudolph is generally makes quick and accurate concept reads. Oklahoma State’s offense is quarterback-friendly and not particularly mentally taxing. It relies heavily on quick passes and bubble screens to get moving, but doesn’t shy away from utilizing Rudolph’s ability hit the deep ball. In those cases he is generally good at making reads within route concepts and throwing away from coverage — either to open receivers or challenging coverage by putting the ball where his receiver has the best chance to make the catch.

There are some issues between Rudolph’s ears, however.

Perhaps the biggest is that all of his experience is in that quarterback-friendly spread offense. That is a reality for the majority of quarterback prospects, which is something that is beyond their control. Elements of the college game are beginning to permeate the NFL, but the athleticism and sophistication of defenses means that offenses need to be sophisticated as well. While a smart coaching staff will work within a prospects limitations and only put more on the young QB’s plate as they can handle it, the NFL will put a greater mental burden on him than college did.

More specifically, Rudolph is, occasionally, too good at playing within the structure of the offense. In those cases he can be stubbornly aggressive about fitting a throw into windows that aren’t there.

In this first example, Rudolph has a fairly simple “Hoss” concept (which sees the slot receiver run the seam route while the outside receiver runs a hitch route) on the right side. He doesn’t go there immediately, instead using his eyes to move the defense on the left side and try to expand the throwing window. He quickly comes back to the concept on the right side and throws the seam route. Rudolph didn’t go off-script, but was too aggressive. The outside corner did not bite on the hitch route, so the seam route was bracketed, leading to the interception. Instead, he should have thrown the wide-open hitch route for the shorter gain.

Here we see Rudolph stick with a play where the only good decision is to throw the ball away. It is first and goal in a three-point game. Rather than living to play another down, Rudolph sees that the defense did not bite on the play-action and his receiver is bracketed and opts to try to fit the throw in anyway, resulting in a pick.

These plays aren’t the norm for Rudolph, but they do need to be taken into consideration.

The other issue with Rudolph are occasional bouts of indecision. There are plays in which he sees the quick throw open up, but opts to wait for bigger plays to open up, only to lead to a sack or turnover. His processing can also get bogged down when faced with a post-snap read that doesn’t line up with what the defense showed in the pre-snap phase.

Character

Rudolph has no outstanding character or personality concerns that I was able to find.

He was this year’s recipient of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, an honor he shares with both Peyton and Eli Manning. The award not only recognizes production on the field, but also character, citizenship, scholastic achievement, and leadership qualities.

After the decision was announced, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said of Rudolph:

“Mason represents our football program the right way. He’s won a ton of games for us. He’s played with broken ribs, he’s played with a broken foot and he’s been tremendous for this school and tremendous for society. I had a conversation with his mom and dad and told them for everything that he’s done (on the field), as a parent, you should be more proud of what he’s done (in the community). He’s awesome.”

Ask The Expert

Because of the importance of Giants’ decision regarding the second overall pick and the future of their quarterback position, I wanted a second opinion, and backstop, on these players.

I reached out to Mark Schofield of Inside The Pylon. Schofield is a former quarterback for Wesleyan University and provides expert, and excellent, film breakdowns for ITP. He was kind enough to consent to contributing his expert opinion to this series.

Here are his thoughts on Mason Rudolph:

Mason Rudolph is an interesting study in this quarterback class for a number of reasons. Like many passers in this group, he’s a bit of a polarizing figure. There are some evaluators who are not a fan of his, and there are others who look at him as one of - if not the - top quarterbacks in this class.

For example Chris Trapasso, who does very good work at CBS, has Rudolph as his top-rated passer. I was lucky enough to be on a podcast with him (Intentional Scouting, which I co-host with Nate Geary over at WGR, shameless plug) where we evaluated Rudolph and I got to hear from Chris his thoughts and reasoning. That experience allowed me to understand where he is coming from.

Which brings us to the idea of ceiling versus floor. Rudolph has a lot of collegiate experience under him, and Chris made the case that he probably has a pretty safe floor. I’d agree with that. There are some things that Rudolph does well. He makes impressive bucket, touch throws in the downfield, vertical passing game. (Perhaps that sounds ... familiar to the guy we talked about last week?) I love what Rudolph does along the boundary, particularly when he sees off or soft zone coverage. On those instances he can make timing and anticipation throws, such as on comeback routes, out routes and the like. So I think that he could be a fit in a more timing and rhythm-based offense as well.

My hesitation with him is that I’m not sure how much more growth and development there is, and there are some limitations to him right now. He’s not as refined a passer in the intermediate areas of the field, or between the hashmarks.

There were times when his ball placement in the middle of the field, on posts, digs, in-cuts, was off. It was usually high, and I believe it has something to do with his release point. I think it could be fixed, and if that happens I feel better about his development. He could also stand to show more from a processing speed, progressions perspective.

I would like to see him speed things up a bit more when asked to work through reads, or when the post-snap look doesn’t match with the pre-snap.

But I think with his floor, you could envision Rudolph having a very long career as a higher tier backup, spot starter. The potential is there for him to develop into more, I’m just not completely confident it happens.

Summary

Like all of the Giants’ options as potential franchise quarterbacks, Mason Rudolph is not a perfect prospect. He flashes some intriguing traits and potential, but he also has some concerning warts.

Rudolph’s ability to throw with timing and anticipation ranks among the best in the quarterback pool, and his accuracy and ball placement are generally good as well. Rudolph is among the most productive quarterbacks in the draft, and his ability to put the ball where it needs to be and give his receivers the chance to make a play is a big part of that.

But like the rest of the quarterbacks, he has his issues and concerns. Foremost among them is his arm strength, or rather, his relative lack thereof. Arm strength tends to be one of the most wildly over-rated aspects of quarterback scouting. There is a certain amount that is necessary to execute an offense at the NFL level, but beyond that, other traits are far more important.

For the most part.

The Giants are one of the teams who should weigh arm strength a tad more heavily in the scouting process. Like other northern, open-air franchises (such as the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, and of course the New York Jets), some of their most important games will be played in the worst conditions, and they need to be confident that their quarterback can drive the ball through heavy air and swirling winds.

Rudolph’s other issues, namely his mental processing and slight tendency toward over-throws, might be correctable with coaching.

I don’t see Rudolph being in the conversation for the second overall pick. He doesn’t have the overwhelming physical upside of some of the other options, nor the ability to be expected to step in and play at a reasonably high level with minimal development.

However, he could be in the conversation toward the bottom of the first round for teams looking for a player with the floor to be a high-quality backup (to echo Mark Schofield’s assessment) with the potential to develop into an answer down the line. He could also be in the conversation for the Giants at the top of the second round as a rival for Davis Webb if that is the direction in which Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur decide to go.