Steelers’ Backup QBs Among Lowest-Rated on ‘First-Read’ Throws: NFL Analyst

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Christian Petersen/Getty Images Mason Rudolph of the Pittsburgh Steelers sits alongside Devlin Hodges (L) and Ben Roethlisberger (R) during a game against the Arizona Cardinals in 2019.

It’s a good thing that Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appears to be well on his way to completing his recovery from elbow surgery. Research conducted by Pro Football Focus reveals that the two quarterbacks who replaced Roethlisberger in the lineup last year are among the “lowest-graded quarterbacks on first-read throws” over the past two seasons, at least among QBs with a minimum of 100 attempts.

Specifically, backup Mason Rudolph ranked 44th among 51 passers, completing 107 passes in 200 attempts for 1,315 yards and just 6.6 yards per attempt. Third-string QB Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges fared worse, finishing 49th among 51 quarterbacks, completing 65 of 115 passes for 794 yards for 6.9 yards per attempt. (Already well-traveled Josh Rosen [Miami Dolphins] ranked at the very bottom of the list, having completed 162 of 332 passes for 1,784 yards, an average of just 5.4 yards per attempt.)

Moreover, Rudolph has also earned the dubious distinction of being described by Pro Football Focus as ‘Captain Checkdown,’ as he has checked down more than any other quarterback in the league over the past two years, at least among those currently employed by an NFL team.


The Steelers’ Backup Quarterback Situation in 2020

If Roethlisberger misses time in 2020, the Steelers will likely turn to Rudolph and/or Hodges once again, as former Denver Broncos’ first-rounder Paxton Lynch and first-year QB J.T. Barrett (Ohio State) are the only candidates with a chance to displace Hodges. Even then, Hodges would likely remain a part of the team’s practice squad, especially in light of the ongoing threat of coronavirus.

This helps explain why NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt has labeled the Steelers’ backup QB situation as one of the ‘biggest NFL roster holes’ entering the 2020 season—and why the Steelers are occasionally suggested as good candidates to sign a free-agent QB like Cam Newton or even Colin Kaepernick.

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Is Mason Rudolph Ben Roethlisberger’s Successor?

But one reason why the Steelers are unlikely to sign a free agent QB for 2020 is that they still want to get a better idea of what they have in Rudolph, and whether he might be Roethlisberger’s eventual successor as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback.

Though that might seem unlikely based on Rudolph’s early results, his supporting cast at the skill positions was hard-hit by injuries last season, and he would no doubt benefit from playing with a full-strength starting lineup.

In addition, the arrow is pointing up for many of the Steelers’ youngsters on offense, especially second-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who could emerge as Pittsburgh’s No. 1 receiver, moving ahead of JuJu Smith-Schuster in the pecking order.

Moreover, second-round wideout Chase Claypool looks like an inspired draft pick, and could contribute in select situations, even as a rookie. And Pro Football Focus likes what it is sees from James Washington and the rest of the team’s wide receiver corps, saying ‘there is talent here for sure.’

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