How high is Mason Rudolph’s ceiling?

Dec 28, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) attempts a pass against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the first half in the 2017 Camping World Bowl at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
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Mason Rudolph is a player who could be defined as a high floor player. He can make a lot of throws on the field. has good mechanics and footwork and brings poise to the pocket. There are going to be evaluators who want to make him an NFL starter. However, as Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com likes to describe it, evaluators will have to decide whether Rudolph is a truck or a trailer. Is he a player who is going to hitch the team to him and drive them up the hill, or with the truck pulling the way, can he hold everything in place and act as the trailer. There is nothing wrong with being a trailer. Trailers can win in the NFL. However, it does limit the upside.

Big Throws

If there is one thing that Rudolph does that can make an evaluator believe he has truck upside, it is his ability to push the ball down the field. Rudolph is never afraid to uncork one, and has good enough deep ball accuracy to continue to push his limits. 

Rudolph does a good job of staying poised and climbing the pocket to make the deep throw. He is not afraid to stand in there for an extra second, as shown on the play below. Rudolph steps up, ensures that the underneath safety breaks with the slot receiver and then tests the secondary deep from a clean pocket.

Below, Rudolph stands strong under pressure and puts a great deep ball into the bucket between two defenders.

He is never afraid to give his receivers a chance to win on the ball. On third and eight he is going to put the ball out there, knowing that if it is in the area, his receiver is coming down with it.

Trailer questions

However, with that confidence in his receivers comes a question of how strong Rudolph can be at decision making and reading defenses. There are things that you notice on all of those strong throws that can reoccur as a detriment on other throws, especially at a higher level.

The first you thing to notice is that all of throws were his first read. Rudolph does not go through progressions well. While he is able to stand strong in the pocket and wait for his first read to get open, he does not have the timer to leave it and work with other receivers. This can work when his receivers are so talented. If they are not huge mismatches at the NFL level, it becomes an issue.

You can see the play below. He has two check downs, a receiver on the outside and room in the pocket to extend the play for his pass catchers. Instead, he is staring down one player for a very long time. This gets the attention of the underneath linebacker, the over the top safety and the cornerback defending his player, who is not doing a bad job as it is. Sure, he is giving his receiver a chance down the field. Still, there were better options that he never considered.

First, Rudolph does a good job of selling the pump fake to the other side of the field. He tries to draw attention that way before going to his initial look down the field on the right side. However, instead of diagnosing what is going on when he turns his body left to right, he blindly throws a deep pass into double coverage for an interception.

As you can see below, Rudolph had a wide open option for a first down, down the sideline. His defender saw Rudolph looking left, and was cheating that way with him. It put the defender in perfect position to intercept the attempt. However, it could have been a decision that Rudolph made him pay for had he known what he was throwing into.

Third and four in the two minute drill during a tie game. Given the field position, you need a first down here. Rudolph has to understand this situation. Instead, he only has one look, he stares it down way too long, gives himself no window to throw into and throws an incomplete pass short of two defenders. The receiver on a go route being his first read is not the issue. However, he needs to know very quickly that with the safety that deep, if there is not a quick window in the short to intermediate, that look isn’t happening. Think about all the time he had to wait and wait for that route to never develop. He could have looked off the safety, controlled the pocket and opened up one of his four other threats. Instead, his commitment to one read costs him again.

Pocket Presence

In the deep completions above, it was noted how Rudolph was poised in the pocket and stepped into space to buy himself time to throw from a clean pocket. The question with Rudolph and just how well he handles the pressure in the pocket comes when the pressure comes up the middle, though. It seems his first instinct is always to step up.

Even when the pressure is up the middle, he finds himself stepping into it. In the play below, there is space to his right to extend this play. Instead he steps into pressure.

Rudolph actually escapes this situation and completes a pass. He was praised for it, as he should have been. However, that is an impressive college play that would have had him swallowed by the defense due to  pressure in the NFL.

Processing

Overall, you wonder if Rudolph can process the game well enough to make the jump. Take the play below for example. He has his receiver for an easy completion on first down. He was operating over the middle of the field with space in front of him. Rudolph needs to get the ball out of his hands quick, and he needs to get the ball over the middle of the field, leading his receiver into that space. Instead, he takes an extra second  to just stand and watch his man for a second. Then, when he lets go of the ball, the placement is where his receiver has to completely stop. If he puts the ball out in front, his quick receiver could pick up six or seven. Instead, two or three.

 

When the situation is right, the pocket is clean, and he has the receivers that either get separation or can win at contested passes, Rudolph can make it happen. It could come together for him like it did in 2014 for Andy Dalton. However, the situation is almost never perfect in the NFL. It is why Dalton only shines so often. The floor for Rudolph is high, and he can find himself being a starter in the NFL. However, with Rudolph, the question will always be his growth, and if he can push that ceiling higher than it currently is.

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