Rudolph's arrival means one backup quarterback must go | Steel City Underground

Steel City Underground

Steelers backup QB Landry Jones warms up against Patriots

With the arrival of Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, one fact has become overwhelmingly obvious: the Steelers now have more quarterbacks than what will likely remain on the 2018 roster.

Pittsburgh shocked Steelers Nation Friday night by taking Rudolph, the sixth quarterback selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, with their third-round pick. There was speculation the Steelers liked Rudolph, but many were skeptical as to whether or not the team would actually pull the trigger on adding someone else to their quarterback room this season. That's because they used a fourth-round draft selection on Joshua Dobbs last season and also received a pledge from current franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, stating he would play for "at least" two or three more seasons.

However, with Roethlisberger's previous talk of retirement, sooner, rather than later, made Rudolph a draft target. Rudolph's arrival could signal the future at the quarterback position for the Steelers, but it likely means the end for at least one of the two others playing the position for Pittsburgh: Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs.

Those of you familiar with my personal antics know I'm a staunch Jones defender. Sometimes I do it to troll our high critical fanbase (who have a somewhat unjustified passion for hating Jones) and other times I do it, because, well, he really doesn't deserve the flak thrown in his direction. Jones is looking down the barrel of the final year of his contract signed last offseason, which means the team could part ways with him easily. Yet, I'd argue that the team may instead choose to release Joshua Dobbs in the near future.

Here are a few reasons why.

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First, Jones has starting experience. Say what you will, but when comparing his win/loss record, completion percentage, and touchdown passes with other backups around the league, he isn't nearly half as bad as other backups in the NFL. In fact, he trends toward the upper half and nearly the upper third of players at the position.

When you consider Jimmy Garropolo had fewer starts in New England (and about half of the stats) as Jones, it becomes apparent that starting experience will be a determining factor in whether Jones stays or goes. It's not as if his starting time has been a black eye, and in fact, he's twice beaten Cleveland at the end of the past two regular seasons while the starters got some much-needed rest.

Therefore I'm not certain it would be a good idea to send Landry packing. Do so leaves only Dobbs and Rudolph, each with no NFL snaps. as Big Ben's backups. That's important, because a main criticism in finding Ben's heir apparent is that Roethlisberger has taken a beating over his career. The current Steelers quarterback tends to miss a game here or there. Last season he was healthy, but the year prior he had a knee injury in which he was lucky to return as quickly as he did. That was sandwiched between a bye week and a home loss to New England where Jones nearly pulled off the upset.

But Jones wasn't always thought of with such confidence. Personally, even I wanted him gone after stinking up several preseasons before the lightbulb went off. The team obviously felt the same way, hanging onto backup Bruce Gradkowski and then signing Michael Vick when Gradkowski ended up injured. In a roundabout way, that creates a situation where Jones stays: the organization wasn't comfortable with a quarterback who didn't have enough playing experience at the time (Jones) and went out and found a veteran to play instead (Vick).

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Honestly, the only reason Jones stuck around is because Vick got hurt. Jones came in midway through a game against the Arizona Cardinals, where the offense struggled to move the ball behind Vick, but went out and put up 13 points in a come from behind victory.

Jones hasn't always looked pretty, however, and no one will make the argument that he should be Roethlisberger's successor. However, he's a capable backup with starting experience versus the other options available. Obviously, Rudolph won't be headed anywhere but the bench, which may make Josh Dobbs the odd man out.

Dobbs shined at times during the 2017 preseason. In his first preseason game last season against the Giants, including a 28-yard touchdown pass. He would finish the game 8-of-15 for 100 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for a 56.9 QB rating.

One week later, Dobbs would again complete nearly half of his passes (52.6%) but this time only throw for 70 yards with a pick and a 39.4 QB rating. Ben and Landry would finally play in the week three "dress rehearsal") before Dobbs got to attempt only seven passes (completing four of them).

His best showing was in week four against the Panthers, where he would connect with Justin Hunter on a 58-yard touchdown strike, then run for the game-winning score with seconds remaining in the game.

The up-and-down progress shows promise, but much like Landry Jones left much to be desired on a small body of work against a group of NFL hopefuls playing exhibition games. The question now is, do the Steelers continue to develop Dobbs? If that answer is yes, how do they move forward? Do they roster four quarterbacks (highly unlikely), risk not having a seasoned backup by letting Jones go, or gamble by trying to stash Dobbs on their practice squad?

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Based on the Steelers reluctance to play Jones in the past, hanging onto Gradkowski and then adding Vick, my gut feeling is the latter is the best case scenario for the team. With practice squad rules modified back in 2016, the never game day active Dobbs is practice squad eligible. If they go that route they risk another team poaching one of their backup passers, but that may be a risk they're willing to take, rather than go forward with having to start Dobbs or Rudolph in a worst case scenario where Roethlisberger can't play.

That may sound like blasphemy for the Landry Jones haters out there, but don't forget that the team sees way more than we do in their private practice sessions. That means they know what type of players Jones and Dobbs are, and they'll have an informed opinion of Rudolph's progress by the time this decision will have to be made.

The one positive takeaway from all of this? Having a crowded quarterback room is a good problem to have. It also means that the upcoming camp competition likely rests on Rudolph's progress. If Rudolph is the "real deal", Jones is expendable. If Rudolph needs time to develop, Dobbs is the odd man out.

This upcoming offseason should be a fun one to watch!





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  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly on this take. With the drafting of Rudolph it becomes obvious that Dobbs will need to show warrant the practice squad and then there’s always that risk of poaching. The thing that drafting Rudolph makes me wonder is has Ben been anymore specific this off season with the team regarding how much longer he intends to play? Has he set it at 1 or 2 years?

    • Joe Kuzma says:

      One thing I was set on here is that a quarterback taken this season would be around for the next four: which will likely outlive Ben. Ben has laughed at Tom Brady playing at that high of a level for his age, so my thought is that Big Ben has about 2-3 left in him. That decision could be persuaded if Rudolph is ready too. Ben won’t feel as though he “must” stay around if he has a replacement waiting in the wings.

  2. VinHudd says:

    Bye bye Dobbs. So that might be a waste of a 4th rd pick. I’m debating to look up who went several selections they could’ve drafted instead but it might be a little depressing lol. So happy Rudolph was picked in the 3rd!!

    • Joe Kuzma says:

      There’s a few they passed on like Malik Jefferson, Tavarius Moore, Ronnie Harrison, Mark Andrews… I’d put the onus more on the Okorafor pick than the Rudolph one IMO, but even then they still had a plan to snag Marcus Allen later, so the two safeties here aren’t a big deal either. Josey Jewel and a few other inside linebackers that were scattered through the 4th/5th rounds before they picked again may have been a reach, but do you make them a third round pick if you have a higher grade on Okorafor? IDK!

        • Joe Kuzma says:

          Marlon Mack and George Kittle are the two who went after. Not many (including them) really stood out this late in the draft after one year.

          I didn’t look too far into Round 5, because the Steelers had other picks and no one has a crystal ball. Otherwise maybe AB doesn’t go so late in the draft? 🙂

  3. Steelers will keep either Jones or Dobbs, whoever looks better at the 53 man cutdown. I don’t believe they will let money or contract length affect their decision. Unless Rudolph moves up to 2nd string and Dobbs shows higher potential than Jones, then I could see them sticking with Dobbs, even if he hasn’t yet surpassed Jones in current ability.

    • Statistically, Landry Jones is obviously at a better level than Joshua Dobbs. He has more playing experience, including regular season starts and appearances. Your comment about contract length and money (cap hit) is interesting to me. Could you explain further because now I am really curious.

      • Yes, I don’t see them cutting Jones, simply because he will cost them more than Dobbs, or because he only has one year left on his contract. The only way Dobbs makes the top 3 is by outplaying Jones through August, or by Rudolph outplaying Jones, and Dobbs flashing a long term higher potential than Jones. Otherwise, Jones stays, even though his current contract is shorter, and he costs more.

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