Mason Rudolph’s first start as an NFL quarterback on Sunday did not go the way he and the Steelers were hoping, as they weren’t able to overcome a slow start on offense and take advantage of five San Francisco turnovers in a 24-20 loss to the 49ers.
The loss dropped the Steelers to 0-3 on the season, putting the team’s playoff hopes in jeopardy before the calendar even turns to October.
That fear is certainly warranted, as the Steelers have one game against winless Cincinnati before they face division-leading Baltimore.
Fears about the performance of Rudolph in his first start, though, probably should be tempered.
The offense had a tough time getting anything moving in the first half, and Rudolph wasn’t blameless. He threw too hard or too high on several short and intermediate routes that prevented the Steelers from moving the sticks and putting together drives. When he did start to have some success in the second half, it was when he got time to look farther down the field and use his deep-ball prowess. Rudolph will need a more-rounded game if he’s going to succeed in the NFL going forward.
But the overall result for Rudolph wasn’t bad from a statistical standpoint. He finished 14 of 27 for 174 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. That’s a 51.9 completion percentage, 6.44 yards per attempt and an 81.4 passer rating.
Those numbers aren’t going to win him an MVP award any time soon, but when put into the context of first starts of recent Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and other highly touted prospects, Rudolph stacks up just fine.
Of the quarterbacks that were drafted ahead of him in in 2018, only Sam Darnold had a significantly better debut, while Josh Rosen was roughly equal and Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen lagged behind.
This year’s No. 1 pick Kyler Murray also put up worse numbers than Rudolph did in his debut, as did budding Kansas City star Patrick Mahomes in 2017.
Of course, Rudolph will always be compared to Ben Roethlisberger, and Rudolph stacks up well here, as well as against other Super Bowl winners such as Tom Brady, Russel Wilson and Peyton and Eli Manning.
Unless he gets injured, it’s almost a lock that Rudolph will start the remainder of Pittsburgh’s games this season, so there’s no need to evaluate his play after one start.
But if you must, his debut turned out just fine compared to some recent greats and other top prospects.