During various points of the 2017 season, James Washington and Mason Rudolph were both projected to be first round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. As time went on, it became evident that that was not going to be the case. And once we got to Draft Week, many folks would’ve been surprised if both, or even either, went in the first round on Thursday night.
As we got to Friday evening, where the second and third round picks are selected, I thought the two Oklahoma State products would be off the board relatively quickly. That wasn’t the case. Washington was one of the last picks in the second round, No. 60, to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Meanwhile, Rudolph dropped down to No. 76 to… the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So the two players who hooked up for deep play after deep play throughout their careers in Stillwater could have a chance to do that again in the Rust Belt.
While they both had to wait to hear their names called, Pittsburgh is a great landing spot for both players. First off, it’s one of the best-run franchises in the sport. The Rooney Family runs a top-notch organization that has success with relatively little drama (sans Le’Veon Bell’s contract dispute).
Washington will step into the role left by Martavis Bryant, who was traded to the Raiders for a third round pick. Bryant had his off-field issues, which Washington does not possess. Granted, Bryant is 6’5” and Washington is 5’11”, but he plays bigger with his long arms and jump ball ability. At Oklahoma State, Washington was one of the best deep threats in college football his junior and senior seasons. He led the nation in 2017 with 1,549 receiving yards on just 74 catches. Those behind him ranking two through five in total receiving yards all had between 83 and 100 catches. His 20.9 yards per catch ranked 11th in the country.
Plus, there is no franchise that has more success with mid-round wide receiver picks. Think about it: Antonio Bryant was a 6th rounder out of Central Michigan, Martavis Bryant went in the fourth round out of Clemson, and last year’s steal was Juju Smith-Schuster from USC in the second round.
As for Mason Rudolph, he joins a team that already has a franchise QB in Big Ben Roethlisberger, but he just turned 36 years old last month. Big Ben has hinted at retirement before and few quarterbacks have taken the punishment of Roethlisberger, granted much by his own doing and style of play.
The Steelers do have several other quarterbacks in the roster, including another former Big 12 star in Landry Jones. But Jones is six seasons into his NFL career and it’s pretty evident he’s simply a solid back up option. There’s also Joshua Dobbs, from Tennessee, who just finished his rookie season, but once again, he’s not projected to be a starter in the NFL.
So it’s Rudolph, armed with a four-year contract, who as of today, is expected to be the player to take over for Big Ben, whenever that day comes. That means the Steelers are going to do everything they can to help him along and succeed. They used a third round pick on him and he’s their most promising long-term option behind Roethlisberger.
After being drafted on Friday night, Rudolph made it clear to reporters, saying, “It’s not Ben’s job to teach me anything, it’s my job to learn.”
Whenever a team drafts a quarterback that it hopes will one day replace the franchise player, it can create awkwardness. The best example of this is Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. The fact that Rudolph is going into Pittsburgh with this mindset is important. He will learn from Roethlisberger by watching, listening and by osmosis. It also helps that Rudolph is viewed as needing some time to learn at the next level, and as a third rounder, it feels less threatening than a first round pick walking into the building (a la Rodgers).
So while Rudolph and Washington slid in the draft more than either would’ve liked, and took a hit in the pocketbooks in their rookie contracts, this is the classic example of “short-term pain for long-term gain.” The Steelers selected two quality players who will both be put in positions to have lengthy NFL careers.
In the NFL, it’s all about that second contract anyway.