Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor combine showings or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.
45. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
6-foot-5, 235 pounds
Key stat: In his first 305 college pass attempts, Rudolph was intercepted 11 times. In his final 1,142 passes, he was picked only 15 times.
The skinny: The son of a former UNC linebacker, Rudolph was a finalist for South Carolina’s Mr. Football in 2013 and a top-200 recruit but chose the Cowboys over LSU, Virginia, Ole Miss and others. He was thrust into the lineup as a true freshman when starter Daxx Garman was hurt down the stretch and handled himself admirably. Rudolph started the final three games, throwing for 853 yards, a 6-4 TD-INT ratio and leading OSU to victories over No. 18 Oklahoma in the Bedlam Game and over a Washington defense loaded with future NFL talent in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.
Rudolph won the team’s MVP award in 2015 despite missing the Oklahoma game with an injury, turning in a strong season. But he took a jump forward as a junior, throwing for 4,091 yards and turning in a 28-4 TD-INT ratio. As a senior, Rudolph might have been second-team all-Big 12, but he pulled a few upsets in beating out Baker Mayfield and others for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Sammy Baugh Awards. His 4,904 pass yards led the country and he tossed 37 touchdowns to only nine interceptions.
Although he committed to play in the Senior Bowl, Rudolph attended meetings and interviews but was not cleared for action following a minor foot injury. He worked out fully at the NFL scouting combine.
Upside: Ideal QB frame — big, well-proportioned and athletic. Stands tall and sees lanes open. Moves well in pocket while keeping eyes downfield and going through reads. Sacks were down (from one taken every 13.9 pass attempts his first three seasons combined to every 21.3 attempts his final year). Feels the rush and uses footwork to help him step up and slide against pressure. Accuracy on passes under pressure was impressive — Rudolph invites the blitz, dares you to come after him and routinely beats it with quick, precise throws.
Improved accuracy downfield. Always looking for the big strike. Throws a nice deep ball with touch and placement — puts balls in a place where his receivers have a better chance to get it than the defender. Better touch and accuracy outside the hashmarks as his career went on. Also can fit it in down the seam in tighter slots. Not elite arm strength by any means, but plenty of juice to get the ball where it needs to go. Watch him hold the Oklahoma safety with his eyes, wait for the post route to uncover and deliver a perfect strike downfield:
Respected, confident leader. Not afraid of big stages and big moments. Has a take-charge temperament. More often than not did what team needed him to do to win games. Good red-zone runner and goal-line sneaker — 15 rushing TDs in final 19 college games, all from 16 yards and in.
Downside: Small hands — has averaged just under a fumble every two games in college. Good enough athlete but won’t be a plus scrambler in the NFL. Running ability might be limited to QB sneaks and select spots. Operated almost exclusively from shotgun and pistol formations. Steeped in an “Air Raid” system whose quarterbacks have had, at best, mixed results in the NFL. Often threw to his first read and didn’t have to go as deep through progressions.
Aided by quality receivers — long-armed WRs Marcell Ateman and James Washington won a lot of 50-50 balls. Racked up numbers against a lot of poor Big 12 defenses. A lot of production came off play action. Wasn’t asked to roll out and throw on the move as much as some other quarterbacks (this can be viewed differently, depending on the evaluator).
Needs to speed up some quick throws. Will double clutch on some passes. Can still do a better job of leading his receivers — left some potential YAC on the field at times. Got away with some passes and trusts his receivers too much at times. Watch as he forces the ball into bracket coverage and nearly is picked against Texas:
Best-suited destination: Ideally, Rudolph would land with a team where there’s a veteran quarterback already in place but in line to be replaced in a year or two. He could thrive in a rhythm, shotgun-heavy offense once he adapts to working from center and going through progressions. Teams that could make sense for him include the Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Washington.
Quotable: “It’s one of those NBA offenses — lotta layups and three-pointers. They used tempo. All shotgun pretty much. Lot of first reads and screens there. I saw him get better with pressure coming at him. He’s not ready-made by any means, but he’s got some tools to work with. I just don’t want him starting early. You need to rewire him just a little, but he’s got a good build, good experience and he talks like a leader should talk. He made no excuses when we talked to him [at the Senior Bowl] and has that cocky edge.” — AFC college scouting director
Player comp: Sam Bradford
Expected draft range: Late Round 1 to mid-Round 2