Ever since the New England Patriots traded away Jimmy Garoppolo, the team is in the market for a backup quarterback to develop behind Tom Brady and potentially groom to take over for the future Hall of Famer one day. Luckily for the Patriots, this year's draft offers plenty of options at the position and solid depth all over the board. One of the biggest names available is Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph.
Let's take a closer look at the most prolific passer in Oklahoma State history, who is holding school records in career passing yards (13,267) and passing touchdowns (92):
Name: Mason Rudolph
School: Oklahoma State
Stats: 318 of 489 (65.0%), 4,904 yards, 37 touchdowns, 9 interceptions
Size: 6041, 235 lbs, 32 3/8 arm length, 9 1/8 hand size
Combine numbers: 4.90 40-yard dash, 26” vertical
Expected Round: 1st/2nd
Strengths: If you are drawing a quarterback from scratch, chances are he looks exactly like 6'4, 235 lbs Mason Rudolph. And the ideal size is far from the only positive he brings to the table. As a three year starter for the Cowboys, Rudolph also has plenty of experience and an impressive volume of production having attempted almost 1,500 passes (of which he completed 63.2%) for over 13,000 yards along with 92 touchdowns and only 26 interceptions.
A look beyond the stat sheet shows how the 22-year old, who has shown improvements every season at Oklahoma State, was able to create those numbers: Playing in a pass-first offense, Rudolph displayed plenty of traits that make him a high-round prospect in the draft. One of his biggest strengths is his accuracy as he usually places the football well and hits his receiver in stride to put them in a position to create yards after the reception.
Rudolph's throws also have a nice touch to them, which helps his receivers prepare for the catch particularly on long passes and throws outside the numbers. In general, Rudolph has shown an ability to make accurate throws no matter the route or depth he is targeting. Part of it has to do with his pocket presence: He is a rather patient pocket-first passer that tries to keep his eyes down the field even as pressure is closing in on him.
This, in turn, gives him time to go through his reads and allows him to climb the pocket when given the opportunity. While he still rushes through his motions when forced to make quick decisions (more on that later), Rudolph typically makes good decisions with the football and does neither rely on his feet nor on making high-risk passes to bail him out once the pocket collapses.
If this still happens, though, he has the lower-body strength to step out of tackle attempts to give his receivers additional time to get open. Furthermore, he also has the ability to diagnose defenses as well and react accordingly to different looks or situations. Rudolph also has shown that he is capable of successfully leading a no-huddle attack and going up-tempo in case the defense allows him to.
Weaknesses: While Rudolph comes with plenty of strengths, he does have some glaring weaknesses to his game. The most notable of which is his arm strength: While he is able to heave the football down the field seemingly easily, his touch passes have a tendency to start sailing and miss the zip needed to potentially avoid undercuts at the next level. Part of it has to do with his throwing motion, which is rather slowly and winding.
Rudolph needs to add velocity to his technique and has to improve his footwork for it to successfully happen: Despite being a three-year starter, he still gets a little bit too jumpy in the pocket and has breakdowns in his form, especially when forced to make quick decisions and release the football swiftly. Rudolph has a tendency to throw off his back foot at times and needs to learn to step into his throws more consistently to add speed to them.
This all was not as problematic at Oklahoma State but it very well could become an issue at the next level if not corrected properly. The same has to be said about going through his reads. While Rudolph's general patience – his internal clock needs to slow down at times still – allows him to shift from his first to his second or third targets, he has not consistently shown an ability to do this for the Cowboys. Instead, he often simply locked onto his first read and delivered the pass.
What would be his role? Rudolph would serve as the backup quarterback until Tom Brady decides to end his legendary career. At that point, the Oklahoma State product would likely be the prime candidate to take over as the starter.
How many downs can he play? Three, but early in his potential career with the Patriots he ideally would only see playing time during preseason and blowout games.
What is his special teams value? Virtually zero. He could take over Tom Brady's spot as backup holder on special teams, though.
Does he have positional versatility? As a quarterback, Rudolph's versatility is rather limited, unless of course – as noted above – he does get some work as the emergency holder on field goal and extra point attempts.
Will his role change from year 1 to year 2? If the Patriots opt to go into the 2018 season with three quarterbacks on their active roster, he would likely take over Brian Hoyer's spot after year one and be elevated to second-string after year. If the team lets Hoyer go earlier, Rudolph's role would probably not change until Brady's retirement.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? Brian Hoyer, who currently is the Patriots' lone backup quarterback. Potentially another quarterback as well, if one is brought in through undrafted free agency.
Why the Patriots? As noted above, the Patriots have an obvious need for a developmental option behind Tom Brady and a potential heir to the greatest quarterback of all time. Rudolph, despite his obvious weaknesses, would certainly fill the former void which could lead to him filling the latter as well. And in a way, New England would therefore be an ideal landing spot for the Oklahoma State product.
Rudolph would receive quality coaching by Josh McDaniels and Jerry Schuplinski and would be under not pressure to perform right away. The potential day one selection would be given time to improve weaknesses like his footwork and velocity behind the scenes and also learn the intricacies of New England's scheme: the Patriots could follow the same road map they used after they made Jimmy Garoppolo a second-round pick in 2014.
For what it is worth, Rudolph also fulfills the criteria formulated by head coach Bill Belichick's mentor Bill Parcells, who wanted quarterbacks to be 1) three-year starters, 2) seniors, 3) graduates, 4) 30-game starters, 5) 23-game winners, 6) 60+% completion passers, who are coming with 7) a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Rudolph is one of the few higher-tier quarterbacks to fulfill all seven.
Why not the Patriots? As noted earlier, this year's draft class is deep at the quarterback position which could create its own dynamic: Once passers start coming off the board, teams in the middle-to-late rounds might be compelled to spend first-round picks on tier two guys like Rudolph or Louisville's Lamar Jackson. As a result, Rudolph might be gone by the time New England feels comfortable investing in him.
The same goes in relation to his weaknesses. New England's coaching and scouting department might see his flaws and inexperience playing in a scheme as complex as the Patriots' as too big to use one of its top three selections (#23, #31, #43) to bring him on board – and there seems to be little chance that he remains on the board beyond the middle of round two.
Verdict: For all his shortcomings and rawness, Rudolph is an intriguing quarterback that has the tools to become a quality starter in the NFL one day. While he does need some serious coaching at the next level and time to grow before playing regular snaps – all things he would get in New England –, his immense talent cannot be denied. This makes him an interesting target for the Patriots with one of their first three picks (most likely #31 or #43).