A lot of scorn has been given to Steelers QB Devlin Hodges, but considering his talent level, almost all of it is unjustified.
Heading into the Steelers training camp, most fans knew very little about Devlin Hodges due to him being an undrafted rookie out of Samford. Typically, the Steelers 4th QB sees little action, looks anemic, and ends up being a roster cut when it is all said and done. Hodges proved to be different though, making some impressive plays in practice as well as during preseason games, eventually becoming a very hot sleeper for the 53-man roster.
Alas, he didn’t make the initial roster, but after Josh Dobbs was sent to the Jaguars via trade, Hodges was called back up to the team. After Ben Roethlisberger went onto IR after week 2, he was suddenly thrust into the backup role. Already more than most Steelers fans probably expected, Hodges was suddenly one snap away from seeing the field.
That one snap occurred in week 5 when Mason Rudolph was knocked out of the game after a nasty hit. While he didn’t pull the team to victory, he looked sharp in his first professional action. He earned the start the following week against the Chargers, and he recorded his first-ever win as an NFL starter.
Unfortunately, the rest of his rookie season didn’t go as planned. While he still had some ups, teams eventually had enough tape on him to plan for him. As well, considering his status as essentially a 4th option at the beginning of the year, teams were much more likely to stack the box to make the Steelers win via the pass. Since the season has ended, fans, who were once engulfed in “Duck Mania” were calling for him to be cut due to his final stat line. On paper though, this seems unjustified, and Hodges still looks like a player with some potential.
QBs usually need a few years to develop
The fact of the matter is, going from the college game to the pros as a QB is difficult. A sloppy throw in college may have still turned into a positive play for the team, but in the NFL, it can lead to turnovers and opposition points. Reads need to be clearer and passes need to be more accurate or else you won’t be a starter for lone.
Take Payton Manning for example; his rookie season was bad, tossing 28 interceptions to 26 TDs. He turned that around in his career, but he was slow coming out of the gate. Even Roethlisberger wasn’t putting up his usual stats in his rookie season. Every rookie has a transition period, and that doesn’t change for QBs.
All of that isn’t to say Hodges will be the talent that either of those players are. But, it points out that his struggles his rookie year are understandable, even more so when you consider he was undrafted out of Samford. The fact that he showed enough to make the roster and be given starts (even out of desperation) points to the fact that he belongs in the NFL.
Now, he does have some obvious struggles. He made a lot of mistakes last year and his arm strength isn’t the best on the team. Even with a year of NFL conditioning and strength training under his belt, he will never be a gunslinger like Roethlisberger is. That said, he can still make the deep throw when needed.
Even more to the point, the guy has moxie. On the field, he has decent pocket awareness, meaning he won’t force the pass even if he’s about to get hit. Off the field, he was an undrafted QB taking the fanbases blame for the struggles on offense. He handled it well and looks the part of an NFL QB.
I see him as a developmental backup QB candidate; someone that down the road is a very competent and talented reserve. Think Chase Daniels, Matt Moore, or even Josh McCown: someone that can step in and win games when needed but shouldn’t be expected to start every year. I think his upside is Ryan Fitzpatrick, someone who can start and can win out the starting job but may not be a team’s first choice to start. Considering his path to this point, all of those would give him a widely successful career.
While Steelers fans may be looking for every opportunity to kick him off the roster, Hodges should be celebrated for his success in his rookie year and will hopefully develop more after having a full offseason with the Steelers. For those of you beating the Paxton Lynch drum, be aware of his career stats: 1-3 record, 792 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs. Nothing to say that he is better than Hodges besides the fact he didn’t have to play (thus fans can hope he is the missing link).
While him becoming an all-pro starter may not be in the books, Hodges has a great chance at carving out a long career in the NFL. He showcased a lot of talent last year and given the nature of how he made it to the team, he has already proven to be a quality find. No matter where his career takes him, his hardworking nature and underdog story is easy to root for. Fans betted against him last year, and he proved them wrong. Expect similar results this year.