Kenny Pickett must be higher than Mason Rudolph on Steelers depth chart

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Steelers decision to select Kenny Pickett in the first round means there are zero reasons for Mason Rudolph to be the backup QB in 2022.

Too much emphasis was placed on the order in which players ran through positional drills during mandatory minicamp. Despite Kenny Pickett being the 20th overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, it was no surprise at all to see veteran Mitch Trubisky leading the pack during drills this offseason, followed by Mason Rudolph, Pickett, and rookie Chris Oladokun, respectively.

However, there will be an issue if this pecking order remains the same throughout training camp. Somehow, there are still a group of fans out there who believe that Mason Rudolph has shown enough to be given another shot as the Steelers starting quarterback for the 2022 season.

As politely as possible, what are these fans watching? Though teams have done worse with their backup quarterbacks being forced into a large role, Rudolph has been the epitome of average.

If you take him for what he is — a mid-level backup and former third-round draft choice — you can still argue that he’s been worth the day-two selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. However, if you try to pigeonhole him into being a starting quarterback, he immediately becomes one of the worst starters in the league.

Rudolph will enter his fifth NFL season at 27 years old. He’s 5-4-1 as a starter and has thrown just 16 touchdowns in 17 appearances to go with 11 interceptions, via Pro Football Reference. Additionally, his 80.9 passer rating and 5.7 adjusted yards per attempt would be incredibly low when compared to starting quarterbacks over this same stretch.

Steelers have no incentive for Rudolph to be QB2

If Rudolph is the primary backup quarterback this year, it probably means that something has gone horribly wrong in terms of Kenny Pickett’s development. Pickett had five years to learn in a college football program and led his team to an ACC title in a breakout campaign in 2021.

While quality quarterbacks can last a long time in the NFL, Rudolph is already 24 years old before his first training camp with the Steelers. Keeping Rudolph ahead of him on the depth chart entering the season would only seem to stunt his development and remove all opportunity of him seeing the field early in his NFL career, barring injuries.

For the sake of the franchise, the Steelers need to hope that Pickett can get on the field as soon as possible — whether that’s as the starter from the gate or beginning the year as the primary backup.

As far as Rudolph goes, there are essentially two options the team should explore: he is the inactive QB3 for Pittsburgh this year or the Steelers should see if they can get a late-round pick for him in a trade.

After selecting Chris Oladokun in the seventh round, the Steelers already have a QB they could stash on their practice squad. Oladokun could also act as the team’s third quarterback moving forward.

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I’m not going to say that Mason Rudolph has no chance of turning his NFL career around, but the Steelers have already drafted the man they hope is the next franchise quarterback. I see absolutely zero benefits to Pittsburgh having Rudolph higher on the depth chart than Kenny Pickett this year.