ARLINGTON, Texas — Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph had plenty of pre-draft conversations with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That was no smokescreen.
The Steelers showed how much they wanted Rudolph when they selected him No. 76 overall in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft on Friday night.
Former Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks made the announcement on the stage at AT&T Stadium.
In Pittsburgh, Rudolph will back up Pro Bowler and 14-year veteran Ben Roethlisberger, but he’ll also get to keep playing with his top target at OSU: All-American James Washington was picked by the Steelers in the second round, No. 60 overall.
Rudolph led all of major college football in passing yards last season, throwing for 4,904 yards to go with 37 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He averaged 377.2 yards per game while completing 65 percent of his throws (318-of-489).
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Rudolph — OSU’s career leader in passing yards and touchdowns — was projected by some as a late first-round pick, but wasn’t selected during Thursday’s opening round, and then slid completely through the second round on Friday.
Rudolph told The Franchise recently why in January, during a national interview, he had proclaimed himself the best quarterback in this year’s draft.
“I feel like I am definitely in the conversation with the other talked-about (quarterbacks in this draft class),” Rudolph said. “But I’ve never been a talked about guy — since high school. It’s what I did in high school. I was never highly recruited. I had a few offers, and ended up outlasting a whole lot of other high-profile players, you know, played a lot better than them and had a lot better career. So that’s what I plan to do again at the next level. I believe it. I know it’s gonna happen. I’m just waiting for everyone else in the media to kind of catch up.”
Given his humble persona during his time in Stillwater, Rudolph’s comments seemed somewhat out of character for him. He disagreed with the notion, however, that he was simply shifting his pre-draft strategy.
“I wouldn’t say it was a strategy shift,” Rudolph told The Franchise after his Pro Day. “I’d say, when I was at Oklahoma State, I tried not to talk about myself. It was all about the team. I’m not on a team right now, so it’s the one time in your career you’re in between jobs, you’re in between teams. So my job right now is to answer the questions truthfully and talk about how confident I am in myself and what I’ve done and the player I was in college and the player I’ll be in the pros. So that was me being transparent and honest and telling you how I feel about myself, how confident I am and the player I know I’m gonna be at the next level.”
Rudolph will always be fondly remembered by Cowboy Nation not only for his gaudy passing statistics, but by his decision to come out of redshirt late in 2014 and, as a true freshman, salvaging a difficult OSU season with an unlikely victory at Oklahoma.
Rudolph sat the bench that year behind Daxx Garman and J.W. Walsh as the Cowboys struggled to a 5-5 record. He came out of redshirt, however, in the 11th game at Baylor, a driving rainstorm in Waco. Even though the Cowboys lost that game, Rudolph comported himself well and drew the start the following week in Norman, a game OSU won 38-35 in overtime. He then led the Cowboys to a bowl victory over Washington.
Cowboy coach Mike Gundy and others repeatedly have extolled Rudolph’s work ethic as his top attribute. He was ready when his moment came at OSU, and he’ll be ready when it comes in the Steel City.
“I think it all stems from my father,” Rudolph said. “From a young age, he kind of made it known to my brother and I that if we wanted to accomplish our goals, it was gonna take a lot of extra, whether that was weight room extra or film room extra or throwing, mechanical, working on the little things, getting one percent better extra.
“So that’s something that I’ve learned to do over the years, and it’s just, I’m very structured with my preparation. I want to maximize every single minute of every single day during game week, during offseason. I want to improve. I don’t want to just stay the same. I think you saw it statistically in the way that I did improve. So I would say yeah, that is one of my best attributes.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.