By Jeremy Hritz
There will be no position that will look as dramatically different for the Pittsburgh Steelers than quarterback, as the 18-year veteran Ben Roethlisberger will retire, vacating his spot for either an unproven signal caller currently on the roster, an experienced veteran free agent, or a collegiate QB select in this year’s draft.
Many are concerned that Roethlisberger’s departure signals the beginning of dark days in Steelers football, as not having a franchise quarterback is debilitating to a team’s competitiveness (see the Steelers post-Terry Bradshaw and pre-Big Ben). This is partially accurate, as it is difficult to overcome having a middling QB.
With that said, here is an evaluation of the quarterback position from 2021, and a look ahead to what may transpire at the position between now and training camp.
Ben’s farewell season was average, and maybe even slightly below average. His diminishing skills limited his effectiveness, and this was especially apparent on his deep ball, connecting on passes to the middle of the field, and just general overall awareness of opposing defenses, as there were many passes that should have been intercepted that luck chose otherwise.
It was a nice farewell season, and he was able to manifest all of his remaining abilities to keep the team in games. Unfortunately, it was not enough to make them legitimate contenders for a Super Bowl. On top of that, his skill set greatly diverted from the impetus of Matt Canada’s offense, and that incongruity more than likely also contributed to the average play.
Mason Rudolph says he wants to compete.
Whether or not he can elevate above his play in 2019 and in his starts against the Browns in 2020 and the Lions in 2021, remains to be seen. Four years after he was drafted however, there hasn’t been much put on tape to make anyone think that he can be an above-average quarterback. At this point, Rudolph has shown he can be a game manager, with the ability to connect on an outstanding throw every once in a while, but this is not franchise-level QB play.
What we have seen from Rudolph is what we can expect, and unless he has an extreme burst in growth this off-season, he is is an average NFL quarterback. Combined with Najee Harris, whom I expect nothing less than 1500 rushing yards next season, Rudolph can lead this team minimally to a Wild Card spot, but his limitations won’t permit him to lead this team any further. For these reasons, the Steelers will be searching for their replacement QB.
Nobody knows what to expect from Dwayne Haskins, and there is optimism his time with the Steelers organization is enough to facilitate his growth into a quality NFL passer. However, if we look exclusively at the tape, Haskins is an inconsistent passer who has to grow in his accuracy and decision making if he is to be a legitimate threat to start for the Steelers.
Haskins made some noise this preseason by shining at times, but this was not consistent. He needs a strong off-season, followed by a stellar preseason in 2022 to even have the consideration of being a potential starter for this team. What gives him a leg up on Rudolph is his mobility, though not much greater, and if he can showcase this, he can earn credibility with the coaching staff. Still, there are way too many questions for this team to rely on his development, pointing to the reality that this team will address the position through free agency, in addition to the draft.
Joshua Dobbs was drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and there was some optimism with his selection due to his supreme intelligence (dude is a rocket scientist, for real!). However, arm strength limitations and subpar accuracy limit him, and outside of a few shining moments, Dobbs has been an on again off again player with the team. Dobbs will be a free agent this offseason, and it is highly unlikely that he will return.
The Path Forward at Quarterback
The Steelers cannot put all their money on Rudolph and Haskins, and you can almost be assured they will a) draft a quarterback and b) sign a veteran free agent. There is not enough evidence from either Rudolph or Haskins to make anyone believe they have the traits of a starting quarterback, and therefore, the competition must be bolstered. If a Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, Matt Corrall, Sam Howell, or even a Carson Strong is available, the Steelers will take a long hard look. Franchise quarterbacks are hard to come by, and if the black and gold brass is enamored with one of these college prospects, rest assured they will do all they can to make the selection.
In terms of free agent quarterbacks, it’s not a great class, and the prospects are about as average as both Rudolph and Haskins, though some offer greater mobility. Does this dearth of talent possibly mean the Steelers will pursue a trade for a QB? Don’t hold your breath. As conservative as this organization is, they will ride with their own and draft a prospect before they burn draft capital for a signal caller. Especially considering how slim their current stock of draft selections currently is, pursuing a QB via a trade does not seem plausible.
The quarterback position in 2022 is one of great uncertainty for the Steelers, and there is too much to be left to chance if the Steelers ride with their current stable of quarterbacks. You could take a leap of faith and count on either Rudolph or Haskins developing, but there is no solid evidence to believe that will happen. If the organization takes that chance and things do not work out, they will definitely be looking at a top-10 draft pick in 2023. Because of that, they will explore free agent options and quarterback, in addition to keeping an open mind about the prospects available in the upcoming draft.
Mason Rudolph Career Stats
Dwayne Haskins Career Stats
Joshua Dobbs Career Stats