Saturday, April 28, 2018
Mason Rudolph and James Washington spent four years lighting up defenses across the Big 12, setting records and winning game after game for Oklahoma State.
Now, the big-armed quarterback and rugged wide receiver are headed to Pittsburgh. Where they will listen. They will learn. And they will wait. For now anyway. When the guys in front of you on the depth chart include Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, there’s no other choice.
That’s fine for both Washington — taken in the second round — and Rudolph — selected with the first of Pittsburgh’s two third-round picks.
“To go on to the next chapter with one of your brothers and the best receiver you’ve spent your whole college days with and maybe spend 15 years with, it’s awesome,” said Rudolph said.
Rudolph went 32-9 as a starter with Oklahoma State, the most wins by a quarterback there. Washington set a school record with 4,472 yards receiving, including 125 in Oklahoma State’s blowout win over Pittsburgh at Heinz Field last September.
Both players spent the Cowboys’ walkthrough the night before the game looking around the stands and playing “what if.” Now that “what if” is reality.
“I had no clue this was in the works,” Rudolph said.
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner downplayed the idea that Rudolph will serve as Roethlisberger’s eventual heir, though Rudolph is the first quarterback the Steelers have taken before the fourth round since they drafted Roethlisberger 11th overall in 2004.
Fichtner hopes the 36-year-old Roethlisberger plays for another handful of seasons. The two-time Super Bowl winner told teammates after the Steelers fell to Jacksonville in the divisional round of the playoffs he expects to play at least three more years.
“I always keep my fingers crossed that he’s healthy and he wants to play,” Fichtner said. “It’d be great for us. It’d be great for me, because he’s a guy that’s going to be awful hard to replace and if it takes three guys in competition to replace him someday, so be it.”
Rudolph will fight for a backup spot with Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs while soaking up what he can from Roethlisberger.
“It’s not Ben’s job to teach me anything,” Rudolph said. “It’s my job to learn.”
Rudolph set 54 school records during his time at Oklahoma State and at 6-foot-5, 235-pounds is similar to Roethlisberger in terms of size. Whether Rudolph ends up checking all the other boxes, however, is another matter.
The 22-year-old doesn’t lack for confidence. Asked if he understands why he slipped to the third round behind the group of five quarterbacks that went in the first round on Thursday, Rudolph admitted the slight will stick with him.
“It’s definitely a burning fire that definitely began Thursday night and will keep going for a long time,” Rudolph said. “(But) I’m a little done with the comparison questions. I’m confident with the way I stacked up.”
So is Washington.
The Steelers grabbed him with the 60th overall selection, immediately filling the void created when Pittsburgh dealt talented but enigmatic Martavis Bryant to Oakland on Thursday.
Though the 5-foot-11 Washington lacks Bryant’s size and 4.3 speed, he compensates with a competitiveness that made him productive wherever he lined up in the wide-open offense Rudolph guided.
“He’s intelligent (and) he held down his position for a long time,” Fichtner said. “We would expect that he have that ability to come in, learn and hold that position down quickly.”
Regardless of what the stopwatch says — Washington ran a so-so 4.54 40-yard dash at the combine — Washington can get downfield. He averaged 19.8 yards per reception with the Cowboys and showed the kind of elusiveness that allowed him to turn a short pass into a sprint to the end zone.
At 213 pounds, Washington also has the strength to be an effective blocker in the run game and brings a kind of physicality the Steelers have long valued in their receiving group.
“This guy comes in with several tricks,” Fichtner said.
Fichtner called Washington “no maintenance,” which would be a departure from Bryant, who was twice suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and was briefly benched last fall after demanding a trade.
This is the second straight year the Steelers have taken a wide receiver in the second round. They selected JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round of the 2017 draft. Smith-Schuster’s rapid development — his seven touchdown receptions were the most by a rookie in the NFL last year — made Bryant expendable.
“They got the best (receiving group) in the league,” Washington said. “I can’t wait to work with those guys and learn from them.”
Pittsburgh picked Western Michigan offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafora with their second third-round selection. Okorafora adds depth to a line that helped the Steelers finish fourth in yards while going 13-3 and claiming their third division title in four years.
It’s not quite the draft most expected from Pittsburgh. The Steelers took safety Terrell Edmunds in the first round but focused on offense Friday despite glaring needs at inside linebacker and the secondary.
They’ll try to address those needs today. Pittsburgh has two picks in the fifth and one in the seventh.