It would not be surprising if four quarterbacks are selected in the top 10 of Thursday’s NFL draft, with Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen expected to come off the board first.
A quarterback who will likely have to wait a little longer is Northwestern High and Oklahoma State product Mason Rudolph.
Rudolph, however, has a resume that is as good as, if not better than, any of his counterparts in this year’s QB draft class.
He led the nation in passing yards his senior season, finishing with 4,904 yards, nearly 300 more than Heisman winner Mayfield and despite playing one less game. But he did so in Mike Gundy’s pass-happy offense, leading some to label him as a system quarterback.
Rudolph’s father, Brett, said it feels like déjà vu.
“He’s hearing the same things today that he heard back in 2012 and '13 when he was coming out of high school,” he said. “It is kind of ironic.”
Rudolph was told by critics when coming out of Northwestern High in Rock Hill that his game did not translate to the next level. He passed for 4,377 yards and 64 touchdowns as a senior in high school, leading the Trojans to the state championship game, where he threw eight touchdowns in a 62-35 victory against Stratford.
There were plenty of naysayers whosaid Rudolph’s stats were a product of having loads of talent around him and playing in an air-raid offense. He ended up at Oklahoma State after not being offered by in-state schools Clemson or South Carolina, and he went on to have a record-breaking college career.
All Rudolph did during his time with the Cowboys was become OSU’s all-time leader in career passing yards and victories as a starting quarterback.
While there has been talk that Rudolph will hear his named called on the first day of the draft Thursday, ESPN analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay are not buying into the hype.
“There is also some recent buzz about Rudolph sneaking into the first round. There are a few teams that like him more than (Lamar) Jackson. So for the highest spot he could go, I'll say No. 28,” Kiper recently said. “That puts him one spot before the Jacksonville Jaguars, as a team could trade up before the Jags pick and grab him. Rudolph is more of a second-round prospect for me, though.”
McShay has him pegged as a third-round pick in his NFL draft breakdown, where he details the pick every team should make in the draft. Pundits from CBS have him being drafted as high as No. 16 overall by the Baltimore Ravens.
Rudolph at Oklahoma State played with a chip on his shoulder after feeling slighted by the home-state Gamecocks. He wasn’t even rated as the top quarterback in the state coming out of high school. That honor went to Jacob Park, who signed with Georgia, spent last season at Iowa State and will transfer for his final year of eligibility.
He is eager to prove doubters wrong again, this time at the highest level.
Rudolph has always dreamed of playing in the NFL, from the time he was old enough to toss the ball around in the backyard with his father at their home in Virginia.
“Obviously, my dad played at North Carolina and was a linebacker growing up. He was kind of always my hero,” Rudolph said. “I wanted to be like him.”
He played flag football as a kid, and as a Virginia native grew up a Redskins fan, idolizing quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Mark Brunell.
It was apparent at a young age that Rudolph had talent that few others had.
“Every dad that has an opportunity to play catch with their son, you project at an early age, and I remember doing it with my buddies, ‘Yeah, he throws it pretty good,’ ” Brett Rudolph recalled.
The Rudolphs moved from Virginia to Rock Hill when Mason was in elementary school and arrived at a football factory of a town that has produced the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, Stephon Gilmore, Benjamin Watson and numerous other pros. Mason and his brother Logan, who is a defensive end at Clemson, played more baseball than football as young kids, but that changed after moving to South Carolina.
“We came down to Rock Hill and had no idea Rock Hill was such a football town. We didn’t know,” Brett Rudolph said. “And then the transition happened and they started playing more football. For both of them, certainly, going to Northwestern was a huge help.”
TIME FOR A CHANGE
Before Rudolph was setting records as a quarterback at Northwestern, he was playing tight end at Westminster Catawba Christian School in Rock Hill.
He still had aspirations of playing quarterback and attended an Air Raid camp held by former Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson. Richardson, currently an assistant at Clemson, was impressed by what he saw from Rudolph during the passing camp and was able to convince Mason and his family to transfer to Northwestern and give playing QB a shot.
Rudolph transferred prior to his sophomore season and immediately earned the starting quarterback job. He threw for 10,986 yards in three seasons.
“If you’d have told me back in 2011 when we made the decision to switch schools and for him to try to play quarterback … I always thought he could play quarterback, but I didn’t quite have this dream that he would be where he is today,” Brett Rudolph said. “It’s been an incredible ride, and hopefully it’s not over. Hopefully, it’s just beginning. It’s been phenomenal. We’ve loved it.”
Despite the stats Rudolph put up and the prototypical size that the 6-foot-4 quarterback possessed, scholarship offers did not begin rolling in until after his junior season.
“Even though he played on a really good team and they had a lot of success, he put up big numbers and all of that, still, a lot of college teams were not sure,” Brett Rudolph said. “It’s ironic that here we are these several years later and some of the teams in the NFL are having the same (thoughts). But I understand it. It’s a business and you’re getting ready to invest a lot of money in people, so they need to do their homework. It’s been an interesting process for sure.”
BECOMING A STAR
Rudolph was set to redshirt at Oklahoma State in 2014 until he was thrown into the fire in Week 11 at No. 6 Baylor. He responded by passing for 281 yards in the loss.
The next week he led the Cowboys to a victory at No. 20 Oklahoma, introducing himself to the college football world.
Oklahoma State won 10 games each of his three years as the starting quarterback, reaching double-digit wins three consecutive years for the first time in school history. Rudolph led OSU to three bowl victories, finishing off his college career by passing for 351 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 30-21 victory against Virginia Tech in the Camping World Bowl, earning MVP honors.
“I was a winner. I won 10 games every single year, something that Oklahoma State had never done before,” Rudolph said. “I think I throw the ball down the field very well. I think I do it accurately. I think I do it efficiently.”
Rudolph has been working out for the draft since his senior season ended.
He believes he performed well at the combine, an experience he described as “they’re trying to grind you down to your core.”
Even though he comes from a football family, he has reached out to others for help throughout this process. Former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs has become a bit of a mentor, as has former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
“Those are both guys that I kind of keep in the loop,” Rudolph said. “You try to get as much (info) as you can about not only what these months are going to hold, but obviously OTAs, training camps, how to conduct yourself, what to expect moving forward in an NFL locker room, so all of those different things.”
DREAM COME TRUE
Rudolph’s dream of becoming an NFL player will come true when he hears his name called later this week. He will have a draft party with his family and friends in Rock Hill and is hoping for a first-round phone call Thursday.
“I feel great about what I’ve put on tape,” he said. “Every single person puts out about 942 mock drafts every offseason, so you can’t pay any attention to that. You pay attention to your preparation, how you perform at the different events, what you’ve done on tape.”
Rudolph said there are five or six teams that have shown more interest than the rest, but he is not putting a ton of stock into that.
“What I’ve been told is you never know. It’s the team that never even talks to you at the combine that’ll end up drafting you,” he said.
Whatever team lands Rudolph, he is ready to go in and be a leader.
He has no doubt that he can turn a team around and be a franchise quarterback for years to come if he is asked to do so, even if there are others who aren’t sure.
“If you ask anybody that knows me, I’m a leader. I’m going to be the first guy out of the tunnel, the first guy in the building, the last guy to leave,” Rudolph said. “I want to get the guys juiced up and going on game day because I love to play, and I’m a competitor. That’s who I am. That’s the player I am. That’s the player I’ll be in the NFL.”
With what he has done so far in his football career, it is hard to bet against him.
Where: This year's draft is at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
Round 1: 8 p.m. Thursday, April 26 (NFL Network, ESPN, ESPN2)
Rounds 2-3: 7 p.m. Friday, April 27 (NFL Network, FOX Sports, ESPN, ESPN2)
Rounds 4-7: Noon Saturday, April 28 (NFL Network, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2)