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Here’s what Ben Roethlisberger should have said about Mason Rudolph

It’s cool that the Steelers are bringing back their vintage 1970s jerseys with the block numbers and letters when they host the Browns on Oct. 28 at Heinz Field.

Since that game is three days before Halloween, however, wouldn’t it have been better if both the Browns and Steelers had worn color-rush jerseys, with the Steelers in all black and the Browns in all orange?

All kidding aside, the Steelers are eschewing their bumblebee throwbacks to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their 1978 championship team.

It’s also the 10th anniversary of the Steelers’ 2008 championship team, or to put it another way, it’s been 10 damn years since the Steelers last won a Super Bowl.

They have the talent to end that dry spell this year, but Ben Roethlisberger, the one remaining player from that 2008 team, suggested that the Steelers didn’t improve their chances of winning a championship in 2018 by taking Mason Rudolph in the third round of the draft.

Roethlisberger said that the Steelers maybe could have used someone who could help the team right away, but later backtracked on those comments and has been helping the rookie at organized team activities.

Sure, Roethlisberger says he wants to play three more years, but the bottom line is he’s 36 years old. There’s no guarantee his body will allow him to play three more years. The Steelers can’t be blamed for trying to stay ahead of the curve on the search for their next franchise quarterback.

No, Roethlisberger shouldn’t have questioned the Steelers’ decision to draft a quarterback. What he should have questioned is their decision to draft one from the Big XII.

Since the conference formed in 1994, 24 of its quarterbacks have been drafted. Of that bunch, only Ryan Tannehill and Sam Bradford have thrown more than 100 touchdown passes in the NFL. They’re also two of the three quarterbacks from that conference – Vince Young is the other – to win 30 games in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference.

Young and Robert Griffin III are the only Big XII quarterbacks who have had Pro Bowl seasons, and looking at how their careers turned out it’s hard to believe either of them have been to a Pro Bowl.

The main reason the Big XII isn’t the most fertile soil for NFL quarterbacks in the spread offense that’s prevalent in the conference. It doesn’t prepare quarterbacks for what they’ll see at the professional level.

If Rudolph is going to be a worthy successor to Roethlisberger, he’ll have to set the bar higher than Bradford and Tannehill have for Big XII quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes will have to do the same to return the investment on their draft positions. The Browns chose Mayfield out of Oklahoma with the top overall pick this year and the Chiefs traded up 17 spots last year to take Mahomes from Texas Tech at No. 10.

The history of Big XII quarterbacks in the NFL might not be on Rudolph’s side, but what is on his side is the Steelers’ history with quarterbacks chosen in the third round or earlier.

When it comes to drafting quarterbacks in their modern history, the Steelers have hit two home runs with Roethlisberger and Terry Bradshaw. The rest might seem like a bunch of strikeouts and pop flies, but unlike other franchises the Steelers have at least avoided early-round busts. In fact, Steelers quarterbacks not named Bradshaw or Roethlisberger tend to have more success, however modest, the earlier they’re drafted.

Rudolph, taken with the 76th pick, is the first quarterback the Steelers have drafted before the fourth round since they took Roethlisberger with the 11th pick in 2004. Rudolph is the eighth quarterback the Steelers have taken in the third round or earlier since they drafted Bradshaw in 1970. Six of the first seven have at least one playoff win. The only one who doesn’t is Mike Kruczek, but even he had his moment in the sun when he went 6-0 as a starter in place of an injured Bradshaw in 1976. That was a record for rookie quarterbacks until Roethlisberger won his first 13 career starts in 2004.

Mark Malone, an eyeroll-inducing name in Steelers history, is an outlier on this list. The Steelers drafted him in the first round, 28th overall, in 1980 as Bradshaw’s eventual successor. The Steelers better hope history doesn’t repeat itself. His presence on the roster was one of the reasons the Steelers passed on Dan Marino in the 1983 draft, but Malone went 23-30 in his career as a starter with 60 touchdown passes and 81 interceptions.

Malone did lead the Steelers to the 1984 AFC championship game in Miami, where they were haunted by Marino in a 45-28 loss. That makes him one of five quarterbacks to lead the Steelers to a conference title game. Kordell Stewart, drafted in the second round in 1995, and Neil O’Donnell, drafted in the third round in 1990, are the others aside from Roethlisberger and Bradshaw.

Let’s not forget Bubby Brister, drafted in the third round in 1986. He led the 1989 Steelers team from an 0-2 start in which they were out-scored 92-10 to the playoffs and a wild-card upset of the Oilers. That Cinderella team then came within one point of upsetting John Elway and the Broncos in Denver.

So beginning with Bradshaw, every quarterback the Steelers have drafted in the third round or earlier has at least some footprint in the team’s history.

The narrative diverges quite a bit in the fourth round. Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs are the only quarterbacks the Steelers have drafted in the fourth round in the last 48 years.

Jones, drafted out of Oklahoma in 2013, is another underwhelming Big XII product. But he wasn’t exactly drafted as a franchise savior and he’s one of four Big XII quarterbacks with a winning record in the NFL. Yeah, that record is only 3-2, but two of those winning records are 1-0. Mahomes won in Week 17 last season and Stephen McGee won in Week 17 for the Cowboys in 2010. Young (31-19) is the only other Big XII quarterback who has won more than he’s lost in the NFL.

It’s a lot to ask any quarterback to have a career like Bradshaw or Roethlisberger, but it’s not too much to ask Rudolph to be the best quarterback ever to come out of the Big XII. If he can do that, then maybe he can surpass quarterbacks like Stewart, O’Donnell and Bobby Layne and become the undisputed third-best quarterback in Steelers history.

The first step will be to overtake Jones as Roethlisberger’s backup. Jones is a free agent after this season. If the Steelers feel a need to re-sign Jones and he remains ahead of Rudolph on the depth chart in 2019, then maybe Roethlisberger was right.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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