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Path to the Passer: Mason Rudolph offers plenty to like … with a notable exception

This is the next in a series of in-depth features on potential quarterbacks for the Bills.

Mason Rudolph’s quarterbacking history makes it easy to overlook everything else that would otherwise deem him worthy of pre-draft hype comparable to others at his position.

He has the ideal size: 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds. He has the impressive production, throwing for 92 touchdowns and only 26 interceptions in 42 career starts and an NCAA-leading 4,904 yards with 37 TDs (and nine interceptions) as a senior at Oklahoma State.

Tough. Sturdy. Pretty much the prototypical package of what NFL teams want in a franchise pocket passer.

That is, with one glaring exception. The history. The fact Rudolph ran a spread offense while leading a state-championship team at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C. The fact he operated the same scheme, which virtually eliminates huddling and emphasizes quick throws that don’t require reading of coverages, at OSU.

Rudolph isn’t the only member of the Quarterback Class of 2018 with the knock of being a product of a system that lends itself to a QB’s ability to generate gaudy statistics but isn’t widely seen as a good fit with what NFL teams do.

But he seemingly is taking the harshest criticism for it, because despite a resume that would figure to put him at or near the top of the draft, Rudolph finds himself widely seen as something of an afterthought when compared to USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, UCLA’s Josh Rosen or Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.

Typical of the skepticism directed toward Rudolph is the following assessment from "Rudolph will need development as a pro. He will have to work on his shaky accuracy and field vision, plus get used to playing under center and calling plays in the huddle. Rudolph is also not very athletic, though he has good size with average arm strength. Going through progressions and reading the field are problems for Rudolph, and he has to improve there for the NFL. His anticipation is terrible, too, and that will have to improve for the pros, or he could be taking a lot of sacks from holding onto the ball too long."

"Bryce Petty all over again,” a scout, referring to the former Baylor star who became a backup for the New York Jets, told Bleacher Report. “Great kid, but he's not smart enough or athletic enough to make a difference in our league." The comment was included in a list of "most overrated prospects" in the draft.

Rudolph is well aware of what the critics are saying. He doesn’t give it any credence.

He displays a great deal of confidence in what he has accomplished and what he sees himself doing at the next level. It comes off less as bombast than self-assuredness. That, too, would seemingly fit the personality profile of a quarterback.

“I see myself right at the top,” Rudolph told reporters at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. “I think you put my skill set up with anyone in the country, in this class. I throw the ball down the field, if not the best, one of the best in the country.

“I’m very accurate with the ball. A lot of production, a lot of games, a lot of starts, durable. Kind of all those characteristics, I think, are my strong suit.”

Rudolph spoke while wearing a protective boot on his left foot. He was still recovering from sprain suffered in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys’ Camping World Bowl victory against Virginia Tech on Dec. 28. The injury didn’t require surgery, but it kept Rudolph from practicing for or playing in the Senior Bowl. He still made the trip to Mobile to meet with NFL talent-evaluators, and they’ll meet again at this week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Rudolph is expected to throw but might not participate in agility drills.

His inability to play in the Senior Bowl kept Rudolph from showing how he handles working from a huddle in pads while being guided by NFL coaches. How frustrating was that?

“A little bit,” Rudolph said. “But I’m very, very confident in my ability to pick up a new offense, a new system and command the huddle. I’ve done it in college, the few times we have huddled whether it’s score zone/red zone, coming out of our own end zone . . . But you ask any of my teammates, my coaches, they’ll tell you I command the huddle and I’m able to pick up on a lot very quickly.”

Rudolph, like all college quarterbacks in spread offenses, looks to the sidelines for signals, which can come in the form of pictures or words on cards held in the air. He faces a major transition hearing signals via the radio receiver in his helmet and then relaying them to his teammates in a huddle, while also being able to make adjustments based on what he sees at the line of scrimmage.

Yet, Rudolph is unconcerned about his ability to succeed that way.

“I’ve still got a lot of ability in my offense to get in and out of plays, check protections, adjust routes, sight adjustments, that type of thing,” he said. “I think I’ve done a great job thus far in the interview process in showing those guys what I know. You get tagged as a spread-offense (quarterback), so you try to articulate the offense you run. Explain it well – the protections, built-in hot reads, sight adjustments with receivers and a solid knowledge of coverage and fronts. I think I’ve communicated that well to teams.”

At the Senior Bowl, NFL club representatives usually asked Rudolph to draw up his favorite pass play at Oklahoma State and then give a detailed description of how it is signaled to him, the formation, the route concepts, and how he communicates the protection to his center and running back.

One night, an NFL coach introduced him to three types of protections the coach’s team uses.

“I spit them right back out to the coach and I nailed it,” Rudolph said with a wide smile. “So it’s been fun to kind of see what everyone’s throwing at you.”

Not all of it has been pleasant. But Rudolph, at least publicly, seems unfazed.

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