Projecting the Pittsburgh Steelers' Offense With Mason Rudolph

Losing a franchise quarterback to injury is never part of the plan for any NFL team, but it happens.

Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it happened to them this season after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger exited their Week 2 game against the Seattle Seahawks due to an elbow injury. The injury required season-ending surgery.

In his stead, Mason Rudolph entered the game and showed decent per-drop back efficiency over a small sample of 19 drop backs.

What all does it mean for the Steelers the rest of the way?

Projecting Pittsburgh

Rudolph threw for just 5.9 yards per attempt, well below the league average of around 7.4 or so, but his Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back mark was 0.10. The league average in 2018 was 0.11.

This means that his average drop back yielded 0.10 expected points added to the Steelers' output. His Passing Success Rate of 42.1% was below last year's average (47.6%). On passes traveling at least 16 yards downfield, Rudolph was 1 of 4 for 45 yards and an interception. His average target depth was 7.9 yards, according to FantasyADHD.

numberFire's algorithm projects Rudolph to finish as the QB22 the rest of the way, so he's not expected to be a fantasy-relevant passer outside of streaming.

But the more important fantasy pieces in this offense are running back James Conner, wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, and tight end Vance McDonald. How do they fare?

Conner is our RB12 the rest of the way but seems to be at his ceiling. When simulating the season out 1,000 times, Conner finished as a top-six fantasy back just 9.9% of the time and is top-12 in 45.7% of the simulations. Overall, our algorithms don't view him to be much worse than a high-end RB2. He's projected for the 11th-most opportunities (rushes plus targets) among all backs the rest of the way, and his workload should keep him as a volume-dependent option.

Smith-Schuster also cost drafters an early pick, but if Rudolph can hang with league-average efficiency, our algorithms imply not being too afraid to project JuJu for strong fantasy potential moving forward. He's our WR6 the rest of the way, largely because of his volume. He's expected to see the third-most targets over the final 14 games.

JuJu finished as a top-12 wideout in 61.7% of the simulations. There's a buy-low window here, according to our algorithm (you can see his trade value in our weekly update).

McDonald is our TE11 for the rest of the season. He popped as a top-six performer in 11.9% of the simulated seasons. He was also worse than the TE18 in a quarter of the simulated seasons. McDonald's 79.6 targets rank 11 the rest of the way. Rudolph threw to him twice in the red zone in Week 2, and McDonald accounted for both of Rudolph's touchdowns.


Rudolph's collegiate profile showed promise, and anything other than disaster should be enough for his high-volume fantasy assets to return some value.

The Steelers' offense absolutely takes a hit, and their playoff odds have fallen to just 15.9% after an 0-2 start. But there's an upshot here: the Steelers could be getting to see their quarterback of the future for nearly a full season, and buying low on Conner, Smith-Schuster, and McDonald could pay off for fantasy managers.