While Mason Rudolph made his debut as a pro at Heinz Field last week, rushed into duty when Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury, it was his exploits on that same field two years earlier that cemented the Steelers' interest in him and played a pivotal role in them drafting him that spring.

Rudolph tore apart Pitt in one half of work in September of 2017, with a large contingent of Steelers scouts and brass watching closely, which, sources said, was a key moment in their interest in him and created a significant buzz in the organization. The Steelers share training facilities and a stadium with Pitt, and had positive reports on Rudolph from 2016, both from their scouts and from Pitt staff, and his status as a draft target was further cemented by his exploits at Heinz Field two years ago.

In that game Rudolph in the first half alone completed 20 of 28 passes for 433 yards and five touchdowns, grabbing a 49-7 lead. He threw scoring passes of 69, 59, 48, 40 and eight yards and had four receivers with over 100 yards receiving at the half (including James Washington, whom Pittsburgh selected as well in the 2018 draft). In two games against Pitt, Rudolph went 49-for-78 for 1,037 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception.

The Steelers continued to scout him closely the duration of his final season at Oklahoma State and were very impressed with his work ethic, attitude, leadership and other intangibles leading up to the draft. Team officials were convinced the rival Bengals were locked in on Rudolph in the third round, which prompted the Steelers to trade up ahead of them, with an eye to Rudolph being an eventual replacement for Roethlisberger.

Team officials remain confident in Rudolph's ability to play winning football, and have noted how much time he spends at the team facility and the relative ease with which he grasped the offense. He will need the running game to improve significantly from the first few weeks, and he won't be as explosive at Roethlisberger has been, but there are not fears that the season is lost just because Roethlisberger went down.