Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges: What’s the story behind Pittsburgh’s quarterback?

Every once in a while, the NFL has a fairy tale story. With a win on Sunday, an amazing season will continue for Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges.

Coming out of nowhere, Hodges has now led the Pittsburgh Steelers to three wins in his first three career starts – plus one comeback victory after taking over from the bench.

Who is Devlin Hodges?

With a win against Buffalo – live on Sky Sports Action at 1.20am on Sunday Night Football – Hodges would tie Virgil Carter (1968) and Phil Simms (1979) for the third-longest streak of wins by a rookie QB to begin their career in the Super Bowl era.

Interestingly enough, the two QBs with the longest streaks (Ben Roethlisberger with 13 in 2004 and Mike Kruczek with six in 1976) were both Steelers’ signal-callers.

Additionally, with a victory over the Bills, Hodges would become the first undrafted rookie QB to win each of his first four starts in the common draft era.

But who is this unknown QB?

Why Duck?

Let’s get the first thing out of the way. Why is he called ‘Duck’?

According to Brooke Pryor of ESPN, it began at college – Samford University. Quite simply, he “constantly talked about duck hunting and duck calling”. His coach started calling him Duck, and soon enough the receivers and the rest of the team followed.

As a youngster, he won the ‘2009 Junior World Duck Calling Contest’, of all things. A strange hidden talent for a mysterious man.

His rise from nobody (in the NFL world) to somebody came extremely quickly. He signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in May, but was let go at the end of August and went back to his home in Alabama.

In early September, Pittsburgh picked him back up and after Ben Roethlisberger’s Week 2 injury and backup Mason Rudolph’s subsequent concussion in Week 5, Hodges found himself thrust into a starting role.

Competent in college

Like any quarterback who eventually manages to find their way to an NFL QB room, Hodges was no slouch in college, despite the lack of draft interest.

A four-year starter for Samford, he racked up over 14,000 yards and 111 touchdowns with just 41 interceptions in that time.

And there were plenty of positives in his scouting report: athletic enough to move around the pocket, an accurate arm with quick release, a team captain and a leader with the mentality to sling the ball downfield rather than check it down.

However, his flaws were exactly the type that organisations look to avoid. At six-foot-one and 210 pounds, he is relatively small for a signal-caller.

Then there was the small matter of his level of competition. Playing in the ‘Southern Conference’, Samford faced off against teams like Wofford, Chattanooga and The Citadel – and his team didn’t even top the standings, falling to a 6-5 record in Hodges’ final season.

If he couldn’t lead his team to wins against those types of opponents, how would he perform when looking across at Marcus Peters, Joey Bosa or Chandler Jones in the pros?

Hodges has surprised everyone in his rookie campaign.

Solid but unspectacular so far

Make no mistake, Hodges is not taking the league by storm.

He enjoyed a winning Week Six debut, putting up an impressive performance in a 24-17 road win over the Chargers. 15 of 20 passes completed, 132 yards, one touchdown and one pick is about all a team can ask for from an undrafted rookie in his first start.

Even then, he was relegated back to the bench as Rudolph returned and led the team to a trio of wins. But when Rudolph tossed four picks in Cleveland and opened up with a dreadful showing in Cincinnati, head coach Mike Tomlin restored his faith in the 23-year-old and let him turn it loose.

Hodges has stepped up to the mark.

The Steelers have won three straight games to keep a stranglehold of the sixth and final seed in the AFC with an 8-5 record.

Over those three games, their quarterback has completed 68 per cent of his passes for 482 yards, throwing three touchdowns and one pick. He has a 110.1 passer rating.

They don’t ask him to do much – he has thrown 40 passes in the last two weeks – while they rely on a workable running game and elite, playmaking defense.

The blueprint won’t change, but Hodges will become under more pressure and scrutiny as we approach the postseason. His last three opponents had 0-10, 5-6, and 3-8-1 records coming into those contests.

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