Pittsburgh traded up to the No. 76 pick in Friday night's NFL draft to select Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, whom the team targeted early in the draft process. In exchange, the team sent its 79th and 220th picks to Seattle.
Rudolph is the highest quarterback selected by the Steelers since Roethlisberger went 11th overall in 2004, and the franchise's fifth quarterback selected overall since that year.
"I always thought there was a connection since the beginning [with the Steelers]," said Rudolph, who joins Oklahoma State teammate James Washington, a second-round pick, as Steelers teammates.
"Had no clue this was in the works."
Rudolph said he sent offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner a text a few days ago reminding to think about him come draft night.
Fichtner hopes Roethlisberger, 36, plays another four to six years -- "I keep my fingers crossed he plays as long as he wants," he said -- but believes competition in the quarterback room will improve everyone.
The team drafted Josh Dobbs in the fourth round last year and has Landry Jones as a primary backup.
"If it takes three guys in competition to replace [Roethlisberger] today, so be it," Fichtner said. "What a great position to be in now to be able to do that."
Fichtner added that Rudolph's ability to throw the deep ball, which the Steelers value, played into the draft decision. Rudolph threw for 13,618 yards as a starter and plays primarily from the pocket with anticipation.
"I liked him since the beginning, since we started evaluating and I got the chance to visit with him," Fichtner said. "Maybe if there's any negative to his game, it might just be the inability to escape and extend. But, boy, you sure see him do it a lot, get out of the pocket and make big plays down the field."
Rudolph has long admired Roethlisberger and looks forward to jumping into the playbook.
"You're sitting behind an unbelievable player and a good dude," Rudolph said. "I'm a competitor to the bone. I'll come in and work my butt off to learn the system."
Rudolph also plans to use his Steelers career to prove he stacks up with the rest of the quarterback draft class. Five quarterbacks went in the first round and Rudolph was routinely overlooked in those discussions.
"It will stick with me every minute, every hour until the day I die," he said.