In my weekly column, we take a long look at impact fantasy football rookies. I compare their performance to date against my original expectations of them. Let’s continue this 2014 version of the series by looking at running back Tre Mason. I will look at some of his college production against his performance versus Washington to discern his dynasty value.
Here are my thoughts after watching him in college: The young back is very sudden and explosive with impressive foot speed. Mason is lacking in leg power/strength, so he takes what the defense allows him, instead of imposing his will. The runner uses good leverage getting small and darting through minute creases. He has a great sense of balance and falls forward gaining additional yardage by always keeping his feet chopping. One of his best attributes is his vision which allows him to find the best angles. Mason has a fantastic jump cut which helps him separate from defenders with ease.
The young back uses his quickness along with his shoulder shake/juke to freezing defenders. It’s his lateral agility and balance that makes him hard to tackle as you must secure him around the waist; otherwise he might squirt right around or past you. Mason sometimes struggles near the line of scrimmage when he doesn’t pick up his feet. The runner showed a tendency to turn his back to the defense while attempting to leg press through a defensive horde. This was rarely effective for him and I have concerns that he can endure much more punishment than he delivers.
Mason breaks a lot more runs outside, making people miss in the open field, but he doesn’t have the leg drive to run as well inside the tackles. The back runs tall letting defenders into his body, but he could be successful in a one-cut and read offense. By using Mason on counters and sweeps with a zone blocking offensive line, he could be more effective. I like his spin move combined with a stutter step that makes him harder to tackle. Usually the young runner lowers his shoulder, gets low, and keeps moving forward until the whistle blows.
At this time, Mason looks more like of a change of pace back than a starter with some major flaws in the passing game. The runner barely gets in front of defenders when attempting to pass block. He shows poor balance and does not attack the blitzers, instead they use their forward momentum to gain an advantage. Mason uses his body to catch passes instead of using his hands to make the reception cleanly, which hurts him as a third down back. When the back doesn’t have the ball, he needs to become a better overall player by blocking defenders away from whichever of his teammates has the ball.
Against Washington, I saw a back who: has quick, bouncy feet. That is great when he can slash through the line of scrimmage, but his limited leg strength did not help him break tackles when things pile up near a mass of humanity. Mason needs that small window to be effective, but did not see much of those running between the tackles. I love the way he runs the ball on the outside, but that doesn’t make him a three down back. Unlike Jamaal Charles, who is one of the best slasher type runners in the NFL, Mason doesn’t generate the power or have the feel to find the slivers of real estate on his own. Sure the rookie has an impressive jump cut, good balance, and always falls forward, but he needs more than that to deserve 20+ touches a game.
Benny Cunningham is the better pass blocker and has much softer hands, which is why Mason gets pulled on quite a few third down situations and in the hurry-up offense. Also, the rookie and quarterback Shaun Hill did not seem to be on the same page in the passing game. The young runner didn’t look for the dump off passes the two times it got thrown his direction. Sure his spin moves are impressive as well as his ability to slide off would be tackles, but once you smash the rookie back, he goes down quickly. That is not to say Mason cannot become a fantasy dynasty worthy back, but don’t expect multi-touchdown games or huge yardage totals very often from him. He can grind out 70-100 total yards a game without high reception totals or lots of scoring opportunities. I would rather have him as my RB3 and use him as a flex. If someone values him higher than that, I might look at selling him. His performance of 20 touches for 66 yards will be closer to the norm than last week’s total of 164 yards and three total touchdowns.
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