As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.50
Vertical Jump: 38 1/2”
Broad Jump: 10’ 6”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.15
Background (College Stats)
Mason rushed for 1,643 yards and 24 touchdowns as a high-school senior in 2010 and was rated as the No. 14 running back in the nation that year by Rivals.com. Although he only recorded one carry for two yards in his first collegiate game against Utah State, the Palm Beach (Fla.) native hinted at the success that awaited him when he returned a kick 97 yards for a touchdown in the same contest. Mason began to work his way into the rotation a bit more by the time the Tigers qualified for the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the end of his freshman season and really began to emerge as the focal point of the running game midway through Auburn’s disastrous 2012 season; he also kept the school’s four-year streak of having at least one 1,000-yard rusher going on his last carry of the season in the Tigers’ 49-0 loss to Alabama in the Iron Bowl; he finished with 1,002 yards as a sophomore and started his final college season on a similar track before new coach Gus Malzahn really got his high-speed, run-focused spread attack on track around midseason this past year. The first non-quarterback to lead Auburn in total offense for a season since Bo Jackson in 1985, Mason averaged an unthinkable 31.3 carries over the final six games of his college career and continued to produce at the same level (on a yard-per-carry basis) that he was over the first half of the season. The first-team all-conference selection cemented his status as a Heisman Trophy finalist in the defense-optional SEC Championship when he posted 46 carries for 304 yards and four touchdowns, setting five title-game records in the process. He closed his college career with six straight 100-yard games and solidified his status as a top running back prospect almost a month later when he gouged Florida State for 195 more yards and a score on the ground on 34 attempts in the BCS National Championship.
NFL Player Comp(s): Marion Barber III
- Compactly-built runner with good balance (most of the time); delivers the blow much more often than he receives it and runs much bigger than he is.
- Powerful lower body allows him to keep his legs moving and drives through contact; can smell the end zone (but is not a pile-mover per se).
- Decisive, yet patient, one-cut back with quick feet and the ability to stop and start quickly.
- Did most of his damage inside the tackles in college, but has enough burst to beat most defenders to the edge.
- Capable of handling heavy workloads (refer to the 2013 SEC Championship against Missouri and the 317 carries he accumulated in 2013).
- Showed incredible stamina to serve as main back in Auburn’s high-speed offensive attack as well the team’s leading kick returner.
- Adds versatility as a dynamic kick returner.
- Ball security (career fumble rate of 1.6 percent) needs to be addressed.
- Displays good, but not great, breakaway speed.
- A virtual unknown in the passing game (19 career receptions).
- Unlikely to get much bigger as frame appears to be close to maxed out; can he continue to play as physical as he does at his current size and does he need to be part of a committee?
- Did not attempt to make many tacklers miss early in his career, although he made significant strides as 2013 progressed.
- Did not appear to be all interested in blocking at times; does not use cut-blocks all that often and runs the risk of being overmatched if he doesn’t add it to his arsenal.
The highly-respected personnel guru Gil Brandt went so far as to say Mason is comparable to Tony Dorsett, at least from a quickness standpoint. There is no doubt the SEC’s leading rusher in 2013 has a nice blend of quickness and power, but it would be a mistake to suggest he is like Dorsett in many other ways. There are too many major questions at this point with Mason to consider him the top prospect at his position, with the most notable drawback being that he appears to be a long ways away from being a well-rounded back. Although Auburn did not attempt many passes in 2013, Mason truly appeared disinterested in blocking. Needless to say, there are not a lot of running backs in the NFL that reach feature-back status unless they become at least average blockers – and Mason is a long ways away from that. Furthermore, he’s got the size of a traditional scatback and the game of an early-down pounder, which makes him something of a tweener that may have very well been a product of Malzahn’s up-tempo spread offense. With that said, it is impossible to ignore how he finished his college career or the desire with which he runs. The NFL will always have a place for backs like Mason that can run through arm tackles and make good decisions as a ball-carrier. His best fit is likely with an offense that runs a lot of zone-blocking and/or spread schemes; the former because he is decisive, one-cut runner with good vision and power and the latter because it increases the odds he’ll win the physical confrontation with a safety in the hole much more often than he will with a linebacker. At this point, it seems unlikely he can become a “foundation back” anytime soon – at least until he shows a lot more ability in every aspect of the passing game.