Tre Mason, RB, Auburn (HT: 5’8½”, WT: 207 lbs)
Third Round: 76th Pick
+ Good burst, changes speed well
+ Low center of gravity, displays good balance
+ Has a fairly physical, rugged running style
+ Slippery runner, elusive in the hole and in space
+ Patient, lets his blocks develop and explodes through the hole
- A liability in pass protection
- Relatively inexperienced receiver
- Ball security is an issue, struggled with fumbles at Auburn
- Wastes some movement and appears too hesitant at times
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After an incredible final stretch at Auburn, Mason declared for the NFL draft as a junior. With 1,063 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns in his last six games, he ran his way to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City.
No running back was hotter toward the end of the 2013-14 season, as he raised his game to new levels. In his final three contests, integral matchups with Alabama, Missouri and Florida State, he averaged a whopping 221 rushing yards to lift the Tigers' offense.
That tape against the highest level of college competition is sure to encourage scouts, and his momentum could make him the first or second running back off the board.
Game of Inches
We hear it all the time: Football is a game of inches. On the gridiron, perhaps no position exemplifies that saying more than running back. Auburn’s Tre Mason may stand only 5’8.5” but possesses the ability to stay on his feet and fight for extra yardage. His compact build helps to give him a low center of gravity, and exceptional lower-body strength is on display as he churns his legs on contact, plowing forward.
On this 2nd-and-3 play against Texas A&M, with time winding down in the fourth quarter, Mason demonstrates outstanding balance and willpower. He is able to absorb the linebacker’s hit prior to reaching the first-down marker and keeps his feet moving.
Note the three small but critical steps he takes forward with his right foot after being hit. That extra effort allows him to rest his left knee on top of the defender, plant his left hand and extend the ball into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
Though fighting for inches occasionally leads to fumbles or injury, teams want a back capable of pushing the pile and withstanding punishment. For a fairly diminutive runner, these qualities are essential to be viewed as a potential workhorse for an NFL offense.
While he lacks elite top-end speed to break away at the next level, Mason is able to rip off chunks of yardage with impressive burst and elusiveness. Exploding through the hole or around the corner, he is quick to challenge opponents at the second level. At the NFL Scouting Combine, his acceleration turned heads as he recorded one of the fastest 10-yard splits at the event, unofficially at 1.50 seconds.
Despite not always making defenders miss, he is usually able to do enough to avoid a direct shot from the would-be-tackler. Due to his combination of agility and balance, he is a slippery runner who can be difficult to bring down in the open field.
In the National Championship game against Florida State, he demonstrated acceleration and elusiveness in scoring the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining. He runs off his right tackle and slips a defender as he explodes through the hole.
The juke move he uses in the open field helps him to avoid a direct hit, allowing him to absorb the contact and keep moving. Once he breaks that tackle, Mason has nothing but green grass ahead of him and marches in for a heroic late score.
The main concern with Mason moving forward will be his competence in the passing game. Coming from Gus Malzahn’s run-heavy scheme, he lacks experience as both a receiver and pass-protector compared to his peers. Though it is possible he was simply underutilized as a receiver out of the backfield (19 career receptions), pass-blocking stands out as a glaring weakness on tape.
For a player who shows good balance and lower-body strength with the ball in his hands, he is very easily overpowered in pass protection due to poor technique.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Mason does not use his arms to lock defenders out of his body or keep a solid base as a blocker. This makes it very easy for his opponents to attack him with a bull rush and very difficult for the running back to sustain the block. He must do a better job of using defenders’ momentum against them, steering the running back from harm’s way.
Before he can be trusted to protect a team’s franchise quarterback, his technique must be overhauled. Additionally, he needs more reps catching the football to prove he is capable of being a viable outlet. If he is able to add these elements to his game, there is very little reason to think he cannot be a featured NFL back.