There seemed to be a bit of surprise in some circles on Thursday, when St. Louis Rams third-round pick Tre Mason told media at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere that the coaching staff told him he’ll compete for the starting running back job as a rookie. If one simply takes into account a few facts about Mason’s journey to St. Louis, it makes it seem all the more probable that Mason will really push for carries right away, even with second-year back Zac Stacy still in the fold.
First of all, it was a possibility all along that the Rams would go after Mason, seeing as the Rams have plucked so heavily from Auburn, Mason’s alumnus, over the past few years. General manager Les Snead is an Auburn grad, and head coach Jeff Fisher’s son Trent played with the Tigers as a backup safety and special teamer for the past four years. That means both of them have spent plenty of time observing the program, and it showed when they signed three undrafted free agents from Auburn prior to 2013. They dipped back into that talent pool again this year with first-rounder Greg Robinson and Mason, and it’s clear that they are very intrigued by both of them.
As far as Mason’s competition with Stacy, the timing and strategy of the pick make it clear that the Rams see him playing a big role in the offense. When the Rams were on the clock with the 11th pick of the third round, they had needs that could have been filled at wide receiver, safety, and cornerback. They were seemingly secure at running back, meanwhile, with Stacy coming off a rookie year in which he ran for 973 yards on 250 carries and undrafted rookie Benny Cunningham looking like a capable backup, having run for 261 yards on 47 carries.
Ultimately, they decided to draft Mason anyway, taking him two rounds ahead of where they selected Stacy a year ago. Common sense would dictate that you don’t take a player with a significantly higher selection than a player at the same position you took the year before, then proceed to sit the higher draft pick.
Another issue that some people are failing to grasp is that Mason isn’t really a “change-of-pace” back for Stacy. Mason’s 40-yard dash at the combine was just 0.05 seconds faster than Stacy’s, and he measured in at 5-foot-8 and 207 pounds, compared to Stacy’s 5-foot-8 and 216. They’re both physical, between the tackles runners who like to put their bodies into people. Mason may provide some much needed relief to Stacy, but he doesn’t really offer anything different than the second-year back does, and he’s not the kind of back who will fill a Kevin Faulk or Danny Woodhead type of role for his whole career and be content.
So while Stacy will definitely still be part of the Rams’ plans and could certainly hold onto the starting job, no one should be shocked that Mason is getting a chance to wrestle it away from him. The Rams wouldn’t have spent a third-rounder on Mason if they weren’t really excited by his potential, and it should be expected that he’ll receive every chance to prove himself as their number one back going forward.