The date was March 13, 2014 and I was fresh off an 8-5 season in Green Label – a fantastic dynasty league run by DLF’s own Jarrett Behar. I had barely missed the playoffs and was busy making trade offers to improve an already solid starting lineup. Zac Stacy had just finished an impressive rookie campaign and had an ADP on the rise. I, as well as many others, thought that he was a shoe-in to be the bell cow in St. Louis for at least the next several years, so I made a trade for him. I was thrilled as I now boasted a strong, young backfield to go along with a roster which already had talent and depth at quarterback, wide receiver and tight end.
Fast forward to May 9, 2014. The Rams selected Tre Mason (my second favorite running back in the draft) with a third round pick, making my earlier trade for Stacy much more of a loss than a win. Thanks, Les Snead.
I already had hopes of taking Mason in rookie drafts, but now it had become slightly more important in this Green Label league. My strong backfield now had lost what I had expected to be a key cog. I was left with Chris Ivory, Lamar Miller and Ben Tate as my top three backs. All three were unproven at the time, but they were expected to have breakout campaigns. I was comfortable with them when I was only expecting to have to rotate them as my RB2, but I was less excited about needing to rely on two of them on a weekly basis. Thanks, Les Snead.
Going into my Green Label rookie auction draft I had targeted Mason and knew I was going to have to overpay for him. I proceeded to make him the second highest paid running back, behind Bishop Sankey and tied with Jeremy Hill. I hated to do it, as I’m not a huge proponent of handcuffing players, but I wanted to hedge my bets and didn’t have much faith in the other rookie running backs. I had spent all but $33 of my rookie money in an attempt to make my previous trade less excruciating. Thanks again, Les Snead.
Fast forward again to April 30, 2015 when Les Snead and the Rams once again crotch kicked my team with the force of 1,000 Chuck Norris roundhouses. The Rams unexpectedly selected Georgia running back Todd Gurley and finally opened my eyes to the biggest fantasy football long con I have ever experienced. In 54 short weeks, one general manager had made my trade and subsequent rookie pick appear obsolete. I love you, Les Snead.
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If you’ve checked our rankings recently, you’ve seen how high I was on Mason before this year’s draft. I only had six running backs ranked higher than him, but that will change once I make an update.
There isn’t a knowledgeable dynasty player I know who isn’t a fan of Gurley’s game. He is the running back of the future for the Rams, but where does that leave Mason? Is there room for two sheep in the pen?
There’s no doubt Gurley is a better running back in nearly all facets of the game, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a role for Mason. Gurley is like catching lightning in a bottle. Not only does he have top end speed, but he accelerates and changes direction exceptionally well. He is a good pass blocker and pass catcher, so he will see time on third downs as soon as he’s on the field. On top of that, he’s difficult to tackle. When watching his games from 2014, I repeatedly saw him gain extra yardage when he should have gone down. In short, he’s a heck of a running back.
Mason has a few things to his game that Gurley doesn’t, however. Mason has patience Gurley has yet to develop, likely because he’s seen more time behind lesser offensive lines than his new backfield partner. He’s also more powerful between the tackles at this point in his career, so he should still get some early down snaps. I expect him to get the majority of the short yardage work, but that doesn’t include the goal line. Gurley will almost certainly get the ram’s share of the goal line snaps due to him being more of a duel threat. Also, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a few packages with both backs on the field at the same time.
The biggest advantage Mason has over Gurley is his health. Coach Jeff Fisher, General Manager Les Snead and Gurley have all gone on the record saying there will be no rush to get Gurley on the field. There is speculation that he could miss the first month of the season and may get placed on the PUP list, sidelining him for the first six games of the season.
But this is dynasty, so a few games won’t make or break a player.
Mason is going to have to make the best of his early season carries to carve out a more meaningful role going forward. While the drafting of Gurley didn’t do much to instill faith in that happening, the rest of the Rams’ draft may have helped. Four of the Rams’ selections were offensive linemen, suggesting a greater emphasis on running the ball could be in store. Fisher is also more than capable at getting more than one running back considerable touches, as evidenced by the 2008 Titans when both Chris Johnson and LenDale White had 200 or more rushes.
I think the icing on “The Rams will run the ball a ton” cake is the lack of intimidation that the Rams’ receiving corps instills in defenses. While Brian Quick, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks are a young, up-and-coming group, they aren’t yet anything to be afraid of. The lack of faith the fantasy community as a whole has in Nick Foles is a little unfounded, but his group of pass catchers is going to make check downs and screen passes a big part of the 2015 Rams.
So, we have solid evidence that there will be an emphasis put on the run game, but how much confidence should we have in Mason specifically?
Mason is a talented runner; I have no doubt in that. I’ll be surprised if the Rams as a team end up with less than 480 total rushes for the year, which would have ranked them behind only five teams in 2014. If the Rams hit that mark, it will average out to 30 total carries per game. When Gurley is healthy, he will command 15-20 of those carries to go along with 5+ receptions. That leaves 10-15 carries and a few receptions for other backs, receivers and the quarterback. I don’t think it’s crazy to think that Mason gets 10-12 touches per game and 15-20 before Gurley makes it into the lineup. This could become a similar situation to what Cincinnati has with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernardas far as touch count goes. Mason won’t have the added pass catching benefit Bernard enjoys, but getting to 160-200 total touches this year is within his grasp.
The decrease in potential touches should also lengthen Mason’s career possibilities, giving him a better chance at a starting opportunity with another team once his rookie contract expires – this is assuming that he isn’t extended by the Rams, Gurley doesn’t bust and Mason actually plays well. This is also far in the future and not exactly the best way to plan for a running back’s longevity, but it is something that should have at least a minimal impact on his ranking. While Mason won’t be anywhere near a top ten back when my rankings are revised, he’s a safe bet to remain in my top 25. It’s probably near impossible to sell him for a good price right now, but he could be bought at a discount in some leagues.
I’m not going to completely bail on Mason. He’s a player who I loved coming out of Auburn and had a promising rookie season. The Gurley selection is a hiccup, but it isn’t completely catastrophic from a dynasty perspective. His weekly output could prove to be a little frustrating this year, but his career trajectory is still on an upward slope. All hope is not lost.
But thanks, Les Snead.