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Free the Mason

Mason

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.

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Zach Bahner

Zach has been playing fantasy football since the beginning of high school and started playing dynasty in 2010. He is a musician that spends his free time writing and performing music, binge watching television shows on Netflix, experiencing all things Star Wars, working on spreadsheets, doing math for fun, reading, cooking and learning as much as he can about the world we live in. He specializes in contract and salary leagues but also participates in daily fantasy sports.
Zach Bahner

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Stephen Paratore

    May 5, 2015 at 9:59 am

    What happens to Cunningham as well? Before the draft he was most likely going to be their 3rd down back or change of pace guy.

  2. jjdubya

    May 5, 2015 at 10:03 am

    Mason has some talent, sure, but his value has been gutted in my opinion. I didn’t think his year last year was that impressive – he got a lot of volume in some games and did very little with it, and he didn’t do much more than his big game against the Raiders.

    To me he’s got some value for the top half of the season, but once Gurley is integrated it’ll be hard to sub him out for anything other than a breather, and I think Cunningham is a more dynamic third down back.

    I’m staying away, unless I can get him on the cheap in a rebuild.

    • SJ

      May 5, 2015 at 10:38 am

      Mason owners will always have that OAK game 🙂

      But, I agree, I had him on a couple teams and outside of that one game he was rather mediocre. Its hard in PPR to count on a RB that doenst put up RECs to help out his stock when the TDs arent there. Tends to be a boom or bust fantasy player. I think he would have trended that way this year even if Gurley wasnt there. Mason could just be a backup talent in the NFL. I know thats harsh, but possibly true

  3. SJ

    May 5, 2015 at 10:35 am

    You forgot to mention that they still have Cunningham and he was going to be the Rams 2015 Third Down back and again lead that backfield in receiving (was 3rd on the team in catches). Mason was going to continue to be the Two-down thumper he was at the end of the season. He earned that role, and wasnt ever going to be counted on as the receiver out of the backfield.

    Its more confirmation that Mason will take a strict backup and change of pace role (COP) to Gurley, once Gurley’s healthy. And looking towards the end of this year and into next year, its possible Gurley takes over the full workload of the backfield, even playing more on Third Downs and taking snaps from Cunningham.

    Gurley is a stud and will be the Rams RB of the future. Outside of the first half of the 2015 season, where Mason will be starting for the time being, Mason’s value is nearly complete gone and relegated to backup status. Thats well outside of the Top 25 RBs.

    • SJ

      May 5, 2015 at 10:43 am

      I dont want to seem too harsh – this was a good dynasty story, and I hope to see more of these personal tales on DLF, but all things considered, I think you may be a bit overwrought and still putting too much faith in a bad situation (Mason), that will never live up to hoped expectations

  4. Ethan

    May 5, 2015 at 10:41 am

    I was in a similar boat last season, as I traded away Jeremy Hill during the year for Mason and some incentives. Keep in mind, this was when Hill was cemented behind Gio, so it looked like I got at least an equal deal, if not a better deal.

    *sigh*

    Thankfully, I have the #1 pick, so I’m taking Gurley. Don’t really have much of a choice.

  5. Sugbear65

    May 5, 2015 at 11:35 am

    I mean no offense, I liked the story. But I think your projection of 10-15 touches for Mason per game when Gurly is playing is, well I’ll say wildly optimistic. Why draft a RB in the top 10 if not to be your bell cow? I would think if the carries are there, he’s gonna have a lot more 20+ carry games than less than 20 ones. Add in that Cunningham will probably see any extra passing down work, and Im not sure Mason sees more than 5 or 6 a game

  6. jjdubya

    May 6, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Agree with Sugarbear here. I’d be surprised if Mason gets a full series per game when Gurley is healthy. He’ll come in to give Gurley some rest occasionally, but I’d put his over/under on carries much closer to 100 than 200.

  7. Matt Clark

    May 6, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    This is definitely the optimistic projection of a Mason fan.

    6 teams (<20%) had 30+ running plays per game last year and STL was not one, they average <25 which was 24 out of 32 teams (with their 3rd string QB no less). They are also not a team that is likely to be salting away a lot of large leads in late games.

    Even if we assume 30 carries per game (which I wouldnt based on above), Gurley is likely to get much closer to 20-25 carries than 15 as he was drafted as a generational talent. He is also solid in pass protection, which is a key weakness still for Mason. So even with 30 carries, Mason would be in line for 5-10 at best and unlikely to get a lot of catch as he doesnt excel on passing downs. If he averages these touch once Gurley returns, to chance he is a top 25 RB for the remainder of the season.

    He may have value for as a short-term play for 1st half 2015 which Gurley is on PUP, but either sell then or hope for a trade. Unfortunately, since he is so cheap for STL, chances are they just hold him.

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