Sitting at 1-4 and facing the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, it certainly looked like the St. Louis Rams’ season was headed for even lower depths. This is especially the case when you consider that Seattle was out for blood after losing a home game to the Dallas Cowboys. But an unexpected thing happened during the Seahawks game: St. Louis handed the ball to rookie Tre Mason, which produced some excellent results.
The third-round pick out of Auburn rushed 18 times for 85 yards and scored a touchdown. And while this performance may not leave Arian Foster in awe, it definitely gives the Rams hope that they’ve got a new star running back.
After a college season in which he was a Heisman Trophy finalist, the knock on Mason was that he’s not big enough to be an every-down back (5’8″, 208 pounds), and he isn’t good in pass protection. It is the latter that kept Mason off the field until Week 6, when he got his first game action and rushed 5 times for 40 yards against San Francisco. Jeff Fisher explained this when he said, “It’s protection and the actual technique. He’s improved significantly at that – that’s why he played.”
It was about this time last year that Zac Stacy broke out in his rookie season and grabbed hold of the starting job in St. Louis. He rushed for almost 1,000 yards last season, but has found himself losing significant playing time as of late. Considering Mason’s performance against Seattle, Stacy could be phased out of the team’s plans entirely.
It’s difficult to say until the Rams play more games. And they have a brutal five-game stretch coming, where they travel to Kansas City, San Francisco and Arizona, play Denver at home, then head out to San Diego. Assuming Mason is left standing at starting at the end of this stretch, he could very well be the running back of the future for this team.
As Fisher explained, pass protection shouldn’t be the issue holding him back any more. And he’s a superior talent to both Cunningham and Stacy, boasting a 4.44 forty time along with better performances in other athletic measurables. Plus Mason is averaging 5.4 YPC right now in his limited sample size. If he can keep anywhere close to this number, it would be a massive improvement over Stacy (3.9 YPC) and slightly better than Cunningham (4.8 YPC).
Even if Mason doesn’t carry the Rams to the playoffs this season, which would be an incredibly tall order, he at least gives the team something to look forward to in the future.