Tre Mason had a productive sophomore year. He was part of a group of talented running backs at Auburn that were able to produce. As a junior, Mason found his rhythm and got better and better as the year went on, ultimately becoming a huge driving force that led the Tigers to the National Championship and earning a trip to New York as a runner up for the Heisman Trophy.
Mason is an exceptional pure runner and his natural ability combined with impressive physical ability plays out to where he has the ability to be a dominant back. He still has to improve as a blocker and prove he can be a receiving threat, but is as talented a pure runner as there is in this year’s draft. Mason is a safe bet in the top 100 but his ability as a back, both in terms of his power and his speed make it so it could be difficult to see him escape the top 75 picks.
Vitals & Build
Mason is listed at 5’10” 205lbs and that listed height looks kind, but it is not really important. Even if he turned out to be 5’8”, it does not change the fact that he is a pretty strong built guy who gets every ounce out of his body in terms of functional strength as a runner. Mason has tremendous feet and balance as well as his body control in general. He accelerates really well, is has impressive lateral agility and plenty of top end speed. Mason still has the capacity to keep adding strength to his frame as he goes forward into the NFL.
Mason is an incredibly natural and gifted runner. While the system at Auburn tends to offer designed running lanes, it does not always work that way and Mason has demonstrated great instincts as well as his vision. He seems to anticipate where defenders are going to attack him and adjust well. As a result, Mason seems to get the most out of just about every run.
Mason has a ton of tools available at his disposal, but at the core, he seems to be a meat and potatoes power runner. He does a fantastic job of getting behind his pads and can get his body at a great angle, so he hits opponents and the hole like a hammer. Combining that with a natural leg drive, Mason can move the pile, fight through tackle attempts and maximize his carries. On short yardage or goal line situations, Mason rarely wastes time and finds the hole as quickly as possible. In that respect, he is an extremely disciplined runner. He will use agility to set up where he wants to attack but then becomes a straight line runner.
For the most part, Mason seems to save his agility for the second level of defenses. Once he gets there, he seems to show all of the tools he has available at his disposal. Mason likes to use jump cuts and subtle moves that allow him to plant and accelerate. He can keep opponents guessing by mixing it up with his quickness and power.
Mason does a great job running in between the tackles and while he can definitely attack the outside and be successful, it can be hit or miss, sometimes awkward. Some of this may be due to the design of the running game at Auburn, but there are times when he seems to take carries out wider than maybe he should on certain situations. In other words, there is a hole underneath and he seems to run past it to get to where receivers are setting up blocks, even if it is not the more profitable run.
There are also sometimes when his angle at how he runs outside can appear off. He will end up coming up with his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage and has to make an adjustment to square up and get behind his pads. To his credit, he can make a jump cut or slip underneath and burst through, but his bread and butter is having his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, so getting to that as soon as possible is a smart approach.
In addition to everything else Mason does, he is also great with his balance and his natural lean allows him to keep runs going. His momentum and lean combined with a willingness to use his off arm to prop him up and maintain runs has a lot of his runs go further than they otherwise might. Mason has also showed he is great at slipping through small creases in the line and does not need a gaping hole to make a play.
When he can get to the open field, he is definitely a threat go all the way and there is an element of fear to the way he runs. Mason is an extremely powerful runner, but he is a threat to break off a huge play at any time.
Occasionally, Mason can be indecisive in the backfield and dance a little bit but these instances are few and far between and his quickness and feet tend to make up for them. And because of the way he does fight for extra yardage, he has to work to make sure he is even better with his grip on the football. With how he can get held up and keep going, it gives opponents opportunities to chop at the football and his arm in attempts to cause a fumble.
Route Running & Technique
Mason’s route running is almost nonexistent due to how Auburn runs their offense. Most of their plays that send backs out on routes are as a result of play action or a delay. Rather than running defined routes, he is basically just selling the play and going to a spot. That is not a bad thing and could prove extremely beneficial, especially with teams that like to use the screen game, but he is not asked to do much when it comes to selling routes and getting open from a technical standpoint.
Mason’s hands are basically untested. He has just 19 catches in his career and most of those were on dump off type screens. This is an area where teams are going to have to evaluate in workouts and find out how effective he is in that respect.
Mason is a willing blocker in terms of effort, but his results are mediocre. There are a lot of technical issues he needs to improve. The first is his base and getting a bend at the knee. Mason stands tall and tends to just lets opponents ram into him, really knocking him backward off of his spot. He is not afraid to slide out and get in the way, but needs to play with a lower and wider base to more effectively play with strength. There is a lot of technical work to be done before he can be counted on to protect in pass protection.
Mason is actually more effective when he can get out on the move whether he is catching a pass rusher or lead blocking for another ball carrier, usually quarterback Nick Marshall. He does a better job getting behind his pads and taking advantage of his strength as he naturally does as a runner, so when he makes contact, he can make a nice impact. In that respect, he just needs to do better with hitting targets on the move and getting wider with his base and hand use.
Mason can play in any system, but he might be better in a power system. While Mason has shown he can find the hole and make great choices, he played in a system that was designed to hit at certain spots and he did a great job hitting them with tremendous speed. For teams who want to line up and just run the ball down a team’s throat, Mason could be a tremendous fit. Ultimately, he can play in any system looking for could be a special runner.
Mason needs to show he can block before teams will trust him full time, so he may not technically be the starter as a rookie. His being in the game initially may signal run or play action, but he is a back that appears able to succeed against teams that know what is coming.
In many respects, Mason’s game is similar to that of Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks. Mason is not as big as Lynch but might be a little more explosive, but their style of running and their natural ability to make the most of plays is virtually identical. They seem to have the same mindset with running the ball in that both really play the role of a between the tackles power back well and then break out an incredibly athletic run with speed to finish. Both have shown the ability to take over games and wear opponents down before breaking their will with a big run.
Tre Mason is just a great runner. He needs to work on and prove he can be effective at being a receiver and a blocker, but Mason is as talented a pure runner as this draft has to offer. He is a disciplined runner at the first level and then becomes a wildcard when he can get an opening, making him incredibly dangerous while being a consistent threat. There may be some teams that are not as high on him because they have questions with the other aspects of his games, but for teams looking for a pure runner who has the ability to be a hot hand and potentially take over games, Mason can be that back. Mason projects as a top 100 pick but it he could easily end up in the top two rounds because of his tantalizing ability as a runner.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com