Tre Mason had the type of college career at Auburn most high school running backs only dream about. Despite having the opportunity to return and make another run at a national championship, the junior tailback will enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
Mason is projected to be drafted in the second round. Most draft analysts believe his size will be an issue for scouts and general managers. However, short running backs have had success in recent seasons. But at 5 foot 9, 205 pounds, does the new record holder for most yards rushing in a single season in school history have what it takes to play professional ball?
If his pro career is anything like these next two small running backs, I don't see why he wouldn't be able to flourish as the league's next big (short) star.
The Ravens' Ray Rice was selected in the second round of the 2008 draft and he's been a catalyst for the team since. The 5-foot-8, 212-pound running back out of Rutgers has been a 1,000-yard rusher in four of his six seasons in Baltimore. Rice utilizes his small, stout frame well by staying low to the ground and constantly moving his legs.
Rice is also a reliable check-down receiver for quarterback Joe Flacco; he has 369 receptions in his career for 3,034 yards.
While Mason wasn't given many targets in college, he made the most of each catch, averaging 13.6 yards for each of his 12 receptions in 2013. One was a touchdown in the BCS National Championship Game.
The Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew was also selected in the second round. Jacksonville picked the 5-foot-7 running back out of UCLA in 2006 and he's been a workhorse in an inconsistent offense that put most of the burden on him in the form of runs or pass blocking.
Jones-Drew had 824 or more yards rushing in seven of his eight seasons. Jones-Drew put the Jaguars on his shoulders through 2009-11, averaging 318 carries a season.
A heavy workload is something Mason is very familiar with. The junior carried the ball 317 times for 1,816 yards. Mason's total number of carries was 102 more than the second place running back in the Southeastern Conference (Rajion Neal's 215). His rushing yards total was 415 more than the next candidate in the SEC (Jeremy Hill's 1,401).
Success as an undersized running back isn't something new; small runners have been catalysts in offenses for decades. However, Mason possesses a key trait other players may not have: a dedicated work ethic.
Mason's transition to the next level will be a learning process, but never count him out because of his size. Mark Twain said it best: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."
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