Los Angeles Rams’ Tre Mason needs to step up in 2016

Jan 3, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Tre Mason (27) runs the ball against the San Francisco 49ers in the third quarter at Levi
Jan 3, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Tre Mason (27) runs the ball against the San Francisco 49ers in the third quarter at Levi /

The career so far of Los Angeles Rams’ running back Tre Mason has been a Tale of Two Seasons. In 2014 as a rookie Mason led the Rams rushing attack, finishing the campaign with 765 yards and 4 touchdowns at an average of 4.3 yards per carry. The following season, Mason’s production fell off sharply, dropping to just 207 yards and a single touchdown.

Of course, the arrival of Todd Gurley was always going to have a detrimental effect on the numbers of the other backs on the Rams roster. Mason had 179 carries in his first year, dropping to just 75 in 2015. Similarly, Gurley’s arrival also resulted in a reduced workload for Benny Cunningham, who dropped from 66 to 37 rushes over the two seasons – although clearly Cunningham’s overall value to the roster was boosted by his special teams contributions.

With the distinct possibility of a newly drafted quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams in 2016 (if the mock drafts are to be believed), and Gurley firmly cemented as the number one back on the roster, is there any hope for Mason to recover from a disappointing 2015? Let’s not rule it out.

Firstly, we have to consider that the Los Angeles Rams under Jeff Fisher are unashamedly a run-first team. In 2015 the Rams ran pass plays on just over 53% of their offensive snaps – the fifth lowest in the league. Even if the Rams do pick up one of the top rated quarterbacks with their fifteenth overall selection in the draft, it is hard to envisage the entire offensive focus shifting to the passing game in the few months between now and the start of the new season.

Secondly, there is the issue around the lack of strength with the Rams wide receiver group which also lends weight to the argument that the running backs will be taking the bulk of the work on offence. I feel like I put this one into virtually every post I put together for this site, but the Rams are still waiting for that 1000-yard receiver that has been lacking since Torry Holt in 2007. Admittedly there was a marked increase in production from Tavon Austin in 2015, a trend Rams fan will hope to continue next season. However, with Kenny Britt inconsistent, Brian Quick potentially leaving once free agency is upon us and tight end Jared Cook no longer with the team, it is hard to see where the receiving yards will come from.

Also of note is that, as dangerous and valuable as Todd Gurley is, Jeff Fisher will want to spread the workload in the running game – meaning Mason as the number two will need to step up. While there have fortunately been no signs of any issues from Gurley’s knee injury suffered in his final year with Georgia, a recurrence of this kind of injury can never be ruled out. Just ask Sam Bradford. Jeff Fisher knows just how precious an asset he has in Gurley, and he will not want to burn out the star by overloading him. This should mean that Mason will still see plenty of snaps in 2016.

In conclusion, while Mason had a poor year in 2015, there is no reason to suggest he will not at least have the opportunity to put up some better numbers in the next campaign. As understudy to Gurley, Tre Mason will not be expected to rack up 1000 yards next year which should take a little of the pressure off. That said, he is still the number two back on the roster in a team based on the running game. With a weak receiver group, a very young offensive line and potentially a rookie quarterback around him Mason is, in his third year, already one of the more established members of the team. He needs to live up to this and take his chances when given them.