Dynasty Watch: Jaguars’ Storm Johnson Rising, Rams’ Tre Mason Tumbling

Two rookie RBs are trending in opposite directions.  So why should you be chasing Storm Johnson of the Jaguars, but selling the Rams’ Tre Mason?

 

RISING: RB Storm Johnson, Jacksonville

Most importantly, I like the guy.  My take on Johnson during the draft process, where I ranked him fifth among RB prospects and gave him a third-round grade:

Not especially fast or agile, but runs smart with great bounce strength to elude. Cuts strong into the hole and runs downhill a la Alfred Morris. Reliable as a short receiver; turns upfield quickly and explodes.

Johnson is no world-beater in terms of athleticism, and his build (5’11.5, 209) doesn’t fit the barrel-chested mold of an inside runner.  But Johnson has something going for him: a phenomenal bounce cut.  You can see on tape how quickly and efficiently he launches into it:

This bounce cut is, of course, invaluable to a zone blocking system like Alex Gibbs and Kyle Shanahan have run in recent years to great success.  A back capable of quickly reading, planting, and adjusting to an unfolding blocking scheme can drastically outplay his athleticism.  To this end, Johnson reminds me of a quicker version of fellow ex-Golden Knight Alfred Morris.  Morris is bigger and more capable between the tackles, but where Morris struggles is where Johnson excels: the passing game.  Johnson is a willing and capable producer out of the backfield; he’s not Marshall Faulk, but he’s a reliable checkdown target who turns and really launches upfield with the ball.

How does Johnson’s opportunity look?  Really, really good, actually.  For a seventh-round pick, the Jaguars seem to have talked him up and managed him carefully.  And their backfield is a mess.  Toby Gerhart is 27 and thoroughly untalented; his release can save the team $2.5M next offseason and looks likely.  None of the Jags’ other prominent options look like full-time backs – Jordan Todman is a third-down guy only, while Denard Robinson is an underwhelming talent – so the door may be open for Johnson in 2015.  This is likely the last week his shares will be next-to-free, so try to pry him from his owner (if he has one) for some lost cause with a big name (cough Martavis Bryant cough).

 

FALLING: RB Tre Mason, St. Louis

This was my take on Mason during draft season, where I ranked him seventh as a third-round prospect:

Excelled in a gimmicky run game and needs a hole. Patient and purposeful; bounces smoothly and gets downhill with adequate speed. Virtually no passing game experience. May need wrist surgery.

Thus far, Mason has the look of a package back without a package.  I know that sounds incredibly pessimistic, but I stand by it: I didn’t buy a single Mason share this offseason and won’t soon.  He’s been inactive all season and isn’t higher than fifth on the Rams’ depth chart.

For a rookie back to see significant time, he typically needs to master the peripherals of the position, like passing game awareness in both the blocking and receiving arenas.  Mason was a pass-protection mess in the preseason, which is to be expected from a back who played in such an unconventional college offense.  He was rarely used as a receiver in school, so I can’t project much PPR usefulness even if he does grab a share of the running game.

And that rawness may also hamper his running skills.  Auburn’s scheme was a zone read system built on the principle of spreading the defense wide and attacking weak points.  I really didn’t care for Mason’s tape without a massive hole blown open, which of course won’t be the norm on the NFL level.  In terms of owning the edge or shifting into power mode – ya know, eluding tacklers on his own – I just don’t see a lot on tape.

Zac Stacy is a better talent then you’ve been told.  But even if Jeff Fisher and the Rams disagree, Mason currently remains at the bottom of the pecking order, so it’s unlikely we’ll see him active anytime soon, let alone part of the rotation.  I’m expecting fewer than 40 carries this season and a knockdown dragout fight for a complementary role in the offseason.  Mason just doesn’t have the look of even a half-time back, so he’s the type of risky I typically just let walk on by.

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