Mason is listed at 5-foot-10, but he likely is shorter. He became Auburn’s workhorse as a junior under new head coach Gus Malzahn in 2013, rushing for 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns on 317 carries en route to becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist. But it was his last three games in which he amassed 663 yards that brought about the NFL buzz.
“He plays bigger than his listed size and finishes every run,” said Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, a former Cleveland Browns general manager.
Mason knows that the critics have questions about his size and he addressed the issue when he initially declared for the draft.
“I guess they are just going to have to watch tape,” Mason told reporters recently. “I’m not afraid to put my nose in there and get dirty. I feel like I can run between the tackles and outside the tackles. I try to be very dynamic and run the ball in different ways.”
Some of the NFL scouts at this week’s Senior Bowl workouts were willing to discuss Mason, but didn’t want their names used because they are not authorized to speak for their organizations.
One scout mentioned running backs such as New Orleans’ Darren Sproles and San Diego’s Danny Woodhead as players Mason should model himself after.
Sproles, who is 5-6, and Woodhead, who is 5-8, both make a living as third-down running backs who can catch passes while occasionally running between the tackles.
“The way the running back position is going, most people are carving it up into different roles, and I absolutely believe (Mason) can find a role in the NFL,” Savage said.
Savage said Mason’s lack of size won’t be the biggest question NFL teams have when evaluating him for the draft.
“What he’s going to have to prove in the spring,” Savage said, “is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and his ability to pass protect because you didn’t get to see him do much of that in Auburn’s system.”
Mason had just 12 receptions for 163 yards and one touchdown reception this season.
No running back was taken in the first round of last year’s draft and Mason likely won’t be the one to change that. He received a third-round grade from the NFL draft advisory board. While Mason isn’t projected to be a first-round pick, some are still high on him. NFL.com’s Gil Brandt projects Mason to be the first running back taken in the draft. Brandt is a former vice president for player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys.
“In terms of skills, he doesn’t have to improve anything,” Brandt wrote in his evaluation of Mason. “He can catch the ball really well, he’s got good vision and he’s tough. I believe he will be a real threat as a runner in the NFL. And he can also do a lot of other things for you, including returning kicks.”
Mason returned 15 kickoffs for 395 yards, including a 100 yard touchdown return.