On April 27th 2013, on Day 3 of the NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams traded two 6th round picks to move up into the 5th round to select Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy. Stacy had just come off back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons in a very tough SEC. ESPN’s Todd McShay said he had "the best vision and patience of any running back" in the conference. A wise decision for a team in need of a running back, it seemed.
The Rams’ all-time leading rusher Steven Jackson had recently signed with the Atlanta Falcons, so the move to draft Stacy made sense.
Stacy didn’t catch on in the Rams’ offense until Week 5 of his rookie year, but he went on to have a relatively impressive rookie campaign, rushing for nearly 1,000 yards in 12 games. He probably wasn’t the running back the team envisioned taking the baton from the Eric Dickerson--Marshall Faulk--SJAX line of legendary backs, but he proved to be more than serviceable in his role.
On May 9, 2014, on Day 2 of the NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams selected Auburn running back Tre Mason in the third round, with the 75th overall pick. For many, given the Rams’ needs at other positions and the relatively sound play from the aforementioned Stacy, this pick left many folks scratching their heads.
In the 2014 season though, Stacy’s utilization in the offense became scarce, while Mason received the lion’s share of the carries. Stacy would finish the season with only 76 carries and 293 yards. Mason toted the ball 179 times for 765 yards.
Ok, so now the Rams have their starting running back for the foreseeable future. Right?
On April 30th 2015, the St. Louis Rams shocked everyone - yes, you included - when they drafted Georgia running back Todd Gurley with the 10th overall pick in the draft. Draft day, if your team does it right, is exhilarating, so that often leaves little time for head scratching...especially when the player is drawing comparisons to Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. But when the dust settled, questions began to arise.
What would come of Mason’s role in the offense? Are the Rams truly going to take a running-back-by-committee approach? Was this the end of Zac Stacy in a Rams’ uniform?
And fans weren’t the only ones with questions.
Doubting me..? ☕️— Tre Mason (@TreMason) May 1, 2015
Mason, shortly after the conclusion of the draft, went on to say "I was in shock." Like a true professional though, he also said that Gurley’s selection would push him to work harder in the offseason. He wasn’t simply going to step aside and hand over the starting job. It’s what you’d want him to say, and he didn’t disappoint.
Stacy knew the deal. Yikes.
Fast forward to Week 4 of the 2015 NFL season. At this point, heading into the game against Arizona, Mason had started in two games, but had only tallied 16 carries for a paltry 42 yards. To be fair, he’d missed the first game of the season due to a hamstring injury, but both he and Jeff Fisher stated he was ready to go for the weeks ahead of him.
In Week 4 [at Cardinals], in Todd Gurley’s first full start of his career, Mason saw the field - on offense - twice. Two snaps. He had two carries and totaled -1 yards. Gurley, on the other hand, was on the field for 68% of the offensive snaps, and was handed the ball 19 times. At this point you’re well aware that the league’s Week 4 Rookie of the Week did not disappoint.
After the game, Jeff Fisher shed a little light on Todd’s utilization and Tre’s.....lack thereof:
I’d like to get (RB) Tre (Mason) more playing time, but that’s an offensive issue. That’s a production issue - a team issue. When you’re not converting third downs or you’re having difficulty on first down and our opponents are getting a lot more snaps than we are, it’s hard to get the reps. We need more offensive reps. Fortunately, we got it in the second half and it showed what we can do. I’d like to get Tre more snaps and we’ll continue with Todd. It’s the way we’ve been doing it.
Fisher’s points are fair, I suppose. The Rams have definitely struggled on third down, and the opponent did have more snaps [53 vs. 74].
But "I’d like to get Tre more snaps and we’ll continue with Todd" is slightly perplexing. You’re the head coach. If you want to get Mason more involved...do it.
Maybe more snaps in Week 5 in Lambeau would provide Mason a few more opportunities to get the rock. And a few is pretty precise. The Rams had 71 snaps [to Green Bay’s 62], but it didn’t lead to much more playing time for Mason, who saw only five offensive snaps last Sunday and was handed the ball only twice. Meanwhile, Todd Gurley rans the ball 30 [!] times and Benny Cunningham, who’s behind Mason on the depth chart, had 20 snaps with the offense.
After the game, Fisher aimed to clarify the situation:
We wanted to get Tre in more, it just didn’t happen. He will play more. I think 30 carries a game down the stretch is probably a little much for (Gurley).
Ah, there it is. "It just didn’t happen." Now I get it.
I made a snarky retweet move on Twitter yesterday after ESPN’s Nick Wagoner posted that Fisher recognized he couldn’t run Todd Gurley into the ground, and it appears we’re on the same page as it pertains to understanding why Mason is a essentially a non-factor in the offense...
@NoPlanB_ I mentioned Mason and he said Mason needs to get more work. Then, of course, he said that last week too.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) October 12, 2015
So, at this point, all we really know is that Jeff Fisher really wants to get Tre Mason on the field, but just isn’t able to. He’s not battling injuries. He’s not new to the offense. It just isn’t happening.
I was scratching my head on May 9th last year when the Rams drafted Tre Mason. And here I am on October 13th, one year later, and I’ve still got more questions than answers.