Column: It’s time for the 49ers to unleash rookie RB Jordan Mason
Dec 2, 2022, 7:00 AM
(Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Standing at 6’1″, 223 pounds, it’s hard to miss San Francisco 49ers rookie running back Jordan Mason. Yet he got lost in the shuffle this past spring.
Mason, 23, went undrafted in the 2022 NFL draft, partially thanks to his sub-optimal 4.58 40-yard-dash at the NFL combine in March. Other reasons for the slide include splitting a backfield with current Alabama tailback Jahmyr Gibbs, when they both attended Georgia Tech the past two years.
Jordan Mason finished his last two collegiate seasons with less rushing yards than he had as an underclassmen, going from 899 yards his sophomore year, to only 439 yards as a senior.
Add all those factors up, you get an undrafted tailback.
As harsh as that may sound, it’s the truth. Starting-caliber running backs are a dime a dozen in this day and age, another reason the 49ers were able to snatch him up immediately after the draft.
Now more than six months removed, San Francisco may have found another diamond in the rough.
Joining the Bay Area team’s training camp, Jordan Mason (known as “JP” to his teammates) quickly flashed the potential, breaking out for 87 yards on 15 carries in two preseason games for the 49ers. The stats and work ethic during camp were enough to convince San Francisco to part ways with 2021 third-round pick Trey Sermon, opening up a roster spot for Mason.
PSA: The 49ers call Jordan Mason by the nickname of “JP” because of his middle name, Ponchez.
Jordan Ponchez Mason
— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) November 30, 2022
Through the first three months of the season, the rookie has seen the field, but mainly as a special-teams player. Even though he had a roster spot, playtime was always going to be few and far between with the stable of talented ballcarriers the Red & Gold seem to always possess. He stayed patient though, finally rewarded in Week 12 when both Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell were struggling with injuries during the game.
JP came in for the fourth quarter and delivered, finishing with five carries for 25 yards, including a nine-yard run that was crucial in moving the chains for the 49ers. A north-and-south bruising back by trade, the sideline erupted in cheers when Mason pulled off big runs. His play once again reminded them of the preseason, and why they saved him a roster spot back in August.
The boys were buzzin for 49ers rookie RB Jordan Mason 🐝 pic.twitter.com/uV7DUM2dJh
— Brad (@Graham_SFN) November 30, 2022
“I think they were impressed with how he looked running the ball,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said about Jordan Mason Wednesday. “I think it reminded them of how he went in the preseason for a couple games and you could feel him from the sidelines.”
While Shanahan loved getting his rookie some touches in a meaningful game, he would have preferred to do it under better circumstances. Late in the fourth quarter when the team is looking to run the clock is not exactly the best time to feed the rookie, especially if he’s been sitting for most of the day.
Alas, things don’t always go to plan. And luckily, JP was ready for the spotlight.
“Those guys have been waiting for their opportunities. And we had two guys go down and he [Mason] was ready for it, putting him there at the end of the game when the game was still tight. There’s six minutes and it was a 13-point game, a guy who hasn’t been in that much, I’d like to not put that pressure on him,” Shanahan elaborated.
The main concern is ball security in this situation. A costly turnover could have led to the defense’s shutout streak being broken, or worse, the Saints could have gotten back in the game. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and Mason held onto the ball with firm hands.
“I’d like to keep our vets out there holding onto the ball, but our guys were a little banged up and so we put Mason in and I’m real glad we did,” Shanahan added.
“He held onto that ball great. There was no way he was fumbling it, but not only did do he do that, but he moved the chains when it wasn’t always blocked to move the chains and I think that’s what the players noticed on the sidelines and I think the defense was really happy they didn’t have to go back out there again.”
9 yard run for Jordan Mason on GF Counter
8 of the 9 yards came after contact and it took three Saints defenders to finally bring Mason to the ground
Over the summer I spoke with Mason’s head coach at Georgia Tech, who told me the player he’d compare Mason to is Marshawn Lynch pic.twitter.com/SqLQmPo9ug
— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) December 2, 2022
Averaging a team best 4.6 yards per carry (limited sample size), Mason can provide an element the 49ers haven’t had since Frank Gore was at his prime. A no-nonsense bulldozer that can get the short yardage while also tiring the opposing defenses for a few series. Think LeGarrette Blount when discussing Mason, it would suck to have to tackle this guy for four quarters.
“The one about thing about Mace is, man, he’s busted his butt all year long, done a great job, been prepared for an opportunity. When he gets the opportunities, he’s making the most of it, so I’m really excited for him and he did a nice job in that moment,” run game coordinator Chris Forester stated Thursday. “It was nice to be able to get [RB] Christian [McCaffrey] out, have a guy in there that was able to handle it and do the running and pound it out in those last six minutes.”
Fast forward a few days and McCaffrey is back in the fold, while Elijah Mitchell is heading to the IR with another MCL sprain.
So 49ers I implore you, better yet, I beg you to put the rookie in for a few series Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. No better time than the present and it’s clear that the rest of the locker room is behind him as well.
“His heart, his passion, his toughness was all on display on that final drive. And if that’s the opportunity that he gets this week, we have a ton of confidence in him,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey confirmed earlier in the week.
The floor is yours Kyle Shanahan, let JP dance.