Since Kyle Shanahan’s arrival in 2017, the 49ers have repeatedly shown an ability to identify undrafted free agents who are capable of playing prominent roles in the team’s rushing attack. Jordan Mason out of Georgia Tech is next in line to be the next UDFA running back to burst on the scene in San Francisco.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins, who gave me some great insight into what kind of player Mason is and how he projects to fit in at the NFL level.
Our conversation started with me asking Coach Collins to give me some generalized background on his time coaching Mason and how he would evaluate him overall as a player from a big picture point of view:
“So over the last three years, Mason matured, grew, developed, probably more than anyone else in our organization.” Just how far he’s come from a leadership perspective, work ethic perspective, understanding special teams value, understanding the importance of working hard and giving relentless effort. He has just grown so much, and that’s why he is going to make a really good NFL player.”
I followed that up by asking Coach Collins what he believes is Mason’s most pro-ready trait. What is something about Mason’s game that stands out above all else and will immediately translate to the NFL level from Day 1?
“Toughness, understanding the big picture, and understanding how important special teams is. He is a big-time running back in our league, but he also understands the value of special teams and will take tremendous pride in it. He is a great pass protector, obviously, he’s really good with the ball in his hands, he fights for extra yards, he’s a tough runner, but he is also a great pass protector, and understands how important that is as well, which will make him very valuable at that level.”
Any player who ends up on the bubble of the 49ers’ final 53-man roster is going to have to have some kind of value special teams. Part of why I believe Mason has such a strong chance to make the final cuts can be traced back directly to what the bruising running back can contribute to the third phase of the game.
Coach Collins went a bit further in-depth about what Mason brings to the table as a special teamer and why his steadfast commitment to excelling in that area was as impressive as the actual results he produced on the field.
“The part that’s going to make him stand out is the special teams part. Even though we couldn’t afford to play him on a lot of special teams the last couple years, because he was such a value to us as a big-time running back, he was always the first in line at all of our special teams' circuits, was at every special team meeting dialed in, learning because he knows that once he gets to that next level he’s going to have to be a huge contributor on special teams.”
So even though he didn’t get to play very much for us, the understanding of how valuable that is at the next level, making the 53 man roster on game day, all of those things he’s going to take tremendous pride in it and try to do a great job in that aspect as well.”
The special teams’ contributions are key, but Mason’s ability to excel as a ball carrier within the offense is what will ultimately propel his trajectory to a prominent role within the 49ers’ ground attack.
Mason is an extremely physical runner who broke a tackle on an eye-popping 44% of his rushing attempts in 2021, which ranked him first in the nation last season. In addition to that, Mason averaged 4.4 yards after contact per rush, which was eighth-best in the nation in 2021.
To get a better sense of just how physical Mason is, I asked Coach Collins if there was another running back who he felt Mason’s game reminded him of. His answer was a player that 49ers fans are well beyond familiar with.
What’s my main man who played for the Seahawks? Beastmode. He is physical, he runs tough, has just a relentless demeanor about him, will fight for the tough yards, will do the dirty work, all of those things, he has all of those traits.
The physicality is evident with Mason, but what is still a bit of an unknown is how he will fare as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Mason was only targeted 14 times in 12 games during the 2021 season. I asked Coach Collins if the lack of usage in the passing game was simply a function of scheme or if there was maybe another reason Mason wasn’t really utilized as a weapon through the air.
Jamyr (Gibbs) was our primary pass-catcher out of the backfield. It’s not to say that JP (Mason) can’t do it. You know, even our first year JP was very valuable, slip screens, check-downs, and things like that. So I’d say it’s more of a nature of the offense than anything with JP.
There were a couple different numbers reported from Mason’s testing at his pro day, so I asked Coach Collins what range he felt Mason is running in and was also given some great insight into his performance at the Georgia Tech pro day.
I would probably guess that he runs anywhere between 4.48 to 4.52, in that area, which is pretty good for a big back.
Here’s my favorite thing about JP at pro day. All the guys have issued gear that they’re allowed to wear or whatever. JP came out in the basic gear, didn’t have a lot of flash about him, just came in there and went to work and on an absolute show.
Just with his demeanor, his focus, his attitude, I thought he impressed a lot of people because he was no-nonsense, all he was there was to show his ability and was just tough and focused, and I think that resonated with a lot of the NFL scouts that were in attendance, just how no-nonsense he was, how focused he was, and that’s what you’re going to get every day with JP. He’s all about business all day every day.
I followed that up by asking Coach Collins if the 49ers had any contact with him pre-draft about Mason, and his reply indicated that a personal relationship of his likely landed Mason on the 49ers’ radar for some time now.
Steve Rubio, one of the area scouts for the 49ers is one of my closest friends. He’s heard me for three years brag about JP on and on and on, about how tough he is, how physical he is, what a hard worker he is.
I always like to ask these college coaches if there is one thing about these players that maybe didn’t get enough credit for, or flew under the radar altogether. When I asked Coach Collins about something that maybe gets overlooked about Mason, he responded by circling back and really highlighting the intangibles Mason brings to the table.
Just the maturity and the growth that he’s gone through. He’s become a family man and he takes great pride in that, it’s bigger than himself which is a nice thing to discover early on. He’s got that, he’s got a solid base and it’s bigger than him, and that’s kind of the way he plays and goes about his life too.
Finally, to cap our conversation off, I asked Coach Collins if he felt like there was a specific running scheme that better suited Mason, whether it be a heavy gap scheme, or inside zone, etc.
I think he can do it all. The biggest piece, too, is not only can he run the ball, he’s really good as a pass protector too.
Four or five times during our conversation, Coach Collins went out of his way to mention that Mason was not only a good pass protector, but he was also well above average. That’s another extremely important skill when talking about guys on the back end of the 53-man roster.
So you have a big, physical back with a solid burst who also plays special teams at a high level and is exceptional in pass protection. Given the entirety of the skill set and the intangibles mentioned by Coach Collins, don’t be surprised when final cuts roll around and Mason is one of the 53 players on the 49ers roster heading into week one.