Why Jordan Mason Is The Most Underrated Running Back In The ACC


When you think about who the best running backs in the Athletic Coast Conference are, there are a few names that jump out.

Usually the first two that come to mind are Boston College's AJ Dillon and Clemson's Travis Etienne, and for good reason. Nationally, both of them rank in the top 5 in total rushing yards, and the top 7 in rushing yards per game. Florida State's Cam Akers and even Louisville's Javian Hawkins are also among the conversation, as they are they only other ACC running backs averaging at least 100 yards per game.

But another name that deserves to be in the conversation is Georgia Tech's own Jordan Mason.

Most people will be quick to point out that Mason's numbers don't stack up to the other top backs in the ACC, which is a fair argument. He is 6th in the ACC in rushing yards per game at 79.6, and 7th in the league in total rushing yards at 716. However, a closer look at the statistics of it all shows that Mason is far more valuable than what the stats line says.

In 9 games, Mason has been given the rock 129 times. Compare that to the rushing frequencies of AJ Dillon and Cam Akers. In 10 games both backs have totaled over 200 rushing attempts, with Dillion having over double the amount of Mason despite having played in just 1 additional game. While Dillon, Akers and Hawkins might have more rushing yards, Mason beats them all in yards per carry with 5.6.

Now comes Etienne. There's no taking away what he's done, as he is number 1 in the nation in yards per carry. He averages 8.86 per carry, over one full yard more than the next best (J.K. Dobbins - Ohio State: 7.23). However, with the help of Football Outsiders, we find out that many of the top backs in the ACC are getting a lot of help from their offensive line.

When grading and rating offensive lines as it pertains to running the ball, Football Outsiders breaks it down into 6 categories:

- Line Yards per Carry: Basically, a stat that takes running back carries and assigns the responsibility to the offensive line depending on the result of the carry. The line gets credit for rushing yardage between 0-3 yards and 50% credit for yards 4-8. Anything over 8 yards is quantified as a highlight opportunity, and credit goes to the runner. Lost yardage still counts for 125%. (Garbage time is filtered out for all line yardage averages.)

- Standard Downs Line Yards per Carry: The raw, unadjusted per-carry line yardage for a team on standard downs (first down, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, fourth-and-4 or fewer).

- Passing Downs Line Yards per Carry: The same unadjusted averages for rushing on passing downs.

- Opportunity Rate: The percentage of carries (when four yards are available) that gain at least four yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job, so to speak.

- Power Success: Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown.

- Stuff Rate: Percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage.

Below are the values and the respective FBS ranks for all 14 ACC schools in each of the 6 offensive line rushing categories:

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Break it down even further by averaging the ranks among the six categories, and you get the following result:

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No wonder Etienne and Dillon have done so well. In terms of running the ball, both Clemson and Boston College have top 20 offensive lines. Clemson alone is in the top 4 in 5 of the 6 categories. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech's offensive line ranks 11th in the ACC in terms of rushing efficiency.

Fortunately, Mason's overall job as a running back hasn't gone completely unnoticed. Heading into Week 9 of the college football season, Pro Football Focus named him the most efficient RB in all of FBS.

So while Jordan Mason might not have the gaudy numbers that Etienne, Dillon, Akers and Hawkins have, it makes what he has done so far this season that much more impressive.

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