Spotlight: Derrick Mason

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 8th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Derrick Mason has been holding down the fort for a good, long time. Mason played for the Tennessee Titans for 8 years, and is a great reminder of how the NFL has changed in the course of the last 15 years. The idea that a receiver would be used almost exclusively as a special teamer for years and then emerging into a full-time WR1 is almost unheard of today. But that's exactly what happened to Mason. Drafted in the 4th round out of Michigan State, Mason was used almost exclusively as a returner in Tennessee for three seasons. Then in 2000, the coaches gave him a shot and he ended up starting 11 games, putting up a respectable 895 yards and 5 TDs. He would rattle off four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2001-2004; positioning himself for a big free agent payday.

The Ravens were looking for a true WR1 having come off a season when Kevin Johnson led the team with 35 receptions. Mason stepped into the Ravens lineup and didn't skip a beat. Over the last five seasons, Mason had been a pillar of consistency. Four 1,000-yard seasons and four top 25 fantasy seasons. Yet, in spite of his consistent productivity, fantasy owners are always waiting for the bottom to fall out. And with each passing year, Mason's age seems to push more people into the non-believer camp. Mason is now 36 years old, and he's being drafted 37th at his position and 102nd overall. Should his ADP be that low? There are really two issues at play: 1) Are his skills diminishing and 2) Will the addition of Anquan Boldin change his role?

Don't Sweat the Skills
Time doesn't heal all wounds on the football field. The cumulative pounding an NFL player endures catches up to them, and no matter how skilled, a drop off is eventually a foregone conclusion. But fantasy owners need to be careful not to become complacent and let preconceptions overcome their ability to mine the player pool for value. Mason is 36 years old, that's not disputable. But why is THIS the year he's going to fall off a cliff? Players rarely lose their abilities in one fell swoop. That's why we're always on the lookout for signs in the box score of declining skills. Is a receiver's catch rate declining? Is their yards-per-reception tailing off? Are they having trouble getting into the end zone? Are they on the field less?

Mason owners needn't worry, because his skills show no signs of decline. Consider:

  • 14.1 yards per reception - Best since 2001
  • 7 TD catches - Best since 2004
  • 145 fantasy points - Best since 2004
  • 17th ranked fantasy WR - Best since 2004

2009 was Mason's best overall season since he joined the Ravens a half decade prior. So don't worry about a skills decline. It may START to happen this year, but there's no reason to expect it.

Do Sweat the Role
While I don't worry about Mason's skill set, I do worry about his role. Mason was targeted 134 times last year - the 14th most in the league. That's going to be a problem this year with Anquan Boldin coming aboard. The Ravens were sick and tired of waiting for Mark Clayton to emerge as a viable WR2, so they acquired Boldin to be the new #1 and will make Mason the #2. That's great news for Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense on the whole, but I have trouble seeing how it's great news for Mason's fantasy prospects. Even if you argue that Boldin won't be as prolific with Baltimore as he was with Arizona (where he had Kurt Warner throwing him the ball and Larry Fitzgerald commanding opposing defenses' attention), he's still going to be the most targeted option. He's younger, he has better hands, he scores more, and he's a perfect fit for this offense. The Ravens threw the ball 510 times last year (25th in the NFL). They didn't acquire Boldin and new WR3 Donte Stallworth to continue to play such a conservative run/pass ratio. OC Cam Cameron expects Joe Flacco to throw more, and the uncertain state of the Ravens defense may demand it. But even if you think the team increases its passing attempts by 50 this year, that still makes it hard to think Mason will match the target tallies he's become used to as the long WR option.

Positives

  • Mason has been a pillar of consistency, with 8 1,000-yard seasons in the last nine years
  • He has excellent body control, and knows how to gain separation regardless of the situation
  • Joe Flacco is an emerging young QB and OC Cam Cameron plans on opening up the offense more this year

Negatives

  • Anquan Boldin assumes the WR1 role and will be the most targeted option
  • Mason doesn't traditionally score enough to vault into the Top 20 at his position, even if he does grab 80 receptions and 1,000+ yards
  • Mason's catch rate was just 55% last year, no longer what one considers elite

Final thoughts

I've made a habit of rostering Derrick Mason in recent years because fantasy owners discount him no matter what he's done the year before. And this year it seems even more people are discounting Mason completely. That would be a mistake. Let's be clear, the chances of his repeating last year's WR17 ranking are next to nil, unless Anquan Boldin misses a good chunk of the season. But at his current ADP (WR41), Mason still offers solid value as a good backup, particularly in PPR leagues. I would expect him to finish somewhere in the WR30 range give or take a few slots and that makes him someone to have as your WR4.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

Derrick Mason has been a great football player. He's done the little things over the years that makes the difference of just being good and great. He runs great routes, he knows how to get both feet in bounds when near the sideline and he can run the deep route or the short curl. Great player, the kind we usually see end up on New England at some point in their career.

In Baltimore, he's quitely gone over 1000 yards in each of his 3 seasons. His first year, he had 100 receptions so going over 1000 yards is basically a no brainer. However, even last year with just 73 receptions he went over 1000, showing us some of his big play ability.

However, in those seasons he's been the No. 1 guy. This year enters Anquan Bolden, a serious threat to that No.1 status. There will only be so many passing yards to go around and I'll be as shocked as anyone if Baltimore has 2 WR's go over 1000 yards this season, so something has to give.

I think Mason has a good year but finds himself as more of a role player this year.

Footballguys Writer Jeff Pasquino said:

The Ravens threw over 500 times last year, including 101 times towards Ray Rice. Mason is going to be up against the 2nd corner against defenses rather than their top option. Mason may not get 130 targets again, but I could see a 70 catch year on 115-120 targets and another push towards 1,000 yards.

MrTwo94 said:

Wide receivers have accounted for 135 and 149 receptions in Flacco's two years. I feel it is safe to expect that to increase some this year with a better pair of WR and more experience under his belt. There's no reason Boldin can't command 90 of them if he's relatively healthy, but that's far from a given. Even if he only gets 70, that's enough to ensure Mason becomes an afterthought. But at ADP110/WR39, he could easily live up to his draft value. But who is looking for a guy to live up to WR39? I'd much rather draft for upside. Antonio Bryant, Lee Evans, and Devin Hester stand out to me as the guys I'd rather have in that range (actually in the opposite of that order). Hester could easily be the Mike Furrey with speed in Martz's offense. Evans now has Chan Gailey as his coach who made Dwayne Bowe relevant, and Antonio Bryant finally has a real QB throwing him the ball along with a stud opposite him drawing coverage. But Mason, he just has more competition for receptions and another candle on his cake. His receptions went from 103 to 80 to 73 and now he's got Boldin drawing Flacco's attention. He's been the model of consistency but that is no longer enough. Too many shinier objects around his ADP. But if you are just looking for a safe bet, he'll likely live up to his WR39 billing.


Derrick Mason projections

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