A second Baltimore Ravens 2021 draft selection has now ended up in New England, with fullback Ben Mason signing with the Patriots a week after the Ravens traded cornerback Shaun Wade to New England.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport first reported the signing on Wednesday, September 2, which briefly set off a Twitter firestorm with fans and experts debating the Ravens’ decision to take Mason in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL draft.
Mason played in all three of the Ravens’ preseason games but failed to stand out. With tight end Nick Boyle still recovering from last season’s knee injury, Mason had an outside shot to make the 53-man roster, but he was outshined in the passing game by 2019 third-round tight end Josh Oliver.
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Mason was considered to be a virtual lock for the Ravens’ practice squad after he was released on Tuesday, but New England quickly signed the Michigan product once he cleared waivers. The Patriots are one of the few teams in the NFL whose fullback usage rivals the Ravens, but they have been looking for a successor to longtime starter James Develin after his retirement in 2020.
Fullbacks Valued in Baltimore
NFL teams rarely spend draft capital on fullbacks; Mason was the first one drafted since 2017.
His selection in May surprised but didn’t shock observers, as the Ravens’ run-heavy offense places a higher value on fullbacks than the rest of the pass-oriented NFL.
Current starter Patrick Ricard is the latest fullback to thrive in Baltimore, making the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons. He played defensive tackle at the University of Maine and signed with the Ravens after going undrafted in 2017. He converted to fullback in the preseason, assuming a key role in the offense after Lamar Jackson took over for an injured Joe Flacco at quarterback.
Ricard is set to hit free agency after this season, and if previous patterns hold, the Ravens won’t overpay to keep the former Black Bear. The team allowed Juscyzk to walk after his first Pro Bowl in 2017, and with Jackson’s extension on the horizon, they won’t want to tie up valuable cap space to keep a fullback.
Ricard also underwent hip surgery this offseason, so if he suffered any setbacks or complications, the Ravens would have been without a key contributor to their offense. Mason’s preseason play indicated that he could’ve filled in for Ricard if his number was called.
As a result, the Ravens drafted Mason as an insurance policy, both against any issues with Ricard’s health and the chance that he leaves in free agency next spring.
Some argued that the Ravens could have signed Mason as an undrafted free agent since he was unlikely to get drafted at all.
The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec addressed this point, writing:
Was Mason a reach where they got him? You could say that. Nobody else, after all, was taking a fullback in the fifth round. It was, however, an extremely thin draft class overall. The pandemic kept most of the small-school draft prospects, the type of player the Ravens have targeted on Day 3 in the past, in school. Mid-level players at many of the D1 schools opted to stay in as well. The Ravens’ top-100 ranked players were all essentially gone by the fourth round.
With few desired players on the board at the end of the fifth round, the Ravens chose to take their guy rather than a prospect in whom they weren’t interested. The continued excellence of general manager Eric DeCosta and the Ravens’ front office allowed the team to take a risk and roll the dice on Mason, a gamble that ended up not working out.
The Family Connection
Mason played under Jim Harbaugh, brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, at the University of Michigan.
That family connection likely contributed to the Ravens picking the former Wolverine, as John Harbaugh got the inside scoop on Mason from his brother.
Mason told media in May, “I really enjoyed playing for Coach Jim. He was my favorite coach, and it was just an absolute joy playing for him, and I can’t wait to play for his brother, as well.”
John Harbaugh appeared somewhat frustrated when asked about the Ravens’ plans for the rookie fullback on Wednesday, saying “I’m not going to comment on those things. He can announce his own plans,” per ESPN’s Jamison Hensley.