Following a barrage of eligible underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft, Auburn’s leading rusher Tre Mason threw his helmet into the ring on Thursday.

At times the best player on the field during last week’s national championship, Mason trucked Florida State’s top ranked defense for 237 total yards and two touchdowns from scrimmage in the tight 34-31 loss. He even gave the Tigers back the lead with a 37-yard touchdown burst with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter.

For the season, Mason led the nation’s best rushing attack with 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns, nearly doubling the output from his sophomore season with 146 more carries. He has good size, 5-foot-11 and 205 lbs., and should only get stronger ahead of next month’s combine.

What’s largely against Mason is the trend of teams selecting backs in later rounds, as NFL offenses continue to focus on the passing game. Mason didn’t get a lot of opportunities as a pass catching back in Gus Malzahn’s offense, but totaled 19 receptions for 249 yards and an average of 13 yards per catch.

According to, the NFL Draft Advisory Board reportedly rated Mason as a third-round pick. It’s obviously not the best spot for a young rusher but it could have been predicted, considering in last year’s draft the first running back didn’t come off the board until the second round.

Waiting on a running back worked out for several teams last year. Cincinnati held off until the second round and picked up Giovanni Bernard. Green Bay got tremendous value from late second round pick and rookie Eddie Lacy, as did Pittsburgh with Le’Veon Bell and Denver with Montee Ball.

Cleveland bucked the trend and took Trent Richardson No. 3 overall in 2012, and traded him away a year later after limited results. Richardson was the highest taken running back since Oakland selected Darren McFadden fourth overall in 2008.

Then there are the prospects who could steal Mason’s thunder in the combine and the weeks leading up to the draft. Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, Washington’s Bishop Sankey, and Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk headline a very top heavy running back class, with Mason ranking either just behind or in the middle of that group.

Several teams (Atlanta, N.Y. Giants, Cleveland) need a serious boost from a young back, ranking the bottom of the NFL this past season and owners of high first round picks. Baltimore even could try to hedge its bet on running back Ray Rice and apply some pressure by selecting Mason or one of his competitors.

But as seen before, it just takes one team to fall for a prospect and take them a little higher than projected. Mason could be so lucky come May.