Ravens: What went wrong with Ben Mason in Baltimore?

Ravens, Ben Mason Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Ravens, Ben Mason Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Baltimore Ravens drafted fullback Ben Mason in the fifth round of this year’s draft, plenty of eyebrows were raised.

It’s not that Mason was a bad prospect by any means. Numerous teams were interested in the former Michigan fullback and saw him as a versatile role player in the NFL.

But there didn’t appear to be a role for him on the Ravens roster. Four months after he was originally drafted, it’s safe to say that turned out to be the case.

Mason was released as part of final roster cuts this week and he opted to join the New England Patriots practice squad rather than the Ravens.

What went wrong with Mason? Why was he drafted in the first place? Was there ever even a plan for the former Michigan standout?

Why did the Ravens draft Ben Mason in the first place?

It’s easy to point to the Michigan connection with John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, and suggest that Harbaugh’s recommendation was the primary reason that Mason was drafted.

It’s likely that Mason, who was a favorite of his former Michigan coach, was recommended by Harbaugh. And that certainly could have carried some weight.

But the Ravens did legitimately have a plan for Mason.

Mason was drafted as somewhat of an insurance policy for Patrick Ricard who was recovering from offseason hip surgery. The Ravens were unsure of his timetable to return, so they figured Mason would give them some insurance in case Ricard wasn’t ready for Week 1.

As it turned out, Ricard recovered quicker than expected and will be available for the start of the season. But the decision to draft Mason wasn’t supposed to be a short-sighted one.

As much as Mason was insurance for the present, he was also insurance for the future. With Ricard’s contract set to expire in the offseason, Mason was brought in as the potential heir apparent to their Pro Bowl fullback.

But in reality, the Ravens never truly saw him as Ricard’s heir apparent. If anything, he was more of a bargaining chip — a possible replacement to hold over Ricard’s head when it came to negotiations.

Baltimore expressed an interest in having Mason play some tight end, despite just three catches at the collegiate level. That never came to be and Mason was stuck almost exclusively as a backup fullback and on special teams.

A player with that type of role was never going to make the 53-man roster. But the Ravens hoped that, even if Mason didn’t make the team, that they could sneak him onto their practice squad.

After all, how many teams in today’s NFL are actually looking for a fullback? Unfortunately, while Mason did pass through waivers unclaimed, he made the decision to sign on to another team’s practice squad.

Seeing more of an opportunity to play in New England, Mason did what was best for him and joined the Patriots. And just like that, a fifth-round pick — a late one at that — was essentially thrown away.

It’s hard to get on the Ravens too much for this misstep given their history of maximizing draft capital, either in trades or with actual selections.

But let’s call a spade a spade. The Ravens miscalculated this entire situation.

Perhaps it was worth it at the time to take a chance on a more proven commodity in Ben Mason than a small-school prospect in a shallow draft class. The lack of a normal pre-draft process likely weighed heavily in their decision.

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Still, it’s hard to argue — with the benefit of hindsight — that this pick was anything other than a complete failure for the organization.