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Player Spotlight: Ryan Mathews

A detailed look at Ryan Mathews' fantasy prospects in 2013

Setting the Stage

Ryan Mathews is a native Californian, born in Riverside, a suburb of Los Angeles and then attended high school in Bakersfield, where he played quarterback, running back and linebacker. As a senior, he led the nation in rushing with 3,396 yards and 44 TDs, while also throwing for 851 yards and 11 additional TDs. Despite the outstanding production, Mathews was only considered as a three-star running back and he also had some academic qualification issues. He garnered some interest from Arizona and Colorado schools, but elected to stay closer to home and attend Fresno State.

He played well as a freshman, gaining 866 yards and scoring 14 TDs. Early in his sophomore season, he ranked among the top ten running backs nationally in rushing yardage and TDs, but hurt his knee against UCLA and missed the remainder of the season. He led the nation as a junior with 1,808 yards (6.55 ypc) and scored 19 TDs, even while missing one game. Following that year, he declared for the 2010 NFL Draft.

At the combine, he ran a decent forty-yard dash time of 4.45 seconds, but failed to distinguish himself from other running backs at any event. In fact, he placed lower than Ben Tate and Montario Hardesty in most of the events. Despite that somewhat poor performance, Mathews was selected as the second running back in the draft at 12th overall by the San Diego Chargers and only three picks after C. J. Spiller. The Chargers gave up the 28th overall pick, the 40th overall pick, a fourth round pick and linebacker Tim Dobbins for the Dolphins’ 12th overall pick (Mathews) and 4th and 6th round picks.

Mathews signed a five-year $20.5 Million contract. He will be paid $1.2 Million this year and $1.5 Million in 2014 and be a free agent in 2015. There is no getting around the fact that Mathews has underperformed as a Charger over his three year career, but a closer look at the why regarding his performance is in order. His career production is provided below.

Year Gms Rush Yds ypr TDs Targ Rec Yds ypc TDs
2010 12 157 675 4.3 7 26 22 145 6.6 0
2011 14 222 1,091 4.9 6 59 50 455 9.1 0
2012 12 184 707 3.8 1 56 39 252 6.5 0
Totals 38 563 2,473 4.4 14 141 111 852 7.7 0

Looking Forward to 2013

The Chargers have an almost complete new staff including Tom Telesco as General Manager, who although young at 40, had been with the Colts for 17 years and moves up from Vice President of Player Operations a year ago. Mike McCoy takes over head coaching duties from Norv Turner and as perhaps the top head coaching candidate available last year, McCoy may have had the opportunity to select his landing spot. Ken Whisenhunt, the previous head coach at Arizona for the past five years joins the Chargers as offensive coordinator.

The Chargers running back depth suggests that Ryan Mathews will again be given the opportunity to succeed. Some in the fantasy community are high on Danny Woodhead’s prospects, but the truth is that Woodhead is a 28 year old former undrafted journeyman that has never had even 100 carries in a season over his four-year NFL career. Ronnie Brown, the former 2nd overall pick in 2005 has had a total of 88 carries over the past two years and will turn 32 during the 2013 season.

Philip Rivers returns for his 10th season with the Chargers, but he has struggled the last two years with turnovers and averaged only 6.8 ypa passing in 2012, his lowest mark since starting at quarterback in 2006. Rivers was the only Charger (among running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends) that started every game a year ago. That inconsistency as well as horrific offensive line play resulted in the Chargers’ offensive decline as they finished 31st last year in the NFL in total yards. That is quite a dramatic fall considering they were 1st in 2010 and 6th in 2011.

Their receivers on paper look somewhat better for this season. Danario Alexander, who was very productive after joining the team last year in mid-season returns. Vincent Brown is also back after missing the entire 2013 season with an ankle injury and the team drafted highly regarded Keenan Allen. They also have Malcom Floyd, their leading wide receiver in two of the past three seasons.

The elephant in the room though continues to be the Chargers offensive line. This group returns only one starter (Nick Hardwick) from a year ago and even though continuity is normally paramount for offensive line performance, the lack of continuity may be good news for the team heading into 2013. They signed Max Starks, the long-time Steeler veteran this summer and added D.J. Fluker with the 11th overall pick in the draft. Both of these guys should be an improvement over what they used at their positions last year.

Positives

  • Mathews will definitely be the starter and could also be involved in the passing game
  • The offensive line play should be better than a year ago and if they are then Rivers could bounce back strong which would greatly benefit the running game
  • Mathews did average 4.9 ypc in 2011 and finish as RB7

Negatives

  • Mathews has averaged a mediocre 4.4 ypc over his career, including 3.8 ypc in 2012
  • Mathews has been an effective receiver out of the backfield with 111 career receptions in 38 games, but might be used in that role less as Woodhead and possibly Brown see action
  • Continued weak offensive line play is likely, especially at the beginning of the season

Projections

  Gms Rush Yds ypr TDs Rec Yds ypc TDs
David Dodds 15 201 804 4.0 5 31 217 7.0 1
Bob Henry 13 200 790 4.0 4 28 185 6.6 1
Jason Wood 16 215 900 4.2 5 24 190 7.9 1
Maurile Tremblay 16 220 884 4.0 5 43 300 7.0 1
Stephen Holloway 16 230 989 4.3 4 30 231 7.7 1

Final Thoughts

Mathews has a much lower ADP for 2013 and is among the last certain starting running backs at RB25 and 54 overall. If the Chargers offensive line can gel quickly and show marked improvement from a year ago, then Philip Rivers will be under less pressure and should increase his completion percentage and decrease his turnovers. All this will lead to more and better opportunities to run the ball and Mathews has shown that he can do that when healthy. So after the above scenario plays out, all that is needed is for Mathews to remain healthy. History is not on Mathews’ side with that as he has missed ten games in his three-year NFL career. It would not be surprising if Mathews has an even lower ADP as we move closer to the season and he could reward with production above his ADP.

Other Viewpoints

Mike McCoy on NFL.com:

Mike McCoy inherited starting running back Ryan Mathews when McCoy took the job as coach of the San Diego Chargers. During the offseason, the team signed Danny Woodhead and brought back veteran Ronnie Brown. It's easy to see those moves as a reflection of Mathews. The first-round draft pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has shown flashes of excellent play, but rarely has it been sustained. In a conversation with Around The League on Monday, McCoy said that the running back moves had "nothing to do" with Mathews' shortcomings. It was about building depth behind Mathews. McCoy's expectations for Mathews are clear: "To have a great year and be the guy."

Jared Smola on Draft Sharks:

He’ll get at least 1 more chance in 2013. New Chargers GM Tom Telesco has consistently praised Mathews since taking over. Telesco has called him a “bellcow” and a “playmaker,” adding that he expects “big things” this season. Of course, words mean very little. But the Chargers have thrown their support behind Mathews by only adding Danny Woodhead to the backfield. He, along with Ronnie Brown, figures to siphon 3rd-down and pass-catching work. But Mathews will once again be the clear lead back in San Diego. He’ll work with a new coaching staff in 2013 in HC Mike McCoy and OC Ken Whisenhunt. Both guys have shown the ability to adapt their offenses to the personnel. McCoy favored the pass in Denver with QBs Kyle Orton and Peyton Manning. But with Tim Tebow in 2011, the Broncos finished 1st in rush attempts and dead last in passes.

Peter Thompson from Bolt Beat: 

The author offered a poll and the 1,000 to 1,499 yards option won with 36%. Second place was  a good season with between 800 and 999 yards with 29%. The article offered better insight than the poll results though. Well, that’s enough beating up on the young man. For all of his shortcomings, I can see great potential in him. When he IS healthy, and not coughing up the ball.. he is a pretty darn good running back. If he can improve his vision, and learn how to get out of bounds (instead of charging for an extra yard that isn’t there) he could change some people’s minds. It would be wonderful if he could have that elusive “break out year”, that we are all holding our breaths in anticipation of. The talent is there, but the focus needs to be there, as well. Hopefully, the new strength & conditioning staff is making him their #1 priority! He needs to be face-down in his playbook, and watching film at his house.. not partying downtown.


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