The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Chad Parsons
The best argument for Ryan Mathews is his affordable price of RB26 in ADP (average draft position) - a clear Week 1 starter and available as a very affordable RB2 or high-end RB3 exiting drafts. A handful of more expensive running back options are not even lead backs for their respective depth charts. As part of a big-picture draft plan, Mathews can be one of the final starters acquired when focusing on top-end running backs, wide receivers, and even a quarterback or tight end in earlier rounds.
The biggest knock on Ryan Mathews has been durability in his career. The long-time Charger and now Eagle running back has played 16 games in just one of six career seasons, missing at least four games in half of those years. On the flip side, Mathews has played at least 12 games in all but one season. Mathews’ price has built in his perceived injury risk and then some. Mathews has been efficient and effective when on the field, averaging 4.5 yards-per-carry for his career, No.26 overall in NFL history for backs with at least 1,000 career carries. Mathews also has pass-catching chops, averaging more than two receptions per game over his 73-game career, including seasons of 50 and 39 catches respectively.
Finally, Mathews has minimal depth chart competition. I would argue, the Eagles have the least interior running back talent behind their incumbent starter (Mathews) in the NFL. Darren Sproles is a perimeter back in his 30s. Wendell Smallwood is an incoming rookie and if he makes it in the NFL for long it will be more as a change-of-pace option. Kenjon Barner is sub-200 pounds and has mired in the NFL for three seasons after a single year of notable production in college. Mathews runs laps around all of the ‘competition’ in Philadelphia for carries this season. Outside of injury, Mathews is a no-brainer bet. Considering the cost (Rounds 6-8 typically), Mathews needs only part of the season as a projected starter for the Eagles to validate his purchase price.
Low Side by Daniel Simpkins
On the surface, Mathews looks incredibly appealing as a mid-round redraft running back to target this year. There’s no denying he is a talented football player. He runs hot and excels at staying on his feet after contact. He will be behind one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in football. New Head Coach Doug Pederson is an Andy Reid disciple. Like his mentor, he loves to run the football.
Why, then, would one cast dispersion on Mathews’ fantasy value? Simply Googling Ryan Mathews’ name gives us the answer.
The reality is that Mathews can’t stay healthy. In six years of playing in the league, he has only played a full season of games once. His injuries have ranged from concussions to broken clavicles to ankle and MCL sprains. It’s always something with this guy! Even last year, when Mathews was underutilized by Chip Kelly, he suffered a concussion that sidelined him for three games. Because of his frequent maladies, he has only cracked the top ten of fantasy running backs once in his career. More often, it was something on his body doing the cracking. Bob Harris tells us that we should be injury agnostic. Dr. Jene Bramel commonly warns us about applying the “injury prone” label to players. However, there are just some players that squarely earn that title. Ryan Mathews is one of those players.
To reach the seven or eight touchdown season that most project for Mathews assumes that he will be healthy most, if not all of 2016. Backs who don’t have the same type of injury concerns and can post similar stat lines (Duke Johnson Jr, Giovani Bernard, Melvin Gordon III, and Frank Gore come to mind) go anywhere from half-around to a full round-and-a-half later. Avoid the heartache of getting burned by Mathews yet again and take one of them instead.