Understandably most of the fantasy world is very high on San Diego Chargers’ running back, Ryan Mathews, heading into the 2012 season. He is big (6’0” 218 pounds), quick, and is now the starter for the Chargers, hands down. Mathews took some tremendous steps last season and is really becoming one of the most promising young backs in the NFL. However, there are still several things to consider before standing up and yelling out “Mathews!” at your next fantasy football draft.
Many people just see the term 2011 Pro Bowl running back next to Mathews’ name, but they forget about the numerous other “Pro Bowl” backs that were unable to play in the all-star game due to injuries. This left Mathews to fill in for them. Nothing against the career season Mathews had, but he was not exactly the fan’s first choice.
Mathews has yet to finish a full 16-game season. He missed four games due to a groin injury in his rookie year of 2010, and then missed two more games last year with a knee injury. This is a little concerning for a back who just got handed the full load of the carries in San Diego, because fantasy football is about durability just as much as it is about scoring touchdowns. After all, a player cannot score points for you, if he is sitting on your bench.
Mathews also has averaged a mediocre 4.7 yards per attempt through his first 380 touches out of an NFL backfield. He has great vision and is a very punishing runner, but at times he can be indecisive about which hole to hit. This kind of indecision can kill fantasy running back’s numbers and make fantasy owners want to pull their hair out play after play. Mathews has to be more of an aggressive runner in this regard, because there is nothing more frustrating then a fantasy back who keeps getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
Another important aspect about being a starting running back is pass protection, and Mathews is not exactly the most polished blocker out of the backfield. Previously running back Mike Tolbert did the majority of the pass blocking, but with him now playing with the Carolina Panthers, the job is now left up to Mathews. It will be a difficult transition for Mathews to handle and could cause problems for him in the opening weeks of the season.
These points are not necessarily meant to be deterrents from drafting Mathews this summer, but merely are a couple things to keep in mind before spending your first round pick on the former Fresno State standout. Fantasy football is all about finding value in your draft picks and there is no value in reaching to pick Mathews in the top-five picks in the first round. Mathews is better off being a late first round in deeper leagues, or even an early second round pick, because that is the best way to get the most value out of the 24-year old back in your draft.