Ryan Mathews was assigned the daunting task of replacing a legend, Ladainian Tomlinson, at runningback for the San Diego Chargers. While being hampered by injuries in his first two seasons, Mathews is poised to burst out in a big way in 2012.
In his first two seasons he has only gotten better. As a rookie he gained 678 yards averaging 4.3 yards per carry, as a “sophomore” he brought those numbers up to 1,091 and 4.9 ypc. Obviously there has been a learning curve for Mathews coupled with injuries. This year those numbers will shoot way up, barring injury setbacks, due in part to the addition of fullback Le’Ron McClain.
Mathews spent the last two years following in the path of Jacob Hester, a converted fullback who naturally is tailback. Hester, while being a versatile weapon and great special teams player, is not the path clearing fullback that can take Mathews’ game to the next level. Let’s look at the ‘decline’ of his predecessor in his final years in San Diego. Tomlinson ran for 1,815 (5.2ypc) & 1,474 (4.7ypc) in 2006 and 2007 respectively. When Neal left San Diego LT ran for 1,110 (3.8ypc) yds in 2009 and 730 (3.3ypc) yds behind Hester. While some may blame this decline on his age and tired legs, why is it that LT went to the Jets a year older and gained 914 yards (4.2ypc) as a backup?
With a true fullback leading the way this year for Mathews he will breakout in a big way, justifying his 12th overall selection in the 2010 draft.