There is no way to put this gently: Ryan Mathews has been a gigantic disappointment. From his first season to now through three years with the San Diego Chargers, the former first round pick has failed to live up to his lofty draft status. That doesn’t mean things are officially at a breaking point yet for the highly touted back coming out of school at Fresno State, but this is true make or break season for him with the team. It’s quite possible that the Bolts will even bring in some additional competition to push Mathews or perhaps overtake him as the club’s starting ball carrier.
San Diego finished an embarrassing 27th in the NFL in rushing offense a year ago which makes it quite apparent that their recent approach isn’t cutting it. While injuries have hindered Mathews during his short career with the Bolts (including two broken collarbones in 2012), it’s impossible to blame all of his struggles on those alone. The fact that he has played just 38 out of a possible 48 games over the past three seasons is alarming to say the least. It’s hard to improve as a player while watching the games from the sideline.
Fumbles have also been a recurring theme for Mathews with nearly as many over his short career (12) as touchdowns (14). His propensity to put the ball on the ground combined with his inability to stay healthy is more of a liability than a help to the Chargers offensively.
Reestablishing a functional rushing attack is vital to the Bolts regaining the prowess on offense. Arguably the best thing that San Diego could do this offseason to improve things for quarterback Philip Rivers is to give him a better running game. This will help take the pressure off of him from opposing defensive linemen and allow the team to regain some control along the line of scrimmage.
There are plenty of options for players to bring in and compete with Mathews. Free agency features players like Shonn Greene of the New York Jets and Peyton Hillis of the Kansas City Chiefs who could potentially provide the proper complement to Mathews in the backfield. Their downhill running style would work well in tandem with Mathews who excels on the edge.
The draft is also an option with players like Florida’s Mike Gillislee or Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. Gillislee impressed at the Senior Bowl and has the prototypical running back frame at the next level. He is capable of going between the tackles or bouncing runs outside. As for Ball, he is more of bruiser who accrued an astounding 73 touchdowns over his past three seasons with the Badgers. His style would be a terrific contrast to Mathews and take some pressure off of Rivers and the passing game in the red zone.
As you can see, the possibilities are endless for General Manager Tom Telesco as he tries to assemble a winning roster this offseason. Which way he will go remains a mystery, but what seems fairly certain is that Mathews will have some company in the backfield in 2013.