Five games into the most important season of his career, San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews hasn’t made much noise around the league… well, except for being injured again.
Mathews, who suffered a concussion last Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, returned to practice Friday and looks like he’ll be available for Monday night’s game against the Indianapolis Colts. But one really has to wonder if it’ll ready matter much if he’s in or not, given how little an impact he’s made so far this season for the Bolts.
Everyone believes that if Mathews can stay healthy and clean up the fumbles, then he’ll be a good player. However, there’s much more that Mathews still has to figure out to be the player the Chargers thought they were getting when they traded up 16 spots to get him back in 2010.
If he fumbles every once in a while but still runs for 100 yards and a touchdown, then it’s an overall good game. If he suffers an injury and only plays 12 games in a season but looks good in those games, then it’s an overall decent season. But on top of not fixing the two main problems of his game, he hasn’t been able to produce much while running the football this season.
Through five games, Mathews has averaged 3.5 yards per carry and hasn’t contributed much in the passing game, either as a pass catcher or pass blocker, which he continues to struggle at. Mathews doesn’t pose as a big-play threat, as he has run for 10 or more yards just twice this season, and has a career-long run of 39 yards.
On top of all this, the much more physically gifted former-first round pick is being outplayed by an undersized former undrafted player in Danny Woodhead. In his first year with the team, Woodhead has been invaluable to this offense, and has contributed to the resurgence of Philip Rivers. Rivers clearly trusts Woodhead, who’s been a security blanket receiver for the quarterback, a go-to guy particularly on third down, and the good pass protector. Woodhead has also already found the endzone three times this season, more than Mathews has done in the past season and a half.
Mathews, in his four years, has never meant as much to Rivers as Woodhead does now. Aside from a solid 2011 season, Mathews has had little impact on Rivers and the entire Chargers offense in his career. Until he produces better numbers and does something to help the team win games, Mathews will never shed his bust label.