When the San Diego Chargers traded up fifteen spots for Ryan Mathews in the first round of the 2009 draft, the organization already set enormous expectations on the Fresno St. standout as the next replacement for former Hall of Famer LaDainain Tomilison. From the time Mathews stepped into Chargers training camp, he looked the part of Tomlinson wearing the same dark visor, and at times, emulating LT with his cut backs and stiff arms.
However, this is where the similarities stop because Mathews has been nothing more than a disappointment as the Charger’s running back over the course of three seasons. His inability to stay healthy and hold onto the football puts even more pressure on quarterback Phillip Rivers who has been unable to consistently utilize the play action pass to get the ball to tight end Antonio Gates and other receivers. At times, Mathews has shown signs of being a good all-purpose back in the NFL, but his bruising style of running has led to multiple injuries throughout his short career. As a result, fans have grown impatient with his ineffectiveness.
In the offseason, new Chargers general manager Tom Telesco made offseason improvements bringing in former New England runningback Danny Woodhead to become Rivers third down threat. Despite Mathews versatility, he has been a disappearing act on third down with only a handful of catches. The loss of Darren Sproles to New Orleans after the 2010 season left a gaping hole on third down leaving the team to fill it with running-backs Mike Tolbert and Ronnie Brown instead of Mathews. Woodhead gives Rivers the much needed weapon to keep drives alive on long yardage plays and Brown showed his durability over the course of the bruising season, so Mathews is going to see the number of snaps decrease.
Are the days numbered for Mathews in San Diego? Tom Telsco and head coach Mike McCoy still have faith Mathews upside as the Charger’s starting running back, but the addition of Woodhead leads many to speculate his future beyond this season.
With former Atlanta Falcon Michael Turner still on the free agent market, his price tag might be too high for the Bolts to sign, but his presence in the backfield could be the answer for Mathews to finally get it together. Turner’s addition would help elevate the Charger running game and bring a nice change of pace with Mathews and Woodhead. Like Rivers, Mathews should benefit with a new offensive scheme and improved offensive line, but he shouldn’t expect any sympathy from fans the moment he loses his first fumble in 2013.