San Diego running back Ryan Mathews spent the offseason bulking up in order to fulfill a larger workload in the Chargers backfield in 2012.
It took just one play for Mathews to suffer an injury that may keep him sidelined on opening day. Mathews broke his collarbone on his first preseason carry, and reports indicate he will be out of the lineup for four to six weeks.
With Carolina’s signing of Mike Tolbert as a free agent in the offseason and the Chargers’ signing of former Dolphin and Eagle Ronnie Brown to replace him, Mathews was expected to see his usage increase in 2012.
However, with the start of the season just four weeks away, he is unlikely to be available for the Chargers’ opening game in Oakland.
San Diego’s first-round pick in the 2010 draft, Mathews has played well when healthy but has suffered numerous minor ailments that have either caused him to miss games or play at less than full health.
It didn’t take long for Mathews to prove his fantasy doubters correct. He was already labeled an injury risk by many, so a broken collarbone on his first preseason carry is likely to cause plenty of owners to drop him down their cheat sheets or consider him persona non grata on draft day.
As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Maybe this is an opportunity.
Given his solid production in a timeshare with Tolbert last season and his projected workload this year with Tolbert now gone, Mathews was expected to build on his 2011 production of 1,091 rushing yards, 455 receiving yards and six rushing touchdowns. Considering that Tolbert vultured ten touchdowns in 2011 (and 11 in 2010), all Mathews needed to do to improve on his 2011 fantasy running back rank of seventh was stay healthy.
So much for that.
If you had Mathews rated as a top five running back (as most did), you have to bump him down a couple of notches under the assumption that he will miss at least one game. The greater risk may be if the San Diego coaching staff were to decide against making him the workhorse back they had envisioned in the offseason.
But do they have that option? Brown appeared to be on his last legs in 2011 with the Eagles, and his signing seemed a desperation move by the Chargers. Curtis Brinkley looked decent last season but not good enough to stop the team from signing Brown, Le’Ron McClain and Jackie Battle.
While Mathews’ injury is clearly a setback, it’s not one that should preclude fantasy owners from grabbing him if he slides too far. Where is too far? In a 12-team league, you can feel good about grabbing Mathews in the early second round, given the question marks the second tier of running backs face in 2012.