Ryan Mathews’s 2011 Inside the Numbers
It feels like Ryan Mathews has been on the radar of fantasy football owners for a while now, but he has in fact only played two NFL seasons. He has yet to make it through a full 16 game slate, but he did have his first 1,000 yard rushing season (1,091) in 2011 while averaging 4.91 yards per carry and catching 50 passes for 455 yards. If you could deal with the uncertainty of his status on a seemingly weekly basis, Mathews was worth the trouble for the most part.
Mathews had a myriad of injuries-calf, knee, groin, wrist and thumb issues-cause him to miss two games and be limited in several others. So his performance is even more impressive when taking that into consideration, as he only had 20 or more carries in a game five times.
Mathews got off to a fairly slow start in 2011 with just 109 yards on the ground through the first two games, but he did have 10 receptions over that span to help make up for the lack of carries (24). He got on track over the following three weeks, with 304 rushing yards total and at least 16 carries in all three games, highlighted by 21 carries for 98 yards and two touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 and 24 carries for 125 yards against the Denver Broncos in Week 5. But the injuries also started to come over that three-game stretch, most notably calf and wrist issues that caused him to miss time during the game against the Broncos.
After the Chargers’ Week 6 bye, Mathews was limited by a thumb injury against the New York Jets in Week 7 and then a groin issue against the Kansas City Chiefs the following week, limiting him to 96 yards on 26 carries in those games, but he did have 10 catches in that span. The groin injury caused Mathews to miss Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers and the injury further limited him (six carries for 34 yards, three receptions for 23 yards) against the Oakland Raiders the following game.
Another injury, this time a knee issue, cropped up in Week 11 against the Chicago Bears but he followed that up with a career-high 137 yards on 22 carries against the Denver Broncos in Week 12. That performance was the first of three straight 100-yard games and Mathews had 26 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns in a tough matchup against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15 to further help his fantasy owners have a deep playoff run. The Chargers were beaten handily by the Detroit Lions in Week 16, limiting Mathews to 58 yards on 11 carries, and then he missed the season finale against the Oakland Raiders with a groin injury.
The various injuries Mathews had last season creates some risk for fantasy owners in 2012, but the Chargers will be relying on him staying healthy as they let Mike Tolbert leave in free agency and they did not draft a running back until very late in April’s draft. Barring a late free agent signing, the other backs in the mix for San Diego (Curtis Brinkley, Jacob Hester) are unlikely to take many touches away from Mathews. LeRon McClain was added in free agency to be the team’s new fullback, and having a legit lead blocker also will benefit Mathews if he can be fully healthy. 300 carries is not out of the question and if he can add 50 receptions again Mathews has the look of a legit top-tier fantasy running back for 2012, especially considering how rare that type of workhorse back is becoming around the league.