Elusive. Coveted. Necessary. There are literally a hundred words you could think of when describing the value of a truly elite running back. As much as we all hate to admit it, a single star at the position can make or break a dynasty league team in any given season. To get one, we use our high first round start-up draft picks or trade the house for them in an existing league. While their shelf-life is typically much shorter than that of the elite receivers, the short burst of consistent and elite production they give us can be all the difference in hoisting the trophy or throwing up after another lost year.
There are many names at the top of ranking lists for dynasty leagues this season. The usual suspects are typically Ray Rice, Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy. After all, they’ve all shown the ability to put up monster statistics and carry a given dynasty team through long stretches of the season. The trick now is finding out who the next great scoring running back will be and projecting him to be the magical player who can climb your depth chart to be a truly elite RB1 instead of just a solid weekly performer.
This year, the hottest name on the list of candidates may be none other than Ryan Mathews of the San Diego Chargers.
Make no mistake, Mathews is already a highly coveted player in dynasty circles. He broke through last season and recorded his first 1,000 yard season (1,091 in total) to go along with 50 catches for 455 yards and six total touchdowns in 14 games. That stat line was good enough to place him in the top ten in most leagues and his 4.9 yards per carry was good for third in the league amongst players with at least 200 carries. The question most dynasty league owners are asking is, “Can he somehow score another 100 points and join the true top tier of fantasy running backs?”
Let’s examine those chances.
First, Mathews has always been a big part of a committee in San Diego. After all, Mike Tolbert was a key to the Chargers success and was extremely productive himself, rushing for more than 1,200 yards over the past two seasons. With Tolbert taking his talents closer to Myrtle Beach, the Chargers are setting themselves up to rely more heavily on Mathews than ever before. Some outlets are predicting over 350 carries could be coming, which would undoubtedly be among the league leaders. His Head Coach, Norv Turner, has been gushing about him and has never been shy about riding a running back for the season – we’ve seen him do it before with the likes of Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson, among others.
The great thing about Mathews is his capability to do everything on the field. He can gain the tough yards, but can also hit a seam and take it the distance. Throw in his ability to catch the football and you have to consider it’s not out of the question for him to flirt with 60-70 catches next year – combine that with his expected rushing total and that’s the recipe for fantasy greatness. With Philip Rivers at the controls, Robert Meachem stretching the field and Antonio Gates finally healthy enough to warrant a ton of attention again, it’s tough to see defenses selling out to stop the run. Put all this together and the sky truly is the limit for his potential in both fantasy and reality.
By all accounts, Mathews himself is taking this potential opportunity very seriously. Teammates are saying he’s completely healthy and looks like he’s in the best shape of his life. In short, he’s working tirelessly to be ready for the season. This is news not to be taken lightly because Mathews had a few nagging ailments last season, including a groin injury, a sore knee and a calf strain that caused him to miss some time. There are relevant questions about his ability to hold up during an entire season and those simply won’t be answered until we see it happen. The good news is none of the injuries are chronic or have been severe enough to raise any permanent red flags.
There are many candidates out there who could be the next elite fantasy running back. You could make an argument for players like Trent Richardson, Darren McFadden and a host of others as likely candidates to join the ranks of the coveted first tier of fantasy running backs.
Ironically, the player most like to make that charge may just be a Charger himself.