In the wake of LaDainian Tomlinson’s Hall of Fame career with the Chargers, Ryan Mathews has displayed his raw talent and athleticism in both San Diego and Philadelphia. So why isn’t he a fantasy beast? Only once, since he entered the league in 2010, has he played an entire 16-game season. This is not the kind of dependability we look for in week to week fantasy running backs.
Injury history doesn’t seem to stop most people from drafting the likes of Julio Jones, probably because running backs take on far more mileage than receivers. The Eagles handed the ball off on 42% of their plays in 2015, whereas Julio Jones was targeted on just 19% of the Falcon’s plays. The heavy use of backs eventually yields injury. Mathews has missed a total of 23 games, suffering sprains in 2010, 2013, and 2016. But more importantly, concussions in 2009, 2012, 2013, and 2015.
Competition in the Backfield
The competition he faces could be dangerous for fantasy owners as well. With an exciting rookie in Wendell Smallwood, and a consistent veteran in Darren Sproles, Mathews has no room for error. A bad game from Adrian Peterson isn’t the end because he has the job locked up. However, Mathews doesn’t have an established rapport with Philadelphia, so if he seems inefficient with his touches or gets injured, they will likely shift the workload to the other backs, making it difficult to return to the spotlight.
A key component of elite running backs that may be missing with Mathews is the chemistry with their teammates and coaches. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s often overlooked since it’s not a measurable category, however, we can assume there is little to none because this is only his second year in Philadelphia. His first year starting alongside Sam Bradford, and his first year under head coach Doug Pederson. Backs like Ingram and Lacy have an established connection with their quarterbacks. When Brees and Rodgers are under pressure, they often dump it to their trusty running back giving them an opportunity to make a play out of nothing. This isn’t evident with Bradford and Mathews as of right now. And since handing the ball off is the Eagles primary threat, opposing defenses will likely stack the box and clog up running lanes.
His Current Draft Value
Currently, his ADP is in the 5th round as the 22nd running back off the board. In a standard format, I’d much rather get Jeremy Hill, who is also going in the 5th, but has tremendous touchdown upside and no injury history. In what looked like a horrible season, he still managed to finish as the 14th best running back, so if he returns at all to his rookie season production, he will be a much better option. In a PPR format, I prefer someone like Duke Johnson or Danny Woodhead who will rake in receptions, providing a consistent base each week, going as the 29th and 33rd running backs off the board respectively.
A Running back’s value comes from his opportunity, and Mathews has plenty of it, but the risk is too large to outweigh the reward at that price. Since receivers are much easier to predict, I would load up on them in the early rounds, and look for safe options at running back later. He may be a sneaky DFS play every once in a while, but I don’t see Mathews being a viable starter for season-long leagues, so I won’t be owning any shares of him this year.