Ryan Mathews: How Much Will Running Back's Injury Hurt Fantasy Value?

Luke PetkacFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2012

Ryan Mathews' injury gives some fantasy owners cause for concern. AP Photo/Kevin Terrell
Ryan Mathews' injury gives some fantasy owners cause for concern. AP Photo/Kevin Terrell

Ryan Mathews' injury is a big blow to his fantasy value.

Mathews was a big riser on a lot of people's fantasy boards this year after a strong 2011 campaign in which he rushed for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns and chipped in over 450 yards in the receiving game as well. He was particularly hot at the end of the year, posting games of 15, 18 and 23 points in three of his last four contests.

Unfortunately, Mathews broke his clavicle on his first carry of the preseason and is going to spend some time on the bench because of it. ESPN's Bill Williamson reported that Mathews will miss the Chargers' season opener against the Raiders and could potentially miss even more games.

It's time to sit down and reevaluate his impact and the best way for fantasy owners to deal with his injury.

The real problem with Mathews' broken clavicle is that it's fairly easy to re-injure. After the injury occurred, ESPN's Stephania Bell reported:

Fracture healing typically is about six weeks, and, before a player is cleared to resume contact, there must be sufficient evidence of bony repair to alleviate concerns of re-injury. Every fall onto the shoulder, direct hit to the shoulder (especially if the player is hit from both sides simultaneously), even a stiff-arm move, will translate force through the collarbone area. For an athlete such as Mathews, who will incur contact through his clavicle (directly or indirectly) on virtually every play in which he carries the ball, the confidence that the bone will remain intact must be high before allowing him to compete.

That's a huge problem for fantasy owners. The Chargers aren't going to take any chances with Mathews. He's made it clear that he wants to be on the field, but they won't rush him back to play unless they're sure that he's 100 percent. That means he could easily spend another few weeks in street clothes.

Even if he is cleared to play soon, he's not going to be thrust back into his previous role immediately. I wouldn't expect to see him carry the ball 20 or more times until a few weeks after he's back.

Recovering from a broken clavicle won't slow him down on the field at all. That's not the issue. The problem is that there's no reason for the Chargers to use him like a workhorse runner when he's coming off of an injury.

Veteran running back Ronnie Brown has enjoyed NFL success with the Dolphins and Eagles, and San Diego won't be afraid to lean on him during Mathews' absence. If Brown really struggles over the next week or two than things could potentially change. But I'd expect Mathews to slowly be eased into his starting role and to split carries with Brown for the first few weeks that he's cleared to play.

If you have a solid backup running back that you feel comfortable starting, than you should definitely play him over Mathews for the first six or so weeks of the season. It's just hard to see Mathews getting the touches he needs to be a productive starter up until that point. But be sure to start him as soon as he starts getting the ball again.

The injury won't affect his ability to produce later in the season, and he's too talented to waste away on fantasy benches for an entire year.