When Should Chargers Fans Press the Panic Button on Ryan Mathews?

Joe Chacon@JoeChaconContributor IIISeptember 27, 2012

Sep 22, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (24) walks off the field after the Atlanta Falcons beat the Chargers 27-3 at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

When Ryan Mathews was selected by the San Diego Chargers with their 12th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, many fans weren't quite sure what to expect from the former Fresno State Bulldog. Over the last couple of years, not much has changed.

Since Mathews first stepped onto the field in 2010, he has lost more fumbles (six) than he has 100 yard games (five). He has also displayed a tendency to be injury prone, which has fans wondering if each hit he takes will put him out of the game. It's not the type of confidence those around the Chargers organization would like from one of their offensive stars.

The good news is that when Mathews is firing on all cylinders he has shown the flashes of brilliance that allow us to see why he was picked so high in the draft. During his first full season, he gained close to 1,100 yards on nearly 225 carries, which puts him just a hair under five yards per carry. Tack on another 455 yards from 50 receptions and you have a pretty solid season.

Unfortunately, so much of our NFL perception comes from how a player performs in the fantasy world. Mathews only reached the end zone six times in 2011, and those all came on the ground.

It's typically around this time in a player's career where we take a look at the talent an organization passed on to select the player they did. In this case, the Chargers did pretty good for themselves. Here are the other running backs who were selected after Mathews in the 2010 NFL Draft:

  • Jahvid Best
  • Dexter McCluster
  • Toby Gerhart
  • Ben Tate
  • Montario Hardesty
  • Joe McKnight
  • Anthony Dixon
  • Deji Karim
  • Jonathan Dwyer
  • James Starks
  • Charles Scott

There isn't a player on that list who Chargers fans would want in place of Mathews. The talk of Mathews being a bust will come up each time the running back gets hurt. But for fans who have watched him progress in his short NFL career, there is definitely a buzz of optimism.

If he can hang onto the ball and avoid injuries, he may end up having a very successful career. However, if Mathews re-injures himself or coughs up the ball consistently throughout this season, I envision Bolt Nation looking to see who the upcoming free agents are this offseason.


Joe Chacon is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and a staff writer for Operation Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeChacon.