Ryan Mathews: Injured Chargers RB Is a Must-Start vs. Broncos

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistNovember 16, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 15:  Running back Ryan Mathews #24 of the San Diego Chargers looks on against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium on October 15, 2012 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

A neck injury and relative ineffectiveness may cause some understandable hesitance, but San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews should be in all starting lineups in Week 11 against the Denver Broncos.

Earlier this week, that would not have been the case. Mathews missed all of this week's practices due to stiffness in his neck before getting back to full work on Friday, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune's Scott Bair.

Undoubtedly, with their season hanging by the thinnest of threads, that is fantastic news for the Chargers. A loss on Sunday and the team might as well start booking vacations for January, and Norv Turner may need to start preparing his resume.

Those concerns matter not to fantasy owners, who just want to know how well Mathews will perform against his division rival. As it stands, there is no reason to expect anything other than his normal production if he plays. 

Granted, putting Mathews in the lineup is a bit of a risk. The Chargers don't kick off until 4:25 p.m. ET, meaning that all of the early games will be well underway before definitive word is leaked out.

Nevertheless, if good word continues to trickle out, Mathews is a must-start on Sunday, even against a strong Denver run defense. Coming into Week 11, the Broncos are tied for second in the NFL in yards per carry against, giving up a mere 3.6 yards per run.

They have also been able to hold opposing teams to just five rushing touchdowns all season. 

But where Mathews' true value comes is from his consistency and workload. If he's in the lineup, the Chargers are going utilize their back heavily when in the game. Though Mathews was in on just 36 snaps (55 percent) last week against the Buccaneers, he received 22 total touches between his 17 carries and five receptions.

Obviously, it stands to reason that Mathews cannot get touches on 61 percent of his offensive snaps every week. It has to be some sort of statistical anomaly, right?

Well, not exactly. It seems that keeping the young back fresh and utilizing him heavily when in the game has become the norm in San Diego. Since the Chargers' Week 7 bye, Mathews has been active on exactly 100 snaps. He has gotten touches on 63 of those plays, which obviously translates to 63 percent (per Football Outsiders).

Admittedly, Mathews hasn't exactly been a bastion of effectiveness with his touches. His 4.2 yards per carry is the lowest of his career, he's yet to hit 100 yards rushing all season and has just one touchdown.

We even have some small-sample evidence of Mathews struggling against the Broncos this season. Despite getting 25 touches in the Chargers' Week 6 loss, Mathews accounted for a relatively disappointing 93 total yards. 

But in today's NFL, those yards are good enough to make Mathews a startable back. Not even the Taco of your league is accusing Mathews of being a RB1 anymore. Instead, he's a guy who will get you a guaranteed seven-to-10 points in standard leagues and always has the possibility of scoring.

That distinction makes Mathews a no-brainer as either an RB2 or a flex play on Sunday, despite the frightening matchup.

The neck injury may cause some understandable trepidation, but do yourself a favor and keep Mathews in your starting lineup against the Broncos.