Chargers' Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Running Back
San Diego's backfield could be one of the league's deepest in 2014.
If Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead weren't enough variety, the Chargers added Donald Brown in free agency to spice things up. But it didn't stop there for the team, as it proceeded to add more depth via the draft and in free agency.
A total of seven running backs will be participating in minicamp and training camp in the coming months. Here's how they stack up and what their respective outlooks are in regards to making the team.
Seventh String: D.J. Adams
Adams' decision to transfer from Maryland may have garnered more playing time at Portland State, but competing against Division II competition ultimately deflated his draft stock. As an undrafted rookie, he'll have to do everything in his power to convince coaches he's worth keeping around, whether it's on the final roster or the practice squad.
Adams dominated the Big Sky with 1,600 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns in his last season with the Vikings. On top of rushing for over 200 yards on three occasions, Adams was also the owner of a five-TD performance against Sacramento State in what was a monstrous outing for the senior.
Sixth String: Branden Oliver
His 1,535 yards rushing ranked third in the MAC last season, and he added 15 touchdowns. During OTAs, Oliver's presence stood out to ESPN's Eric D. Williams:
Undrafted rookie free-agent running back Branden Oliver caught my eye again Monday. The University of Buffalo product does not have elite top-end speed, running a 4.56-second, 40-yard time at his pro day. But he consistently showed good vision and quickness through the hole during 11-on-11 drills, with the ability to make defenders miss. Again, take this with a grain of salt because guys do not have pads on and no one is tackling anybody. But Oliver looks like he belongs so far running with the second and third units.
Fifth String: Marion Grice
For a team that expects so much out of its running backs, Grice is a perfect match for the Chargers.
In 24 games at Arizona State, Grice found the end zone 39 times—20 of his TDs came in 2013. Along with racking up the nation's third-highest average in all-purpose yardage (176.45), the Sun Devils running back was the only player in the country to produce over 400 yards rushing, receiving and in the return game.
Where I see Grice as a fit with San Diego in the future is in a role similar to Danny Woodhead's. As far as this upcoming season, it's likely Grice will compete for a job on special teams as a returner with some cameos on offense.
Fourth String: Kerwynn Williams
With Donald Brown joining the ranks, San Diego's backfield may be feeling all too familiar to Williams.
During September of last year, Williams was subject to a series of moves that toyed with his career. On Sept. 1, he was waived by the Colts and then signed to the practice squad the next day. On Sept. 13, he was promoted to the active roster behind Brown, but the acquisition of Trent Richardson forced the team to waive him yet again on Sept. 24, opening the door for the Chargers to bring him in.
According to general manager Tom Telesco, per Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com, Williams will have his opportunity to earn a job on special teams:
Special teams wise, it would be nice to add a return game with some dynamic ability there. We've got two guys here that we have pretty high hopes for with Kerwynn Williams and Tobais Palmer, which were two of the better returners in college last year when they came out, so we'll see what they have.
Palmer, who injured his hamstring in OTAs, was waived by the team and is likely out of the competition for the returner job, according to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.
Third String: Donald Brown
Brown topped Indy's rushing production with six TDs and a whopping 5.3 yards a carry last season, but it was the little things that caught the attention of the guys at Pro Football Focus.
Gordon McGuinness rated the most elusive backs in 2013 based on missed tackles forced and yards after catch. Brown ranked third in missed tackles forced (29) and first in yards after catch (3.28 per carry), earning him McGuinness' highest elusive rating at 73.8.
Michael Renner's breakdown of pass-blocking percentage among running backs was also generous to Brown. Based on what Renner found, Brown was in to block 38.8 percent of the time in 2013, which was the third highest.
As the third member of the three-headed monster in San Diego's backfield, Brown provides the offense with yet another dual-threat back along with his strength as a pass-blocker.
Second String: Danny Woodhead
Woodhead was at his best in the Chargers offense, and he played a big part in the resurrection of Philip Rivers' career.
His 76 receptions were the second most among running backs last season, and he led the league in receiving yards (605) and receiving TDs (six) at his position. Of the 79 passes thrown his way, Woodhead dropped just three, according to Pro Football Focus. Next to Antonio Gates, Woodhead was the second-favorite target of Rivers, and I don't expect his role to change much at all, even under new offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
What may change in terms of Woodhead's workload is the amount of carries he's given. Now that Brown is in the mix, it's not likely Woodhead gets the 105 rushing attempts he received last season.
Starter: Ryan Mathews
The Achilles' heel of Mathews continues to be his health, but he truly broke out in his fourth season amid the injuries.
Mathews ranked seventh in rushing yards (1,255), ninth in yards per game (78.4) and tied for 10th in rushing first downs (54). His six games with at least 100 yards rushing ranked second next to LeSean McCoy's seven.
That said, Mathews' body broke down as the season wore on. In the postseason, Mathews carried the ball just 18 times over the course of two playoff games. He was hardly a factor in the win over Cincinnati and almost nonexistent against Denver.
In a contract year, Mathews still has a lot to prove. For one, he needs to be able to stay healthy, and the front office has provided him with the help necessary to do so. He also needs to show he can be consistent. Just a few years ago, he struggled to hold onto the ball.
Now in his fifth year, Mathews has the odds in his favor to post another solid season. The depth at running back is there, his offensive line remains unchanged from last season and the offense shouldn't be all that different despite Ken Whisenhunt's absence.
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