Ryan Mathews was one of the best running backs in football over the second half of the 2013 season, but from a fantasy perspective, many are still gun-shy about the San Diego Chargers' lead back.
On Sunday, Mathews provided a slight glimpse of why those fears may not be warranted.
Mathews played just three series in the "dress rehearsal" game against the San Francisco 49ers, but he still tallied 22 rushing yards on four carries and another 26 yards on a pair of receptions. He also had a 25-yard receiving touchdown overturned after an illegal block from Keenan Allen.
Former NFL scout John Middlekauff had nothing but very strong words of praise for the fifth-year back:
Ryan Mathews has always had the talent, deserved to be a top pick years ago & he's finally become a big time NFL player— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) August 24, 2014
Unfortunately, Rotoworld's Adam Levitan and Bleacher Report's Alessandro Miglio had to rain on the parade, summarizing the overarching concern surrounding Mathews in 2014:
San Diego first-team RB touches today: Ryan Mathews 6, Donald Brown 4, Danny Woodhead 4.— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) August 24, 2014
Fox announcers hitting on why I'm down on Ryan Mathews this year in #fantasyfootball: Chargers rotating backs in, deep at the position.— Alessandro Miglio (@AlexMiglio) August 24, 2014
Danny Woodhead is going to continue to catch a bunch of passes, while the Chargers went out and signed Donald Brown, who averaged a stout 5.3 yards per carry with the Indianapolis Colts last season. Mathews tallied the most carries in the NFL over the final five games of the 2013 campaign, but with the depth at the position, continuing to see that kind of workload will be difficult.
However, general manager Tom Telesco has suggested otherwise, as per XEPRS-AM (via NFL.com's Chris Wesseling): "We know Ryan is our bell cow. He's our No. 1 back. He had an excellent year last year. And we all know what Danny Woodhead can do in his role. ... And we think Donald can come in and add to that, too, and give us some different options. And a different style, too."
While the near split in touches with Brown on Sunday may be frightening, Mathews looked far more explosive. Brown will get some touches, but it won't be enough to significantly decrease the incumbent's value.
Mathews has finally resembled a first-round pick over the last 10 months, and you don't just go taking a player like that off the field for long stretches.
C.D. Carter noted another encouraging development from Sunday's game:
The Chargers' pace has to be encouraging to anyone investing in Keenan, Rivers, Gates, Mathews, Woodhead and Green. Especially Keenan.— C.D. Carter (@CDCarter13) August 24, 2014
You can stew over Mathews' workload or injury history, but this is a talented guy who is coming off a career year, is running behind the same offensive line, is part of a fantasy-friendly offense and is starting to show some pass-catching ability. Oh, and you can get him at the end of the fourth round.
If Mathews is your second running back, you should be feeling very confident.