Darren McFadden or Ryan Mathews: Who's the Best Running Back in the AFC West?

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Darren McFadden or Ryan Mathews: Who's the Best Running Back in the AFC West?
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Ryan Mathews shakes off yet another defender.

I've been reading some pretty good debates on the Internet about who is better. Is it the San Diego Chargers' Ryan Mathews or the Oakland Raiders' Darren McFadden?

Personally, I have no idea which guy is better.

If you go strictly by rushing statistics, McFadden is better. If you go by total yardage Mathews is better.

If you go by the Football Outsiders running back rankings, Mathews is a whole heck of a lot better.

When it comes to running the ball, McFadden averages 5.7 yards per carry versus Mathews' 4.9. Mathews more than makes up for the difference in receiving yards by averaging 13 yards per catch which is 4.2 yards more than McFadden.

The Chargers and Raiders run completely different systems which I feel is responsible for the difference in the distribution of yards between these two stellar backs. If McFadden and Mathews traded teams, the stats would flip accordingly in my opinion.

In the Chargers offensive system, the running back needs to be a highly effective receiver out of the backfield. The Chargers drafted LaDainian Tomlinson to be another Thurman Thomas and drafted Mathews to be another LT.

A back who is a duel rushing and receiving threat is what the Chargers had in mind and that's what they seem to have.

In fact, if you look at the receiving rankings for running backs on the Football Outsiders website, you'll find that Mathews' rankings are slightly better than LT's who is still highly effective in the passing game.

A statistical look at which runner is better.

 

The Chargers system calls for the development of those skills. Mathews was a non-factor in the passing game last season. This season, he's one of the best in the league. If McFadden played for the Chargers, he'd be one of the best, because playing for the Chargers would have forced him to develop those skills.

If I had to guess, the Raiders chose McFadden to be a home run threat every time he touches the ball, which he is. He's not the type of running back that will gain yardage on every rush, but when he breaks loose, you can forget about running him down.

Both guys are doing exactly what their teams envisioned them to do. To me, there is no better running back here. Each guy is doing the job he was drafted to do and is doing it well.

One thing's for sure, I'll take Mathews' power over McFadden's flash any day. Blessed with a stiff arm that makes defensive backs wilt and defensive linemen take flight, it's no wonder why Mathews is successful on his runs 15 percent more of the time than McFadden.

Statistical Snapshot

Against All Opponents

 

McFadden

Mathews

Rushing Attempts

91

85

Rushing Yards

519

419

Yards Per Carry

5.7

4.9

Receptions

17

20

Receiving Yards

149

261

Yards per Reception

8.8

13

Total Touches

108

105

Yards From Scrimmage

668

680

Yards Per Touch

6.19

6.48

Total Touchdowns

4

3

 

Against Common Opponents

 

McFadden

Mathews

Rushing Attempts

36

36

Rushing Yards

225

189

Yards Per Carry

6.25

5.2

Receptions

5

8

Receiving Yards

54

69

Yards per Reception

10.8

8.63

Total Touches

41

44

Yards From Scrimmage

279

258

Yards Per Touch

6.8

5.86

Total Touchdowns

4

3

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