2010 NFL Draft: Could Ryan Mathews Replace LaDainian Tomlinson?

Todd KaufmannSenior Writer IMarch 8, 2010

"With the 28th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers select Ryan Mathews out of Fresno State."

Those are words that a lot of people are wondering if they're going to hear, especially Mathews himself. There's no question that San Diego would be a great place for Ryan to play, and it's not far from the central California valley where he grew up. But where does Ryan want to go?

There are those that think he could be off the board long before the Chargers even get to pick. According to the Houston Chronicle , the Texans have already discussed the drafting Mathews with the 20th pick, making Ryan the second Bulldog to be taken in draft history by Houston. The first was David Carr as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft. Unfortunately for Carr, his tenure in Houston didn't go as well as he would have liked.

If the Texas do pass on Mathews and he's still on the board, would the Chargers even consider taking him? And if so, is there already pressure to replace the recently departed LaDainian Tomlinson?

When asked by ESPN.com, Mathews admitted that he took notice when the Chargers cut Tomlinson and said he would love to get the opportunity to play in San Diego.

“I’m a homegrown California guy, it would be great,” Mathews told Bill Williamson of ESPN.com . “They have an opening there. I hope it works out and I can go there.”

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There's no question that Ryan can come in and be a first year starter anywhere he's drafted: he's that good of a running back. Not only did he lead the nation in rushing in high school but he also led the nation in rushing as a junior at Fresno State.

Mathews missed most of the game against Nevada, and didn't play against Louisiana Tech after suffering a concussion against the Wolf Pack. Though he missed those games, Mathews still finished second in the nation in rushing (1,808), losing out to Stanford's Toby Gerhardt (1,871). Interestingly enough, Mathews trailed Gerhardt at the end of the season by just 63 yards, not to mention he carried the ball 67 fewer times than the Stanford back.

Even knowing that, however, there are a lot of people who didn't give Mathews his due credit or respect for no other reason than where he played. It didn't matter that he put up a 234-yard, three touchdown performance against Boise State on national television. A Boise State team that was giving up less than 100 yards rushing per game, by the way.

Even after coming back from a concussion and putting up 173 yards and three scores against Illinois, it still wasn't good enough for the critics to say anything good about him.

Entering the draft combine, Mathews started to open a lot of eyes among NFL teams, especially after running a 4.45-40 and benching 225 pounds 19 times.

The question becomes, if Mathews is on the board and still available when the Chargers pick comes up at No. 28, do they take a chance on him or do they wait for the later rounds when they can pick up a guy like Toby Gerhardt?

If I'm San Diego, I think you can not pass on a guy like Ryan Mathews. A guy that can make an immediate impact on your team and can be an every down back in the NFL. He has the speed that L.T. brought to San Diego and the strength to hit the holes and break tackles in the process.

We're just a few weeks away from the draft, and though Mathews is among a list of running backs that San Diego is interested in, he's the best choice they have. Though he doesn't come from a big school like USC, Cal, or Florida, it doesn't mean he can't make a bigger impact than any other running back in the draft.

Most critics said he wouldn't be a first round pick. Now, everyone's wondering if he'll even be on the board midway through the first round.

How quickly things change.