You guys remember Ryan Mathews back in 2010? He was actually considered a Top 10 fantasy running back before he even saw a single snap in the NFL. Fresh out of Fresno State, Mathews (who was in his early 20s at the time) stepped into a situation where Hall of Fame running back Ladainian Tomlinson went ring chasing with the New York Jets. Fellow Chargers backup running back Darren Sproles remained with the team, but was still relegated to the role of receiving back and was never considered to be a real replacement for Mathews. So everything looked lined up for fantasy production right off the bat for the rookie.
Flashback to 2010
Due to his situation, Mathews had a rare opportunity to start off his NFL career as an RB1. It seems silly now considering Mathews was outrushed by the likes of Mike Tolbert during his rookie season. Tolbert finished 2010 with a team-high 735 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns. Mathews was much less impressive but still managed to rush for seven touchdowns and 678 yards (4.3 yards per carry).
One of the reasons Mathews ended up being a bust in his rookie season was his light workload. Even though then coach Norv Turner indicated he planned to run Mathews 20-25 times per game, that proved to not be the case in the early stages of 2010. Turner once again fell in love with Philip Rivers and the vertical passing offense, as the Chargers ranked second in the league in passing yards. This style of offense curbed Mathews' upside. Though he did rush 20 times for 79 yards in his first career game, he didn't carry the ball more than 9 times in the next three games. The coaching staff never fully trusted him to carry the offense and it resulted in passive numbers on a week to week basis.
Mathews average draft position in fantasy leagues for his rookie season was 14th overall in 2010. He was drafted ahead of players like Peyton Manning, Jamaal Charles, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Tom Brady. Sure, most of those players are quarterbacks and wide receivers and we all know running backs are the most valuable but Mathews was still highly regarded considering he never took a snap in the NFL before that season.
The situation in San Diego served as the main reason Mathews was drafted as high as he was. But ultimately, the Turner style of offense just didn't fit him.
What we have in 2015
With Mathews now departed for Philadelphia, the Chargers now have a backfield very similar to what they had when Tomlinson left in 2010. They have a scat back in Branden Oliver, who led the team in rushing yards with 562 but averaged a very benign 3.6 yards per carry and was largely shutdown by almost every good run defense down the stretch last year and was even held in check by below average defenses like Oakland and Jacksonville as well. I think it's fair to say it's unlikely Oliver morphs into a starting running back over the offseason and will likely remain a change of pace back going forward.
They also have Donald Brown, a running back who the Chargers insist will be back in 2015. Brown struggled mightily in 2014, rushing for just 223 yards on 85 carries (2.62 yards per carry) through 13 games. Brown's best season was in 2010 with the Colts when he rushed for 537 yards and six touchdowns. He hasn't had more than 134 carries in a single season and isn't likely to take over as the top back either.
The last guy San Diego has is Danny Woodhead, a back who suffered a nasty injury last season where he fractured his fibula and ankle early in 2014 but will likely return this season. Woodhead played in just three games and finished with just 38 yards rushing.
However, Woodhead probably has the most fantasy value due to his 2013 season. Woodhead compiled a very solid 76 catches on 86 targets for 605 yards and six touchdowns.
Offensive line improvements
The Chargers were one of the worst run offenses in the league last year, ranking among the bottom in teams according to Pro Football focus. They went out and tried to remedy this problem during free agency, signing Orlando Franklin for five years and $36.5 million with $20 million of that guaranteed. Franklin helped running backs like Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson compile very good fantasy numbers during his four-year stint with Denver.
In the upcoming draft, the Chargers are picking at No. 17 overall, a spot that would perfect to grab one of the top running backs in this draft. If they opt to go for a guy like Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon, there's no way you can't immediately put them on the same level as Mathews was in 2010.
Overall, the Chargers present possibly one of the best fantasy situations for running backs in 2015 and are a team you must monitor in the offseason if you need a running back either on your dynasty team or if you're drafting one in a redraft league. If you want more information on Todd Gurley, check out Josh Mensch's prospect piece.