Thursday, 14 July 2016 00:00

Ryan Mathews: A potential workhorse back for Philadelphia this season

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With Darren Sproles (pictured) and rookie Wendall Smallwood rounding out the backfield, Eagles RB Ryan Mathews has the inside track as the team's starter...for now. With Darren Sproles (pictured) and rookie Wendall Smallwood rounding out the backfield, Eagles RB Ryan Mathews has the inside track as the team's starter...for now. Keith Allison/Flickr

When former San Diego Chargers running back signed with the Philadelphia Eagles back in 2015, he was actually considered the second-tier back to DeMarco Murray, a back who had also been signed away from his former team that same offseason.

But despite starting as the backup, Mathews shined brightest for Philadelphia last season as the six-year veteran rushed for 539 yards and 6 touchdowns on 106 attempts, averaging 8 fantasy points per game.

Perhaps one of the keys to Mathews flourishing was former Eagles coach Chip Kelly's system, which valued inside runners that could make quick lateral cuts in traffic. Mathews never possessed jaw-dropping agility or elusiveness, but does have good agility and his size at 6'0, 220 lbs allows him to maintain pretty good balance through contact. Overall, he's a good but not great back that can consistently churn out 4-yard gains up the middle.

When it comes to his fantasy situation in 2016, Mathews is the clear front runner in the Philadelphia backfield with the departure of Murray to the Tennessee Titans. 33-year-old Darren Sproles is expected to remain the team's change-of-pace back and rookie Wendall Smallwood has drawn some intrigue as a darkhorse that could push for touches if Sproles and Mathews come out sluggish early on.

One thing working in Mathews' favor is the Eagles situation at offensive line. Overall, the unit ranked 12th according to Pro Football Focus in 2015. While they've dropped off since leading LeSean McCoy to a rushing title in 2013, they'll still return Pro Bowler Jason Peters at left tackle and Jason Kelce at center. They added former Houston Texan Brandon Brooks at left guard, signing him to a $40 million deal this past March. Brooks brings some much needed youth in the trenches at just 26 years old and only missed four games in three seasons with Houston. Overall, this offensive line likely won't be incredible, but it won't be dismal either and should carve out some run lanes for Mathews.

Despite the offensive line being a bright spot, the Eagles could really struggle to score in 2016 due to their lackluster skill players. No. 1 wide receiver Jordan Matthews is still struggling as an outside wide receiver and may be relegated to the slot once again. Second-year wideout Nelson Agholor is coming off a disappointing rookie season where he dealt with injuries and is now battling issues off the field. So the Eagles will likely need to place Reuben Randle, Chris Givens or Josh Huff on the outside with Agholor. Teams won't be scared to single cover those wideouts which makes it easier to stop the run.

When it comes to his own talent, Mathews showed he can be a valuable feature back in the past but his most prolific seasons were sporadic and didn't instill much trust in him on a year-to-year basis. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark twice in five years with San Diego and never came close to scoring double-digit touchdowns. Never considered a goal-line running back, Mathews instead did most of his damage between the 20s which limits his upside in fantasy.

Injuries have also been a problem throughout Mathews' career. He suffered a concussion and missed three games in 2015. He missed 10 games in 2014 with an MCL injury and three games with a fractured collarbone in 2012. He played in all 16 games just once in his career, making him a liability for a full season if you end up drafting him.

Knowing Mathews struggles to stay healthy in a feature back role, there's a good chance first-year coach Doug Pederson opts to go with a committee-style attack, which could hurt Mathews chances as even a steady RB2. Right now Mathews is being drafted near players like Jay Ajayi, Matt Forte, Jonathan Stewart, and Matt Jones. He's actually a good bargain there given his situation as a possible lead back.

You know what you're getting from Mathews at this point. He's a solid 60-70 yard per game guy with the occasional 100-yard game thrown in. Injuries will likely keep him out of your lineup at times but he will be a good flex/RB2 against weaker run defenses in 2016.






Last modified on Friday, 15 July 2016 12:42
George Banko

George Banko started talking about fantasy football shortly after graduating college. He started as an intern at before working as a staff writer for Fantasy Knuckleheads. He currently contributes to the Fantasy Hot Read podcast, which is available on itunes. He also educated himself on player evaluation and is a graduate of The Scouting Academy in 2015, which is an online course run by former NFL Scout Dan Hatman. He started Fantasy Football Helpers as a blog in 2011 and converted it to a full-scale website in 2014. Read more.

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