Last April, the Chargers traded up in the NFL Draft to the #12 spot in order to select a RB out of Fresno State named Ryan Mathews. San Diego gave up their 1st round (28th overall), 2nd round and 4th round picks as well as ILB Tim Dobbins in order to draft him wihile also picking up the Dolphins 4th and 6th round picks. In my draft day analysis of the trade I concluded that the trade was an even swap so long as you considered Tim Dobbins' value to be that of a 4th round pick.
Mathews toted the rock for 3 seasons with the Fresno State Bulldogs. He came out early, leaving after only his junior year. That final season solidified him as one of the top backs in the draft when he rushed for 1808 yards on 276 carries and scored 19 rushing touchdowns including a number of impressive, highlight-reel, breakaway runs.
Both in college and the pros, he gained a reputation for getting injured. He missed time every season he played at Fresno State and he missed significant time this season for the Chargers. Another problem with his rookie season were his fumbles. He fumbled 5 times despite playing in only 12 games. This was not a problem he carried over from college where his only fumble occurred in his final game. A knock against him coming into the league was his inexperience catching the football, but so far that has not proven to be a major concern.
As a learning opportunity, a reaction to a lack of depth and possibly as a PR stunt the Chargers used their final game to see what Mathews could do with a heavy running workload. He put up good numbers with 120 yards rushing, 4.6 yards/carry, 3 TDs and his longest run of his short career (31 yards). It was a nice little tease as to what the future could hold. However, hidden in that game were two fumbles that the Chargers fortunately recovered and the knowledge that the performance came against on the most porous run defenses in the league. That being said, looking good against a bad run defense is not a crime, it's just something to be noted.
In his next season, Mathews should be able to come into camp more prepared. He shouldn't have the specter of contract negotiations looming around him. And the burden of replacing a local icon will be lessened slightly because of the time passed and the help from his now trusted partner in rushing crime Mike Tolbert. Promise remains, but opinions can still be formed. Time for you to weigh in.