2014 San Diego Chargers Offseason Position Preview: Running Back

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Examining the 2014 San Diego Chargers' running back position, including possible offseason moves.

Going into 2014, it appears that the running back position, while in need of some additional help, will continue to be a strength of Chargers football for at least one more year.


2014 Offseason Position Preview: QB | TE | RB


* Age as of September 1, 2014
Player Age* Signed Through 2014 Cap Number Cap Savings
Ryan Mathews 26 2015 $3.11 million ($155,000)
Danny Woodhead 28 2014 $2.25 million Pry him from my cold, dead fingers
Ronnie Brown Cretaceous Period Please retire $0 $0

Going into 2014, the Chargers have quite a few decisions to make at the running back position. It will be Danny Woodhead's last year under contract, and he's due for a big raise based on his play during the 2013 season.

Ronnie Brown, bless his heart, is basically a little older than dirt in running back years. I loved his run against Cincinatti, as well as his skills as a pass blocker and occasional receiver, as much as anyone. But the Chargers will need more from the 3rd running back on the depth chart in 2014, if only to serve as insurance / rest for their arguable 2013 MVP, Ryan Mathews. Expect Ronnie to retire be allowed to pursue other opportunities.

Yeah, I said it. Ryan Mathews was terrific in 2013 and maybe the team's MVP. He has his shortcomings, which we all know and love to harp about — okay, okay, I know and love to harp about — but his display of speed, strength, toughness and vision during the second half of the season was inspiring. He also improved his footwork.

Beyond that, it's the last year that cutting Ryan Mathews is prohibitively expensive, and while Ryan had a great year in 2013, it wouldn't be absurd to question his long term viability at the position given his injury history.

Think about how often we used to see runs like this from Ryan:

Ryan Mathews

And how, in 2013, those runs were pretty much always the guaranteed 3-4 yard gain. His footwork also dramatically improved from the no-confidence, "where the heck am I going?" mess we saw last year:

Ryan Mathews

He was great. Here's a run that basically sums up all the improvements Ryan made to his game:

Ryan Mathews

Ryan identifies the correct hole while also pressing the defense outside, then uses his vision to cut back the run, makes a guy miss and even falls forward at the end of it just for gigs. Great job, great effort, Ryno.

Potential Cuts

The team will probably not bring back Ronnie Brown. That leaves them looking for a new backup running back that can spell Mathews.

Free Agency

Keep an eye out on free agency, where there are nearly always bargains to be found at the running back position. Case in point: Danny Woodhead in 2013. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Chargers pick up a veteran running back for 2-3 years that could: A) help them to rest Ryan Mathews in 2014 and B) provide insurance in case they are unable (or unwilling) to re-sign Danny Woodhead to a long–term deal.

One name to keep an eye on could be Bernard Scott of the Ravens. In extremely limited opportunities in Cincinnati and Baltimore, Scott has shown himself to be a versatile weapon that can handle a spot start, while also contributing in the passing game.

Another guy I'd love to see the Chargers target is Toby Gerhart, who has basically been a glorified insurance policy against Adrian Peterson's health but has real talent and can be the power-type running back that Ryan Mathews is.

The Draft

Interestingly enough, Chargers GM Tom Telesco seems to buck against the trend of waiting until later rounds to select a running back. Joseph Addai and Donald Brown were both selected in the 1st rounds of the 2006 and 2009 drafts respectively, so Telesco's Colts had a history at the position.

However, giving the ludicrous number of holes in the Chargers roster, I don't believe Telesco will target a running back high. Instead, look for the Chargers to pick up a developmental type running back in the later rounds, possibly a pass-catching specialist that could sit behind Woodhead for a year before taking over 3rd down duties later in his career. One extremely interesting prospect in De'Anthony Thomas of Oregon, who's basically a lightning bolt trapped in a body.

Ryan Mathews

A side benefit of drafting a player like Thomas is that he could also return kicks, something the Chargers clearly need because they put Ronnie Brown there last year. Not exactly explosive, Ronnie.

Conclusion

While fans shouldn't expect a big splash at the running back position in 2014, how Telesco handles this position at the back-end of the roster could tell us a lot about his plans for the future. If he goes after a higher-tier free agent than anticipated, it could mean Ryan Mathews' days in San Diego are numbered. A 3rd–down back might mean Danny Woodhead will not be resigned, which would be a shame.

The top-end of the running back position looks to be a strength of the Chargers for years to come, and watching the Chargers fill out the back-end of the unit will be an interesting study in how Telesco and company view depth. Pay attention, Charger fans.

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