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The curious, crazy usage of Ryan Mathews

Andy Behrens
Roto Arcade

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Ryan Mathews, upended (USAT Images)

Warning: This post contains very little fantasy utility. I'm simply sharing a curiosity. It's a casual Friday, you guys, so give me a little latitude...

Over the past week, I've spent an excessive amount of time looking at individual player usage across the NFL, relying on the indispensable data collected by Pro Football Focus. The original intent was simply to see how often TY Hilton had been targeted as a percentage of his total snaps. (It's 17.6 percent, which is at the high end for receivers. The top-five WR/TEs: Rob Gronkowski at 25.6, Jordan Reed at 19.6, Julio Jones at 19.1, Kendall Wright at 18.9, Vincent Jackson at 18.8.)

Later, I started messing around with usage stats for running backs — and whoa, do we have an outlier.

Here's a quick look at the frequency with which individual backs receive either a carry or a target (minimum 130 snaps):

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That's kinda nuts, right?

When Ryan Mathews has been on the field this season, he's almost never a decoy, nor a blocker. If he's out there, he's touching the football. Michael Gehlken wrote about this issue back in September for the San Diego Union-Tribune, and Mathews' usage remains largely the same.

Of course any back's ratio of snaps-to-touches will be high if the player is featured in run-out-the-clock situations. It's not much of a surprise to see LeGarrette Blount's name near the top of the above list, for example. But it's a little crazy that the Chargers have such glaring tendencies based on backfield personnel.

Here's a nugget from PFF's Mike Clay...

Again: That's nuts. If the idea is to be unpredictable ... well, it ain't quite happening.

But obviously the committee arrangement in San Diego's backfield has been working just fine thus far — the team is 4-3 with a +24 point-differential — so I'm not saying anything needs to change. And Mathews had 21 of his carries in the win over Jacksonville, a game in which the Chargers cruised. We should also note that on the rare occasions when this team uses play-action, veering away from habit, Philip Rivers has been absolutely deadly. Like, top-of-the-charts deadly. He's completed 29 of his 37 throws off play-action (78.4 percent), passing for five scores and gaining 450 yards (12.2 Y/A). His passer rating on such throws is a ridiculous 156.9. (H/T commenter Brady.)

If you need a fantasy takeaway from the data dump above, I suppose it's this: Don't sweat the fact that Woodhead is out-snapping Mathews, 221 to 180. Whenever Mathews is in a game, he's doing work on behalf of fantasy owners. And, at least to this point, he remains unbroken.

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