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Spin Doctors: Ryan Mathews vs. Doug Martin

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade
Ryan Mathews
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Evans expects Mathews to emerge as the workhorse in San Diego. 

Ups and downs characterize the short careers of Ryan Mathews and Doug Martin. Both have penetrated the RB1 class. Both have triggered massive migraines. In this cage-match to the death, Brad Evans and Andy Behrens beat one another to a bloddy pulp over who you should draft. 

Sound the bell ... 

The Noise, naturally, professes his renewed love for Mathews

Well, well, well … our fearless leader, Brandon Funston, gave yours truly an open, unfiltered forum to discuss the merits of the greatest running back in human history, but only in 250 words? Brevity, obviously, will not be honored.

This is Ryan Mathews, my ultimate man-crush/mantasy/baby boo/Tenderoni/honey bunny/love muffin, a man who’s repeatedly broken hearts but regained a fair level of respectability last year.

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Heavily discounted in drafts a summer ago, Mathews had the look of a FLEX-only rusher early in the season. He worked almost exclusively in an early-down role ceding passing down and, occasionally, goal-line work to plucky Danny Woodhead. Through the first five weeks, he ranked No. 36 among rushers in per game average giving his critics plenty of ammunition.

However, starting with a 102-yard spanking of the Colts in Week 6, Mathews started to resemble the back that raked in 2011. From that point on he rolled. Over his final 11 games he averaged 4.68 yards per carry, 104.0 total yards per game and scored six touchdowns. His subsequent 13.7 per game output in standard leagues checked in at No. 9. Overall, his 0.40 fantasy points per snap outpaced the ENTIRE RB field (Among rushers with at least 300 snaps).

Despite the bounce-back campaign, many refuse to trust Mathews as a viable RB2. Doubters feel Donald Brown’s arrival combined with the return of Woodhead signals a touch reduction for the incumbent. But San Diego wants to run the ball more this season, with, as OC Frank Reich revealed recently, “the pounder” shouldering much of the load.  He’ll again contribute minimally as a pass-catcher diminishing his worth in PPR, but another 300 touches, 1,300 total yards and 6-8 TDs are likely.

As discussed previously, I’ve expressed my fears over Martin.  Going back to his later days at Cal Jeff Tedford isn't a one-back kind of guy, which supports the idea Charles Sims and Mike James/Bobby Rainey will eat into his workload. Equally concerning, Martin, even when healthy last year, experienced a significant dip in several primary (e.g. YPC) and secondary categories (e.g. elusive rating and breakaway percentage). It’s no stretch to think he logs 15 or so touches per game.

This fall, the Bolt will pack the most thunder.  

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Behrens slaps some Buccaneer booty: First of all, I'd like to remind you of Brad's feelings for Doug Martin at this time last year. My colleague ranked him first overall for 2013 drafts -- not just first among running backs, but first overall. He loved Martin like a newborn kitten. Now, he thinks maybe Bobby Rainey is a threat to his carries. Yeah, OK.

I've already had the Tampa Bay rushing workload discussion, but I'll repeat myself for the sake of this debate. At no point as Jeff Tedford suggested that he wants anything close to an even split in carries among two or more backs. At worst, he's only indicated that one player can't handle a full-season, every-snap workload. And don't tell me he always ran committees at Cal, because that's not quite accurate. Justin Forsett once had a 305-carry season for the Bears; JJ Arrington carried 289 times for 2,018 yards in '04.

Lovie Smith offered these offseason thoughts about his backfield: "I think you have to have a bell cow. [Martin] is ours. ... Two will play, but it's not a rotation that where every series we're going to have a different guy in there."

Honestly, I see no reason to worry. Martin is much better than James and Rainey. Sims could see some passing-down work, but he's not going to rotate with Doug. When healthy as a rookie, Martin gave us a 1,926 scrimmage yard season; his all-purpose, all-terrain talent is well known. Draft him with confidence.

I think highly of Mathews' ability, too, but we absolutely know he won't be a big factor in the passing game, because Woodhead owns the backfield receiving workload. And of course we have the usual Mathews fragility worries. He's dealt with injuries in every season since high school. He gets full credit for appearing in all 16 games last year, but he broke down in the playoffs. The Bolts didn't give Donald Brown that three-year deal simply because they wanted an insurance policy for Mathews; it's unreasonable to think the new guy won't see a significant number of carries. Neither Mathews or Woodhead are under contract beyond the current season, so Brown could very well be the future lead back in San Diego.

For me, the bottom line here is that Martin at least has a shot at, say, 1,800 scrimmage yards and double-digit scores. He's done it before. With Mathews, it's never gonna happen.

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