First Down: Clearing the air about Ryan Mathews

Letting go of the past is difficult.

Owners burned previously by a high draft pick often act like grumpy old men. The mere mention of said player boils the blood leading the enraged to embark on an endless rant of disgust. Most stubbornly, the hate harbored by these victims creates long-holding grudges. Even entertaining the idea of investing their heart and soul into the same steamy pile of worthlessness, no matter how ripe the situation, ranks alongside death by clown torture, a frightening proposition.

Sadly, this is how millions living in Fantasyland feel about Ryan Mathews.

Roughly two weeks ago in what some are deeming the "Suckiest Mock Team Ever Assembled," yours truly selected the controversial rusher with the fifth overall pick in a standard 14-team draft. Normally commenters beneath Arcade entries criticize small grammatical errors, attempt to start fruitless "Fire (Insert Author)" campaigns or ramble about senseless drivel simply because they have the space to do so. However, in last week's mock recap (See full draft results here), the gallery focused its attention almost exclusively on my idiotic devotion to the alleged unreliable back. A taste:

Joseph C's perspective on Mathews is very fair. The first round is supposed to be about minimizing risk. But who says the Chargers workhorse can't be amazing? Below in bold are four common beliefs why Mathews is doomed to fail followed by my counterargument.

T.O.'s ego is more durable than Mathews

By far this is the strongest argument anyone can make for avoiding the hard-Charger, but not necessarily the brightest. Since football is a contact sport that requires exceptional mental and physical toughness, any running back is susceptible to injury. History provides proof. Of the 23 backs that busted over the past five seasons (Rushers drafted as RB1s in 12-team leagues that failed to finish inside the RB top-15) a whopping 14 or 60.8-percent failed to live up to expectation due to serious injury (missing at least three games).

The majority may feel Mathews would tear a tendon wrestling a stuffed animal, but last year he was surprisingly sturdy. Though bothered by the occasional nick or scrape, he gutted out 14 starts and grew stronger as the calender flipped. During his final five games of the season he averaged a sizable 21.4 touches and 15.6 fantasy points per game, an output that ranked eighth among rushers during that span.

Recall, without mandated OTAs due to the lockout, he entered camp last year flabby and out of shape which paved the way for Mike Tolbert to wrest away early season touches. Determined not to make the same mistake twice, he's hit the weight room hard and flipped monster-truck tires this offseason.

Mathews' numbers will suffer without Vincent Jackson stretching defenses

The absence of the enigmatic receiver won't negatively impact the plowshare's value as much as people think. Remember, with Tolbert now toiling in Carolina, Mathews will be Norv Turner's No. 1 option in a still explosive Chargers offense. Without question he will net roughly 22-25 touches per game. Part-time halfback/fullback Le'Ron McClain, Curtis Brinkley and seventh-round rookie Edwin Baker are distant figures in the review mirror. His integral role as a receiving back only supports the claim he's a top-tier RB1. Last year, he reeled in two fewer passes (50) than Matt Forte. In PPR formats, he's indispensable.

And let's not disrespect Robert Meachem, who Turner feels will flourish under his guidance. The wideout is more than capable of taking pressure off the running game. During his four-year stint with New Orleans he averaged a robust 16.1 yards per catch. The step from V-Jax to the former Saint really isn't that far down. Add in the return of Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown and Antonio Gates along with the acquisition of Eddie Royal, and Philip Rivers has plenty of useful weapons to choose from. Wide running lanes could be plentiful.

Because of Mathews' fumbling problems, someone is bound to pilfer goal-line carries

McClain could poach a TD or two next season, but undoubtedly Mathews will be leaned on near the pylons. Most are convinced he secretes butter naturally from his hands, but he lost the same number of pills (two) as sure-handed rushers Marshawn Lynch and Ray Rice.

And don't forget Tolbert is no longer in the picture. A season ago, the rolling beer keg bested Mathews 36-to-19 in red-zone touches. With Tolbert gone, the Bolt should hog goal-line carries. Only five backs — Michael Turner, Arian Foster, Frank Gore, LeSean McCoy and Rice — registered 50-plus RZ carries last fall. This year, Mathews will easily eclipse that mark.

San Diego's offensive line is fair at best

This is the most laughable claim of the bunch. Approximately five-months away from opening week no one truly knows how rigid/flimsy an offensive line may be. Tennessee' O-line is a prime example. Entering last year, the Titans' trench warriors were consistently ranked near the top of the league in run-blocking, but, evident in CJ2LAME's woeful campaign, they couldn't open a hole for a cockroach. Sure, San Diego's line could struggle, but it could also perform brilliantly. It's way too early to make concrete assertions.

On paper, the Chargers return a strong nucleus up front. Down the homestretch in '11, the unit executed well in pass protection and created substantial wiggle room for Mathews. Even if it depreciates, the incumbent should electrocute the competition. He checked in with the fourth-highest yards-after-contact per attempt tally (3.2) among qualifying rushers last year. Simply, the man can grind out yards whether by ground or air.

Bottom Line: Mathews will be a consensus first-round pick even in unchallenging formats. Those who believe otherwise are only kidding themselves. Because of his growing workload, expected prominent goal-line role and versatility, any risks associated with the RB are outweighed by the possible enormous rewards. Speaking as CEO of Team Huevos, Mathews finishes as a top-five back in 2012.

Mark the Noise's words.

Fearless Forecast (15 games): 258 carries, 1,238 rushing yards, 60 receptions, 511 receiving yards, 13 total touchdowns

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