Ryan Mathews to the Philadelphia Eagles: Can Chip Kelly Salvage His Career?
Note: Since Mathews' signing was initially reported, it's been said that he hasn't officially signed the deal. DeMarco Murray is currently in the mix to go to Philadelphia as well, per reports. We'll have analysis as soon as anything happens.
As the Philadelphia Eagles continue to make headlines through their blockbuster quarterback trade, running back trade, and balking at paying their former number-one wide receiver, coach Chip Kelly and company continue to keep the NFL on their toes with what they'll do next.
Recently given control over all personnel decisions this offseason, Kelly hasn't been shy about molding his team into how he envisions it. After making several defensive roster acquisitions, Kelly finally has made a move to actually add to his offense instead of continually subtracting from it in an offensive fire sale.
The Eagles had running back Ryan Mathews in for a visit early this morning and reportedly are in the works of inking him to a deal. Mathews is coming off a disappointing 2014 season where injuries limited him to just six games. After seeing rookie Branden Oliver shoulder the load last year along with other running back pieces, San Diego felt that Mathews no longer became an offseason priority.
Philadelphia became an enticing place for veterans following the news of LeSean McCoy's departure. Since 2013, Kelly's offense has the fourth-most rushing attempts in the NFL -- an opportunity many running backs would salivate towards, unless you're Frank Gore. Bringing in a veteran with versatility was high on Kelly's offseason agenda, and while the Eagles missed out on Gore, picking up Mathews was a good move by a team in need at the running back position.
The biggest knock on Mathews to this point is his career is his inability to stay on the field due to injury. Through five NFL seasons, he's only been able to make it through a full 16 games unscathed once.
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In 2013, during his last healthy year, Mathews' Rushing NEP ranked 12th out of all running backs with at least 100 carries, ranking him between Matt Forte and Marshawn Lynch. In 2011? Also 12th. Mathews has proven to be an efficient running back if he can stay on the field -- but that is unquestionably a big "if".
The former first-round pick out of Fresno State has also overcome a fumbling issue that once plagued his career. In his first two seasons, he combined to lose the football 10 times, yet has gone on to reduce this bad habit to only fumbling five times over the last three years combined.
While Mathews may not have had the golden start to his career that the Chargers had hoped for when they drafted him 12th overall, it's still difficult putting the dreaded "bust" label on him.
Mathews has had success in the league -- his 2011 campaign stands out head and shoulders as his best year to date -- but for a running back entering his age-28 season, Kelly may employ a committee approach to keep Mathews fresh and off the injury list. Suffering a MCL and ankle injuries last year, Mathews' durability should be Kelly's biggest concern as he's produced fairly well when healthy.
LeSean McCoy's departure opens up an incredulous 628 rushing attempts over the past two years -- tops in the NFL. However, McCoy's production had fallen off in 2014 through a myriad of reasons. Mathews will provide Kelly with the north-south running back he's been craving, while new teammate Darren Sproles can come in for relief in an attempt to limit Mathews' exposure to injuries. Even with Sproles and incumbent Chris Polk, Kelly still may take a look at the upcoming draft to find additional help.
The 2015 incoming rookie class is loaded with talent at the running back position. Pending any ridiculous draft pick trades that Kelly would make to reunite with Marcus Mariota, the Eagles should be in a great position to find some youth for the running back squad. Although at this point, that should be far from a given after seeing what Kelly's capable of the past few weeks.
Kelly has often stated "the best ability is availability". He is providing Ryan Mathews a golden opportunity to showcase his talent in Kelly's scheme, and if Mathews can prove to make himself available over the course of the season, he may just be rewarded with the success he's been looking for.