Every season there are a few players at every position that finally step up and realize their full potential. Who are this year’s breakout running back candidates? Let’s take a look at a few of the possibilities:
Ryan Mathews – San Diego Chargers
The question with Mathews is if he can actually stay healthy for an entire 16 game schedule. In his first two NFL seasons he has already been forced to miss six games (four in his rookie year, two last season). If he can remain healthy for all of 2012, the former twelfth overall selection in 2011 is going to be in position to excel.
At the time that he was drafted nfl.com said (click here for the full draft profile):
“As a big, physical runner with explosive speed and quickness, Mathews gives the Chargers an every down back to team with Darren Sproles. After languishing near the bottom of the league in rushing the past two seasons, the Chargers’ running game is poised to make a resurgence with Mathews serving as the feature back.”
He hasn’t had the opportunity to be featured as the lone running back up until now, but with Matt Tolbert now in Carolina there appears to be little competition. Obviously I wouldn’t expect him to develop into a 25+ carry back every week, as the Chargers are going to continue to focus on throwing the football and will want to limit his carries a little bit in order to keep him healthy.
That said, in seven career games with at least 20 carries he’s gone for over 90 yards in six of them (in the other, which was his first career game, he had 78). In fact, he’s gone for over 100 yards in four of the seven.
With the extra carries and hopefully extra opportunities to find the end zone, the sky truly should be the limit for Mathews this season. That makes him well worth targeting on draft day.
Daniel Thomas – Miami Dolphins
He’s another player that needs to stay healthy and, if he does, should have an opportunity to emerge this season. This offseason the Dolphins traded away their top wide receiver (Brandon Marshall) and drafted a quarterback early (Ryan Tannehill) who will likely take over the offense if not at the start of the season, early on. In other words, does anyone really think we can fully trust the passing attack?
Thomas showed what was possible early, rushing for a combined 202 yards in Weeks 2 & 3, before injuries and the presence of Reggie Bush helped to limit his potential. While Bush should continue to be the main focus of the offense, on a team that is going to need to run the ball to be successful, Thomas should also get ample opportunities to produce.
At 6’1”, 228 lbs. it is nearly impossible to think that he didn’t score a single rushing touchdown last season. Wouldn’t you imagine him getting chances as the goal line back? Assuming he’s going to score TD and get carries, he has the potential to be a viable late round pick.
There is no arguing that he disappointed a year ago, but let everyone else in your league ignore him. Draft him as a depth option and gain a potential starter.
Stevan Ridley – New England Patriots
We already discussed the Patriots running game in great detail (click here to view), but with BenJarvus Green-Ellis now in Cincinnati the Patriots are going to turn things over to their young backs. Ridley showed plenty of upside late in the 2011 season, when given the opportunity. He was given 11+ carries each of the final three weeks, rushing for over 60 yards in each of them and averaging over 5 yards per carry. Look for him to get the first opportunity in New England and therefore has the potential to emerge. He’s going to be a risky option, because you never really know what the Patriots are going to do, so you do have to keep that in mind.
Make sure to check out our 2012 fantasy football rankings: