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Mathews and McFadden Represent High Risk/High Reward Options
Joe Owens, Rosterwatch.com Featured Analyst (Follow On Twitter)

A dynamic duo that fantasy managers may want to consider, especially if drafting toward the tail end of fantasy drafts, is the tandem of Ryan Mathews and Darren McFadden. Jaws will drop and minds will begin to toil with the possibility of the inconceivable. In what universe could this be possible for a team drafting late in fantasy leagues?

Stay with me here. Let’s eliminate the top three running backs: Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice. They will be gone in the first four picks of most 12 team leagues. Now add the number one wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, and QB Aaron Rodgers. Maurice Jones-Drew and Chris Johnson fanboys will likely pull the trigger on those two guys prior to pick eight. Why wouldn’t they? Both of those backs have displayed the dexterity on the field to stay healthy.

Leaving us to wrestle with our fantasy doubts. At this point, Ryan Matthews and Darren McFadden are the next top prizes on the fantasy draft market, and the potential is sky-high for both of them.

But honestly, let’s ask ourselves about our feelings. Yes, our feelings. What would it be like to have both Ryan Mathews and Darren McFadden representing our squads’ respective backfields when the time comes to set our fantasy line-ups? Aren’t we just a little enamored with the explosive potential that each player carries like an eight hundred pound gorilla going into the 2012 NFL season? As of today, both backs are defined by inconsistencies within their careers that demonstrate both capability and inability. The main issue: Neither has ever shown the ability to stay healthy amidst undependable, yet unbelievable exploits of fantasy prowess. It’s boom or it’s bust.

Chargers HC Norv Turner has recently indicated that Ryan Matthews will receive well over 300 touches this season. In all likelihood, at least 50 of those touches will almost certainly be catches. If Matthews is your guy in a PPR league, then the calculating numbers could stand to really be something special. Yet, there is the whole injury bug. The Ryan Matthews Headache. You know it if you’ve had it. He’s going to have to play a full season sooner or later, right?

What we do know for sure is that he hasn’t played a full season yet. During his rookie season, Mathews averaged 4.3 yards a carry and scored seven touchdowns while playing in only 12 games. The next season, 2011, Matthews played in only 12 games managing six touchdowns, 50 receptions and touching the ball 272 times. Assuming Ryan Matthews were to put in a full season’s worth of work, prorating his total numbers would equate to almost 1800 total yards with almost 60 catches under his belt. For the sake of argument assigning Matthews with 10 touchdowns in a full 16 game season seems logical and safe.

You can see where our excitement is coming from, and we have yet to touch on DMC’s stats, which are no secret to the fantasy football community. The dilemma concerning Darren McFadden, and I wish we could go all William Shakespeare here and say it is much ado about nothing, but it’s not: Injuries. McFadden’s injury history will be affecting his draft stock this season without a doubt.

In five seasons, Run DMC has never played a full one. In his rookie season, and again in 2010, the workhorse played in 13 games, yet it was in 2011 that the Oakland Raiders running back was gearing up for his most prolific season statistically. Yet, once again McFadden’s season was cut short, this time after only six games. Within that six-game stretch DMC averaged a whopping 5.4 yards a carry with 768 total yards on 132 touches. 19 of those touches came while catching the ball out of the backfield. During McFadden’s 113 carries last season, he managed to bust eight of those trots for twenty yards or longer. That was the 12th best in the NFL for the season, and he did it in six games.

Prorating McFadden’s numbers will allow you to see that he would have eclipsed 2000 total yards. However, once again, it’s the injury after two carries in week seven that terrifies owners when thinking of pulling the trigger on Darren McFadden.

In preparing to occupy my assigned number eight draft slot in a 12-team high stakes league, I have been entrenched in fantasy mock draft season. And since this season’s inception I routinely find myself staring down a loaded Ryan Matthews and Darren McFadden double barrel.

The running back position is not a deep position in fantasy this season, but then again, is it ever? Dependable running backs and the top five quarterbacks always go early, often within the first three rounds historically. This is nothing new.

Recently, a sentiment has become en vogue within fantasy football circles regarding 2012 fantasy draft strategy. That running backs are overrated in fantasy football, but this upcoming fantasy season, if you’re not drafting back to back RBs with your first two picks, especially when you occupy one of the last four draft positions, then come playoff time you will likely be on the outside looking in.

As of publish date, we have managed to land the duo of Matthews & McFadden in nine out of 51 twelve team mock drafts.


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