|Gregory Bull / Associated Press|
1. Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers
The Chargers cleared the path for Ryan Mathews by releasing LaDainian Tomlinson and moving up in the draft to select the Fresno State running back. Mathews will be the featured back for a team that fell to 31st in rushing last season. With Philip Rivers directing the offense and checking in and out of plays to put the team in the best situation, Mathews is going to get a lot of plays against two high safeties worried more about the pass more than the run. Tomlinson had 223 carries last year, and Ryan will get all of those and more.
Expect Mathews to be close to the 254 carries young Ray Rice had in Baltimore. Mathews will have another good situation with Antonio Gates on the field. Teams with tight ends who can flex their alignment usually cause defenses to play it with a man and a half, which opens up a lot more running lanes. Mathews only caught 19 passes in college, but the Chargers already have discovered he has good hands and has three receptions in his first two preseason games. He could easily wind up with 30 receptions this year, even though the third-down package will usually include Darren Sproles instead of Mathews. Mathews averaged 6.1 yards per carry in college and 5.0 in the preseason. Barring injury he is ready for a 1,000-yard season on a team built for a playoff run.