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Ryan Mathews not viewed as Chargers' three-down RB

Ryan Mathews recently acknowledged that he's been "just an average back" since the San Diego Chargers traded up to select him at No. 12 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.

He's gotten no argument from frustrated fantasy football leaguers or the Chargers' top beat writer.

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UT-San Diego's Michael Gehlken said Tuesday on Footballguys.com's "The Audible" podcast that he had picked up on a "pretty clear sense" toward the end of last season that Mathews would never become the player the Chargers envisioned when they drafted him.

Former general manager A.J. Smith drafted Mathews to be a three-down workhorse, but "you can count the number of third-down receptions he's had in his career on two hands," Gehlken said. Norv Turner's coaching staff never trusted Mathews' pass protection or route running in high-leverage third-down or two-minute drill situations.

The new regime has talked up Mathews as a potential "bellcow back" who needs more help from the offensive line and a bigger role in the passing game.

The front office's actions suggest otherwise. With veteran Ronnie Brown already on the roster, the Bolts signed passing-down specialist Danny Woodhead away from the New England Patriots. Outside of Vincent Brown and perhaps Philip Rivers, Woodhead was the Chargers' most impressive player in spring practices.

"So Woodhead is going to be a big part of this thing," Gehlken said. "Woodhead is just better in a lot of areas than Ryan Mathews."

Mathews still has a chance to carve out a career as a solid early-down running back if he can shake the injury bug, but the Bolts seem to have come to grips with his limitations. He's not going to be the perennial Pro Bowl player Smith once envisioned.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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