Chargers trade up to draft L.T.'s replacement, Mathews, at No. 12

SAN DIEGO -- Ryan Mathews was such a big LaDainian Tomlinson fan that he wore No. 21 at Fresno State and followed the Chargers.

Now he has the chance to replace Tomlinson.

The Chargers spent big in pulling off a surprising trade with the Miami Dolphins to move up in the first round and take Mathews with the No. 12 overall pick Thursday night.

"I always loved L.T.," Mathews said during a conference call. "I've watched games here and there. They were basically my team growing up. I'm really excited."

The Chargers moved up 16 spots in the first round and 16 spots in the fourth round, and they received Miami's sixth-round pick in exchange for the Nos. 28 and 40 picks, plus inside linebacker Tim Dobbins.

"It's mind-blowing that they did that," said Mathews, the nation's leading rusher at 150.7 yards per game. "I didn't expect that. It's awesome."

Chargers coach Norv Turner called Mathews a complete back.

"I was here when we drafted L.T., and I know how excited I was that day," said Turner, who was offensive coordinator when the Chargers chose Tomlinson with the No. 5 pick in 2001. "I'm equally excited to get Ryan here now."

The Chargers have become pass-happy behind quarterback Philip Rivers and his talented receivers, and they ranked near the bottom in every significant rushing category last season. The pick of Mathews, though, shows they're willing to mix it up.

"When you see this guy play, you're going to understand why we made the deal we did," Turner said. "I think he's extremely special. I'm thrilled to get him here. I know our offensive line is going to be thrilled to get him here. I think Ryan's going to be excited to be here when he gets around our guys. He knows we're a good football team."

Tomlinson was released in February after nine brilliant seasons in which he became one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.

Tomlinson, who turns 31 in June, was injured early in the 2009 season and finished with 730 yards on 223 carries for an average of 3.3 yards per carry, all career lows.

"He's my favorite running back," said Mathews, a 218-pounder who scored 19 touchdowns last season. "You can't fill shoes like that. He is great, and he's really something else. I'm my own guy, and I'm going to come in there and try to make a name for myself just like he did after he was drafted. It's going to be an awesome experience."

As for his style, "I always tried to model myself after L.T., but he's a different guy," Mathews said. "I think my style is a little bit more in between the tackles. I'm fast enough to get around the corner, I've got great vision and I hit the hole pretty well. I think I'm just a good, all-around running back."

The Chargers, trying to rebound from a playoff face-plant against the New York Jets, had been targeting a running back and a defensive tackle. Jamal Williams, the run-stuffing anchor of their defensive line, was released March 4.

Chargers general manager A.J. Smith wasn't made available for comment.

Jimmy Raye, the director of player personnel whose father is the 49ers' offensive coordinator, said the Chargers had Mathews targeted all along.

"We felt like if there was something favorable for us we would make that move, and things just kind of materialized over the last few days," Raye said. "We weren't sure it would happen, but luckily for us, it did, and we feel good about it. We think he has a chance to be a pretty good player in this league."

Smith has spent heavily to move up in the draft before, but in later rounds. In 2007, he moved up 25 spots in the second round to take safety Eric Weddle. The following year, the Chargers moved into the third round to take fullback Jacob Hester.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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