James Wilder Jr.
Anyone who has read my columns knows I am not a Ryan Mathews supporter. My columns on him have been critical to say the least and I still say he has deserved every bit of that criticism. I write on the behalf of many Chargers faithful who shudder every time we see him on the field, ailing from whatever phantom injury he always seems to be playing through or coming back from this time.
Then this season happened.
In my own defense, after seeing what the Chargers were doing after bringing in new GM Tom Telesco and new head coach Mike McCoy, I gave Mathews the benefit of the doubt. In my season predictions I wrote Mathews would have 1100 yards rushing, provided he could stay healthy. McCoy was implementing a ball-control, rhythm passing game utilizing Philip Rivers abilities with short passes and short drops to minimize the beating our franchise quarterback has suffered over the last few seasons.
Telesco brought in Danny Woodhead to play the quintessential safety valve for Rivers, something he hasn’t had since the departure of Darren Sproles. As a result, all Mathews had to do was take the ball and plow forward and hopefully gain positive yardage.
This season, Mathews exceeded all expectations. Mathews played all sixteen games for the first time in his career. His power running spearheaded the Chargers offensive attack the last quarter of the season. In addition to that, Mathews finished fifth in the NFL in rushing last season with a career-high 1255 yards rushing. Even the anti-Mathews contingent such as myself had to admit the man earned his money this season.
Until this past season, Mathews career in San Diego has been marred by a litany of injuries, turnovers and ineffectiveness on the field. For the man who was chosen to be the heir apparent to Ladainian Tomlinson, Mathews has given Chargers fans little reason to support him until this season.
This upcoming season is the last season on Mathews contract. The decision looms. Do the Chargers resign Mathews to a long term deal or let him loose in free agency? If Mathews can reproduce this season’s numbers the team would be moved to give Mathews a few more years in lightning bolts. Knowing Mathews history, it’s hard to put faith in the assumption Mathews can be as durable season in and season out as he was last season.
Marring Mathews banner season is his performance in the playoffs. Mathews timely running yielded an average of 4 yards per carry (13 carries for 52 yards, 2 receptions for 12 yards) in the Chargers wild card round win over the Bengals. In the divisional playoffs against Denver, Mathews was injured (again) and lost for the game after only five carries. In the biggest moment of Mathews career, against a juggernaut of a team like Denver who ended up representing the AFC in the Super Bowl, Mathews and the injury bug reunited and the Chargers fell in the end.
So what do the Chargers do?
What the Chargers do is play Mathews the same as they did last season. It took a quarter of the season for the coaching staff to decide how to use Mathews but after Mathews showed he could be trusted to carry the ball effectively he carried the ball a lot more and the Chargers went 4-1 in the last month of the season, entering the playoffs on a four game winning streak. Mathews entire body of work needs to be evaluated and a decision made based on that information.
The Chargers also need to draft a running back to be Mathews understudy this season. As a 2nd through 7th round pick, there will be no pressure to throw that player into the fire right away. He can learn the offense and get acclimated to the pro game from the sidelines. Knowing Mathews’ injury history, that player will most likely see field time in meaningful games before the season is out but it is a good situation for an incoming blue chip running back to be in.
Two names that jump to the forefront are Trey Mason from Auburn and James Wilder Jr. from Florida State. Their teams faced off for the 2013 NCAA National Championship. Wilder is declaring for the draft after his sophomore season. Wilder is slightly over 6’2 and 232 pounds at the NFL Combine. The fact that Wilder ran a poor 40 time (4.86) means his draft stock dropped into the middle rounds, perfect place to groom a future feature back. Wilder is a dynamic runner with little wear on the tires.
It is unlikely a running back will be taken in the first round but Tre Mason is at the top of the running back class this season. He may be viewed as undersized at 5’9 but many backs his size have succeeded. Mason posted a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine but looks faster on the field. Mason is explosive as they come and he ran for over 1800 yards this season against the best conference in college football, the SEC. Seeing as how the Chargers draft at the bottom of every round, if Mason is still on board in the second round, picking him should be a lock. New GM Tom Telesco wants to increase team speed, and they don’t get much faster than Mason.
Other running backs are there for the taking in the middle rounds like Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde or De’Anthony Thomas of Oregon. The Chargers have room and time to groom the next full-time ball carrier instead of rushing him into the fray and potentially stumping his development. In the meantime, Mathews will have to put up or face free agency next offseason. The Chargers should find a stud back and cut ties with Mathews after next season. They need a back who is dependable and can be counted on in the payoffs. Mathews has not shown he is that guy.
The Chargers have made another step to solving this quandary when they signed Donald Brown on the first day of free agency. Brown was with Telesco in Indianapolis and despite only having five starts last season, led the Colts in rushing with 537 yards on 102 carries for a 5.3 yards per carry average and six touchdowns. Brown is also excellent catching the ball out of the backfield and unlike Mathews, understands pass protection and is proficient with it, unlike Mathews.
The Chargers signed Brown to a three-year deal so Telesco believes Brown has the skills to get the job done. Brown has had his own battles with nagging injuries but the Colts have always utilized him as a utility man, never in the feature back role until the failure of the Trent Richardson experiment last season. The Colts traded a first round pick for Richardson who then forgot how to run like he did in his rookie year when he amassed over 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Brown stepped into the feature role the last quarter of the season and Richardson was sent to the bench.
Mathews also addresses Telesco’s desire to improve team speed. Brown was a first round draft pick in 2009. At the 2009 Combine Brown posted a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash and has shown that speed on the field. The 5’10 back amassed 367 carries in his junior year at Connecticut, rushing for 2083 yards and 18 touchdowns. Those 367 carries are more than he has totaled in his last three seasons in the NFL, 344. The Chargers are already bringing in insurance for the likely scenario Mathews gets injured. Brown’s presence also allows the Chargers to trade Mathews instead of letting him walk as a free agent.
With Brown, do the Chargers still need to add a back in the draft? I say yes, especially if Mason is on the board in the second round. What say you Bolt Nation?
The Greg One
It is that time of year again and some may even consider me late to the party. It’s mock draft season. Today will be my first attempt at mocking the draft selections by your San Diego Chargers. I actually get a little bit pumped up about the debates that come up due to these mocks. They tend to make for strong conversation pieces.
I have a run of 5 drafts in a row in which, while prepping my final mock, I have prognosticated one player that would be drafted as a Charger. The consecutive streak began in 2009 when I made had the misfortune of jinxing San Diego by mocking Vaughn Martin and Gartrell Johnson to the Bolts. Oops. My bad.
In 2010, I nailed both Ryan Mathews and Cam Thomas as future members in lightning bolts. Obviously I had no clue that the team would have to trade up from 28 to 12 to secure the services of Mathews, but I did have them trading up for him close to the middle of the first round. There was a similar story with Cam Thomas. I had him going to the Bolts in the 3rd round as opposed to the 5th.
The draft in 2011 seemed to be one of the easier drafts to peg a player to be drafted for the Chargers. Leading up to the draft, San Diego was not shy about their love for Vincent Brown. He was another that I was lucky enough to tab ending up in America’s finest city.
In 2012, while writing for BoltBeat.com, I mocked Ladarius Green to the be taken in the 4th round. And last year I mocked cornerback Steve Williams to the Chargers in the 5th round and that is where he was selected.
Now that I have shown that even the sun shines on a draftnik’s butt every now and then, let us get on with the proceedings. Without further ado, the first edition of my Chargers 7 round mock draft.
Louis Nix NT Notre Dame 6’2″ 345 pounds
This pick will probably have people split down the middle. Nix is coming off of a year that ended due to surgery for a torn meniscus. He is a mammoth of a man and can take on multiple blockers. He has the perfect size for a 3-4 NT and is a powerful man. He is not going to put up sack numbers but he will demand double teams. The Chargers are in dire need of a space-eater and Nix is the best that is available. He may not last until the 25th pick in the 1st round but for the sake of this mock he is there and snagged by the Bolts.
Kyle Van Noy OLB BYU 6’3″ 244 pounds
Despite seeing him in person from the press box at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, I wanted to see more of Van Noy. He finished the game with a sack and a couple of tackles. After returning home and watching 4 full games, I have come to the conclusion that he would be a great fit in the Charger defense. The guy is all over the place with a nose for the ball. He has very good instincts and his ability to drop into coverage from the OLB position should be very appealing. Much quicker than fast, he won’t wow you with his 40 yard dash time. Despite not being overly physical, he still makes more than his fair share of plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste CB Nebraska 6’2″ 215 pounds
Although his hype is bit “louder” than his ability, Jean-Baptiste would be a solid pick in the late third round. The new craze in the NFL happens to be big cornerbacks and he is just that. But that is NOT why I have him being selected. He finished this season with 12 pass breakups and 4 interceptions. For a player his size he is not incredibly physical. He had a solid week at the Senior bowl in Mobile. He won’t blow you away with his speed but his length helps mask that in coverage. His hip turn was a lot better than I expected for a 6’2″ 215 pound cornerback. He still has some developing to do but he would be a nice 3rd round addition.
Donte Moncrief WR Ole Miss 6’3″ 226 pounds
Moncrief had a better year as a Junior than he did as a Senior. But don’t let that dissuade you. This is a big receiver that can stretch the field vertically. I think he’d be a good complement on the other side of Keenan Allen. One of my favorite aspects of his game is his willingness as a blocker in the running game. He has great hands, decisive cuts in and out of his breaks and the ability to go up and get the ball. It goes without saying that Philip Rivers loves to have jump-ball wideouts that can get up and attack the ball.
James Wilder Jr. RB Florida State 6’2″ 229 pounds
This guy just happens to be a great combination of power and speed. He is not blazing fast but he can run for a guy with his build. He has an NFL pedigree as his father, James Wilder, was a running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He keeps his legs churning through the muck showing impressive leg drive. One thing I noticed about Wilder Jr. is that he is always making progress forward at the end of plays, getting positive yards despite some poor blocking at times. Adding him to a backfield of Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead would make for a solid stable of running backs.
Tyler Larsen C Utah State 6’4″ 317 pounds
Despite coming from small Utah State, Larsen received national recognition as a Rimington Award finalist. Larsen has started the last 51 consecutive games and shown that he has what it takes as a physical and cerebral blocker. His consecutive games streak shows his durability and toughness. He has a very fast punch to keep defenders on their heels. With the future of Nick Hardwick up in the air, it is important for the Chargers to have a plan in place. Even if Hardwick returns, drafting Larsen is a wise move for the future.
J.C. Copeland FB LSU 6’1″ 270 pounds ( approximately )
This former defensive lineman is a beast. He opens up holes like an extra offensive linemen with a bit of quickness. He can lay the wood with the best of them at the position and would be a great asset for a team that has trouble deciding to run the ball from inside the 1 yard line on 3 consecutive plays….. * crickets * Sorry for that. I would really like to see this guy in lightning bolts.
And there you have the first edition of my Chargers 7 round mock draft. I am REALLY looking forward to everyone telling me that Van Noy and Jean-Baptiste won’t fall to the respective rounds where I have them going. They might not slip but let us not pretend like any of us know anything at this point in the process.
Let the colorful banter begin!!