Positional Analysis: RBs

RB Ronnie Brown (USA TODAY Sports)

Led by the resurgent Ryan Mathews and the versatile Danny Woodhead, San Diego's running game improved by leaps and bounds in 2013. The progress must continue in 2014 and it'll likely start by adding another weapon in free agency or (more likely) the draft.

Next to Philip Rivers, no player benefited more from the arrival of Mike McCoy than Ryan Mathews. The fourth-year running back finished second in the AFC with a career-best 1,255 rushing yards. He also caught 26 passes for 189 yards and scored a total of seven touchdowns.

More importantly, Mathews answered the two biggest questions about his game by playing in every contest and losing just one fumble (none after Week 2).

Mathews posted six 100-yard games (and was 1 yard away from a seventh); he had just five such games in his first three seasons in the league.

Danny Woodhead joined Mathews in the backfield last year and proved to be the perfect complement. He gained over 1,000 yards from scrimmage (429 rushing, 605 receiving) and scored eight touchdowns.


RB Danny Woodhead
Phil Sears/USA TODAY Sports
Woodhead finished second on the team with 76 receptions, just one behind Antonio Gates despite the fact that Gates was targeted 30 more times (116 to 86). Woodhead also had the second-most receptions of any running back in the league, just one less than New Orleans' Pierre Thomas (and five more than current Saint and former Charger Darren Sproles).

The running game is in good hands with Mathews and Woodhead coming back, although each player is entering the final year of his contract, so Tom Telesco needs to think about extensions and/or developing a young runner behind his lead duo.

Changes are coming elsewhere at the position. Starting FB Le'Ron McClain is entering the final year of his contract. He is due a non-guaranteed $2.5 million, so it is likely he will be released after playing in just 12 percent of the offensive snaps last season.

Third-string RB Ronnie Brown will also become a free agent and at age 32 is unlikely to return.

Look for Telesco to draft a running back in the middle rounds to replace Brown. The ideal candidate is a powerful north-and-south runner who can spell Mathews, who has been nagged by various injuries in each of his four seasons. Candidates include Jeremy Hill (LSU), Andre Williams (Boston College), Lorenzo Taliaferra (Coastal Carolina) and Storm Johnson (Central Florida).

Ideally, whoever Telesco drafts can slowly work his way into the rotation in 2014 and be ready for a larger role in 2015 should Mathews and/or Woodhead depart.

Fullback is less of a concern because the Chargers prefer to use two-tight end or three-receiver sets. However, the position still must be addressed assuming McClain is released. Some free agent options include Matt Asiata (Minnesota Vikings), Greg Jones (Houston Texans) and Michael Robinson (Seattle Seahawks).

If Telesco chooses to draft a fullback, he could pluck Ryan Hewitt (Stanford) or Hunter Joyer (Florida) in one of the final two rounds.



How should Telesco reshape the RB position? Discuss in the message boards.



Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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