Ryan Mathews has had more than his share of injuries. Ankle and knee problems limited him to 76 carries in 2014. A collarbone injured ended his 2012 campaign early. A groin injury and a calf injury limited Mathews in 2011 and an ankle injury shorted his 2010 year by four games.
Too many hurts. Too much time on the sidelines. Franchise-type running backs don't miss chunks of seasons with nagging injuries, and that's why San Diego allowed Mathews, a former first-round pick there, to leave via free agency.
The Eagles eagerly scooped up Mathews in free agency. Head coach Chip Kelly traded LeSean McCoy and envisioned Mathews teaming with another back --- could have been Frank Gore and turned out to be DeMarco Murray - and giving this offense the kind of 1-2 running back power punch unlike any in the league.
As the Eagles take time off before the start of the August 2 Training Camp and fans focus on the health of quarterback Sam Bradford and the star power of Murray and a defense that is longer, deeper and faster with its offseason overhaul, the message here is this: Don't sleep on Mathews. He's primed for a huge season here.
At 220-225 pounds, Mathews is a speed back in a power body. He has the bulk to run between the tackles and take on and defeat linebackers. He can get to the edge and run through defensive backs. As much as the Eagles love Murray, and they do, Mathews is the same prototype "downhill" runner who fits the zone running scheme here and who can punish defenders who are lagging as they try to keep up with the Eagles' offensive tempo.
What is Mathews' role? It's just a guess, but does 8-10 carries and a couple of chances in the passing game sound good? The Eagles also want to see Mathews in the kickoff return game, and he gained a lot of reps in the spring training sessions. It could be Mathews returning kickoffs. It could be Josh Huff. It could be Nelson Agholor. The possibilities are many.
Kelly is going to make sure that Mathews gets his work and contributes to the offense. The fit is one that works for both sides: The Eagles want to run the ball early and often in games, using the ground attack to set up the passing game. They want power backs who can also catch the ball and help in pass protection. They want depth, and along with Darren Sproles joining Murray and Mathews the Eagles have the deepest running back trio in the NFL. For Mathews, this situation works perfectly. He can get his touches and play a varied role and not get pounded with 250-plus carries a season (his career high is 285 carries, in 2013). Mathews knew full well the scenario when he visited in free agency. He knew he was part of a revamped backfield package. He knew he would share carries. And he knew that Kelly's coaching record suggests very strongly that the Eagles will emphasize running the football and that they will have success doing so.
Don't sleep on Mathews. He's probably not high on your Fantasy Football rankings, and that's understandable. But he's going to have a big role in the offense and should bring the thunder in the Eagles' ground attack that Chip Kelly will feature prominently.