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2012 Draft Prep: Mathews won't disappoint

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Say the name Ryan Mathews to a Fantasy owner and you're likely to get a polarizing response. He is a running back some owners love, while others approach with caution.

Mathews is entering his third year in the NFL, but this will be his first season as a featured running back for the Chargers and coach Norv Turner. That's a great thing, but some owners remain worried about his injury history and perceived ability to underachieve.

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We say those concerns are bogus, and Mathews is about to break out with the best season of his career. The prediction here is Mathews will finish 2012 as a Top 5 Fantasy running back.

So far, Mathews is saying all the right things. He recently told the Union-Tribune San Diego that his goal this year is "to shut everyone up" with the people who doubt him. And judging by a recent poll on Twitter, there are still plenty of doubters out there.

I posed this question to my Twitter followers: When would you draft Mathews this year? Give me the overall draft pick you would feel comfortable with him.

Keep in mind that I have Mathews ranked as the No. 4 running back and No. 4 overall pick behind Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy. I would draft him ahead of Aaron Rodgers based on the quality of depth at quarterback compared to the slim pickings of featured running backs.

The results of the poll were 43 said they would draft him Top 5 overall, 73 said they would take him later in the first round and 25 said they would only draft him in the second round or later.

Two negative responses that stood out were by @Elyiggy, who wrote "been burned by Mathews EVERY YEAR he's been a pro. He's off my Fantasy board." And @MattySuzuki, who wrote "I do not think he is durable enough, so he is off my radar."

That's the kind of attitude Mathews is trying to change.

"I worked on a lot of little things that kept me on the sideline at times over the past few seasons," Mathews told the North County Times. "I don't ever want to come off the field. I want to be the best guy for every situation. I know I can handle a heavy workload and be that three-down back people believe I can be. That's what I've been preparing myself for all offseason. It drives me every day, to be the best player I can be."

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Mathews was actually pretty good in 2011. He finished as the No. 8 Fantasy running back in standard leagues, and that was sharing touches with Mike Tolbert. Mathews played in 14 games and finished with 222 carries for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns and 50 catches for 455 yards. He had nine games with double digits in Fantasy points.

Mathews was one of eight running backs with at least 50 catches, and he could be a Top 3 running back in receptions since Tolbert had 54 grabs last season. That makes Mathews a tremendous option in PPR leagues.

Tolbert also had 121 carries for 490 yards and eight touchdowns, and he had 433 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The majority of that production should go to Mathews since the Chargers backup running backs are Ronnie Brown, Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley. Turner is ready to lean on Mathews for a heavy workload.

"The impressive thing about Ryan is that he has overcome every obstacle put in front of him," Turner said to the San Diego media. "He's gotten better each step of the way over the last two years. I'm like every Chargers fan, and I'd like to see him do well from day one. In this league, that's not realistic. Ryan has come a long way, and he's excited about the season. I'll be excited to watch him go."

Turner knows a thing or two about great running backs, having coached the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson, Emmitt Smith and Ricky Williams as a head coach or coordinator. All three are former rushing champions, and Turner also coached Frank Gore to his breakout season in 2006.

Mathews will be the next great running back added to Turner's resume. He is going to be a breakout Fantasy option, and you should feel confident drafting him as a Top 5 overall pick in the majority of leagues. He will live up to the hype.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Christian Ponder preparing to start
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(5:28 pm ET) Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder took the first-team reps Monday and Tuesday while rookie Teddy Bridgewater watched with an ankle injury. "I'm preparing to play, but we're hoping the best for Teddy," Ponder told reporters.

"I've talked to Teddy. He's doing everything he can to prepare and be ready to play."

Ponder has started 35 games, but none with Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. He could be under center Thursday in Green Bay. "It's a very different style of offense than what we've ran the previous three years," Ponder said. "Without Adrian [Peterson], it's different. Defenses play us differently without Adrian. I'm comfortable and fit well in it."


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(5:26 pm ET) Jaguars running back Denard Robinson has not made much of an impact since being given a larger role in the offense, but he might be someone worth taking a flier on in Fantasy anyways.

The Jaguars have relied on Toby Gerhart less and less as the season has gone on, and for good reason. He is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry through four games, with a long run of just 10 yards. And, while Robinson has not been much better (3.3 yards per carry), the team appears willing to give him a bigger role, if only for a change of pace.

Robinson might have some extra value long term in PPR leagues, even if he ultimately never overtakes Gerhart for the starting job. Robinson has been targeted seven times in 70 offensive snaps, compared to seven targets for Gerhart in 133 snaps.

Clearly, the Jaguars are not thrilled with their investment in Gerhart this offseason, so Robinson is going to get more chances to cut into his playing time if he can show a pulse. At this point, Robinson is a long way from starting, but in deeper leagues, he might have some upside.


Luke Willson gets starting opportunity
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:11 pm ET) With Seahawks tight end Zach Miller recovering from ankle surgery, Luke Willson will start Monday's game in Washington, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The second-year pro caught 20 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown as a rookie.

"When you're the backup guy, you're kind of always prepared for it," Willson said. "I don't really feel like I'm really entering any new territory."

A fifth-round pick out of Rice, Willson started two games last year when Miller hurt his hamstring.


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(4:57 pm ET) Vikings rookie running back Jerick McKinnon was limited in Tuesday's practice with an ankle injury ahead of Thursday's game at Green Bay. McKinnon ran 18 times for 135 yards in Sunday's win over Atlanta.

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(4:47 pm ET) Eagles quarterback Nick Foles completed less than 50 percent of his throws in the Week 4 loss at San Francisco. He hadn't done that since October 20, 2013.

"I just let it fly a little too far," Foles told the team's website. "It's just that. I've got to be a little more accurate, and I know how to do that. I've thrown a football for a long time, and you've just got to keep your body in the right spot to throw. I was letting it fly a little too far, so I know how to fix it and I'll fix it."

Philly hosts the Rams in Week 5.


No point in hoping for a Kirk Cousins bounce back in Week 5
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(4:39 pm ET) If Kirk Cousins was hoping for a soft landing after his disastrous performance last Thursday, he won't find one in Week 5, with the Seahawks on the schedule for the Redskins.

Cousins' Fantasy outlook took a big hit last week, and things likely won't get much better against the Seahawks defense. The Seahawks have struggled against the pass in recent weeks, allowing 54 combined points in Weeks 2 and 3, however those games came against Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning. We are still trying to figure out just how good Cousins might be, but it seems fair to say there is a pretty massive step down from that duo to him.

Cousins is going to face a Seahawks defense fresh off a bye and looking to make up for their recent struggles. The Seahawks have five sacks through three games, and should add to that total Monday, with Redskins left tackle Trent Williams dealing with a knee injury. Tight ends Jordan Reed and Niles Paul also enter the game with injury questions, which could make Cousins' life even more difficult.

Cousins could go a long way toward silencing some doubters if he can hold his own against Seattle, but we aren't betting on that happening. Look for better options in Week 5; with only Derek Carr and Ryan Tannehill on bye, it shouldn't be hard to find them. 


Allen Robinson becoming heavily involved
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Robinson has drawn the fourth-most targets among rookie wideouts.


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(4:30 pm ET) Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who hasn't played since hurting his knee in the opener, has begun jogging as part of his rehab and expects to return "in a few weeks," reports the Houston Chronicle. Clowney would not provide a more exact timetable.

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(4:24 pm ET) The Bears promoted wideout Chris Williams from the practice squad and waived receiver Rashad Ross.

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(4:11 pm ET) The Giants released wideout Mario Manningham, who was on injured reserve with a calf injury, reports Yahoo Sports.

 
 
 
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