RB Theorem: Walking But Wounded

After casting aside some names that neither failed nor statistically stunned as rookies, I was left with these three mediocre myrtles. Their stories literally bleed with unfulfilled potential. Like the rookie stunner series, the players contained within were all first round draft choices. For more RB Theorem, click here.

Jahvid Best

-Best was one of those shot of a cannon/explosive running backs. If Chris “CJ2K” Johnson had not run at the combine, Best’s speed might be more well known. Honestly, he seemed destined to score every time he turned a corner. His contact balance and hip swivel were off the charts slick. His highlights are impossible to watch without feeling your heart rate increase.

However, with all that speed and ankle smoke comes more violent collisions. Imagine a car driving into a tree at five to ten miles per hour. Is there a dent or scratch? Now, imagine it doing the same at 30 mph. The differences will be concave (PLEASE DO NOT ACTUALLY DO EITHER OF THESE, I HAVE NO LAWYERS ON RETAINER).

As a sophomore at Cal, Best destroyed the PAC-10 with 1,580 rushing yards on just 194 attempts. That was good for a stupid 8.1 YPA. Jacquizz Rodgers was named the offensive player of the year in the conference. He did this despite having 327 less rushing yards on 65 more attempts?

Best’s first concussion came at the end his junior (and final) season at Cal. This caused him to miss the final four games of the season. It was severe enough that he could have missed more time if the injury had happened earlier in the season.

Best officially ran a 4.35 40-time and 6.75 3-cone at the combine, despite having a stiff lower back. There was a lot of fear that he lacked the prototypical size to survive as an every-down player. At just 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, he would be considered a satellite back nowadays.

Best started nine games as a rookie. He appeared in 15 games, and he was active for all 16. His rookie logs are what you would expect from an average contributing rookie. Unfortunately, they are not the numbers of a first round pick. His five TDs in the first two games likely caused some ridiculous dynasty trades. However, he scored only one TD over the remaining 14 weeks. It was apparent that he was dangerous on short/screen/slant passes. In total, he finished with 1,042 yards from scrimmage (555 rushing and 487 receiving). His YPA of 3.2 was not grand, but he turned 80 targets in 58 receptions for YPC of 8.4.

Now after pondering his rookie numbers in totality, you might have been encouraged to invest some dynasty capital in Best. Sadly we all know the rest of his story is tragically short.

Best suffered another concussion in the 2011 preseason, then yet another in October of the same year. Between those two injuries, he did have his only career 100-yard game. He busted out 163 yards versus the Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli Chicago Bears defense.

That was it for his NFL career. Best was never cleared to compete in the NFL after that last official concussion. However, the story does not end there. Best transitioned his athletic skill set to track and field has a sprinter. He competed for his father’s home country of Saint Lucia in the 2016 Summer Olympics Games. He ran a personal best Olympic heat of 10.39 in the 100-meters but did not qualify for the semifinals.

Best’s pro football career was way too short. However, it is not that uncommon in this violent brand of sport. It is plausible that in different hands his satellite could have flown for much longer. Imagine what Matt Nagy or Adam Gase could have down with that blinding speed trimming the edge.

Ryan Mathews

– I never considered Mathews a first-round talent. I viewed him as a role player and not a starter. Then the team that built their offense around the legendary workhorse LaDainian Tomlinson drafted him. This caused many opportunistic fires to ignite throughout the fantasy community. The year before selecting Mathews was Tomlinson last season with Chargers. It also the 30-year old Tomlinson worst NFL season. He still received 243 touches (223 rushing and 20 receptions on 30 targets).

Those numbers were all career-low totals. Tomlinson averaged 24.2 touches per game during his 141 games (nine seasons) with the Chargers. Both HC Norv Turner and OC Clarence Shelmon returned to steer the offense with the rookie Mathews on broad. Henceforth the fresh rookie body of Mathews was surely ready to handle 275 touches or more! It was a foregone conclusion that involved Mathews winning Rookie of the Year honors on his way to a hall of fame career.

Things bounced more towards soft tissue IR than Canton. Mathews suffered the dreaded high-ankle sprain during week two of his rookie season. He was limited for several weeks after that as the Chargers eased him back into the mix. He also injured his elbow in practice during week three, and the Chargers were forced to be ultra cautious. Even upon his full return to the lineup, Mathews lost goal-line carries to the thick-chested Mike Tolbert.

Mathews re-aggravated the ankle injury in week nine, and he missed four games. All this caused his touches to be very infrequent. Mathews also saw limited snaps on passing downs. His rookie game logs illustrate the inconsistencies.

You may have also noticed his week 16 120-yard explosion. He also scored three of his seven TDs on the season in that game. Without that one game, his rookie season would have extremely meek. He did have a respectable 4.3 YPA which left the fantasy masses cautiously optimistic yet again.

As the rest of this tale unfolds, Mathews will gain the nickname ”Mr. Soft-tissue Issue.”

Amazingly in his second season, Mathews played 14 games. He managed to exceed the 1,000-yard mark thanks to a 4.9 YPA and 77.9 YPG. He also hauled in 50 receptions on 59 targets for an additional 455 yards. It would eventually be the best output in yards from scrimmage for his entire career.

During the preseason of his third year fate slammed a defender through his right clavicle. The break required 4-6 weeks of inactivity in order to heal. He returned to game action 45 days later. After a major red-zone fumble Mathews was forced to split snaps with Jackie Battle the rest of the season. Mathews still managed to rush for 700 yards in the 12 games he dressed for. Unfortunately, a broken left clavicle cost him the final two games of the season.

As Mathews entered his fourth season in the league, the doubters continued to grow. This year was slightly different however as he played in all 16 games for the first and only time his career. He set a career high in rushing attempts (285) and rushing yards (1,255). He also led the league with six 100-yard rushing performances. The Chargers made the playoffs, and then an ankle injury stung Mathews hard. He was a liability as he had 18 carries for 78 yards over two playoff games.

Year five was the contract year. Mathews missed seven games thanks to a sprained MCL. He then missed the final three contests with yet another nasty ankle sprain.

The Chargers spoke loudly when they drafted Melvin Gordon in the first round of the 2015 draft. Just five short years prior Mathews had drafted to replace Tomlinson. Now Mathews was out the door, and Gordon was the new toy in town.

Mathews signed with the Philadelphia Eagles prior to the draft. The only problem was the Eagles already had Darren Sproles, and they also signed DeMarco Murray. Murray had led the league in rushing attempts (392), rushing yards (1,845) and TDs (13) in 2014 as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. All three RBs took turns starting for various reasons. Mathews was by far the most effective runner with a YPA of 5.1. Murray (3.6) and Sproles (3.8) both struggled to find consistency. Mathews also missed three games in the middle of the season with a concussion.

In 2016 Murray was traded to Tennessee, and Mathews made eight starts. He rolled up a respectable 661 yards on 155 attempts (4.3 YPA). He also scored a career nine TDs. This year’s injury was herniated disc in his neck. That caused Mathews to miss the final three games of the season. He has not played since. He is still open to playing in the NFL again. The 31-year old will likely not strain his neck from too many phones calls from NFL teams.

David Wilson

-This is a sensitive tale of shattered aspirations and hard decisions. Don’t worry though it was not all bad and Wilson found a different path to seek his goals.

While at Virginia Tech, Wilson averaged 5.8 YPA. As a junior, he gained 1,838 yards from scrimmage, which led the ACC. He had an astonishing 312 touches in just 14 games.

Wilson destroyed the combined as he led all RBs in vertical (41 inches = 96th percentile), and broad jumps (132 inches = 97th percentile) and then again in the short shuttle (4.12 = 80th percentile). Many felt this made him a top-five RB of the 2012 class. Some even thought only Trent Richardson was better. Wilson was eventually the 32nd overall pick (round one by New York Giants). The only other RBs taken before Wilson was Richardson (3rd overall) and Doug Martin (31st overall).

Wilson didn’t necessarily fail as a rookie as he was a key asset with Giants kickoff unit. He led the league with 57 total kickoff returns and 1,533 return yards (26.9 Y/Rt). He was third on the team in carries (71) behind Ahmad Bradshaw (221) and Andre Brown (73). Wilson averaged 5.0 YPA and scored six total TDs. He was being groomed to be the starter.

Unfortunately, a nasty neck injury forced him to retire just five games in his second season. The official report was Spinal Stenosis, which is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal. The ending result is heavy pressure on the spinal cord and the nerve roots. He was advised to never play football again because of recurring neck issues and diagnosis.

Like Jahvid Best, Wilson returned to track and field. He was a jumper and a sprinter in high school. He competed in the long and triple jump as well the 60-yard dash while at Virginia Tech.

After the untimely end to his NFL career, he went back to his triple jump roots. He competed in the 2015 Adidas Grand Prix. He finished ninth and failed to reach the finals.

A very simple lesson can be taken from these three separate cases. The fragility of any NFL career is a constant distraction. I believe that bother is magnified when it comes to running backs. In dynasty, a consistent RB is always in demand. A 26-year-old RB is like a hidden dirty diaper in a closed space. The investigation of layers/injury history usually leads to the true stench.


I am searching for the meaning of every bump on the pigskin. From leather helmets to a league with no point after attempts, I am researching with a wide shovel. -married/father/music fan/Raider Nation baby/deli meat enthusiast/three-cone extremist

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