That's all it took to affirm my belief that Chargers running back Ryan Mathews is too fragile to be counted on as a top-10 draft choice in fantasy drafts. Mathews broke his collarbone on his first carry of the preseason Thursday night and will be out for 4-6 weeks.
Mathews missed six games over his first two NFL seasons even though he was splitting carries with Mike Tolbert, but fantasy owners were willing to ignore that in drafting the Chargers back 6.4 overall or paying an average of $42.20 for him in Yahoo! leagues (Mathews' ADP on fantasyfootballcalculator.com was in the 1.06 to 1.08 range regularly from July 12 to Aug. 9, but that has dropped to 2.10 since the injury).
I'm not so worried about Mathews' broken clavicle as I am the next injury. Or the one after that. Fantasy titles are not won in Week 1 or 2, so if Mathews can return from his injury soon after the season starts it shouldn't hurt fantasy owners too much. But how long before a part of his body fails again?
Handcuffing Mathews doesn't really serve a purpose. Ronnie Brown, Curtis Brinkley, Le'Ron McClain and Jackie Battle are mediocre fantasy options, and one would have to consider it a lost season to have to rely on any of those four backs at any point in the season.
The team San Diego played Thursday, the Green Bay Packers, also has some running back questions to sort through. Presumed starter James Starks has had a miserable training camp, with two Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel beat writers noting that Starks has regressed as a receiver and hasn't made strides as a pass blocker or ball carrier.
Starks then dropped the first pass he saw in Thursday's preseason game before fumbling his third carry. Oh, and he's also dealing with turf toe, so the team went out and signed former Bears and Bengals running back Cedric Benson, making it unlikely that Starks will have anything more than marginal fantasy value this season.
Benson is a high-volume back, having rushed for 3,429 yards on 895 carries over the last three seasons. If Benson takes over the starting job like I think he will, Starks may have a difficult time even duplicating last season's 794 yards from scrimmage, as he won't be guaranteed 162 touches again.
The first full week of the preseason also saw some impressive performances from rookie quarterbacks.
First overall pick Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts dumped his first NFL pass to Donald Brown and watched the running back take it 62 yards to the house. He finished 10-of-16 for 188 yards and two scores. The former Stanford QB is a polished and accurate passer who is ready to perform well from the get- go. Even if he doesn't provide much more than QB3 value in fantasy leagues, wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie should be moved up draft boards.
Redskins No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III was equally impressive in limited duty, completing four of his six attempts for 70 yards and a touchdown to Pierre Garcon. Garcon had 58 yards and could post solid WR3 numbers with Griffin throwing him the ball.
And while Matt Flynn may be the favorite to win the starting job in Seattle, rookie QB Russell Wilson made the decision even more difficult for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. Wilson shined brightly in his first action, going 12-for-16 for 124 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 59 yards on three carries and sticking one in the endzone on the ground. The rookie did throw an interception, but so did Flynn (11-for-13 for 71 yards). Sure, Wilson was playing against the second teamers, but his talent is impressive nevertheless.
A 15-year veteran didn't fare as well in his first exhibition game, but I doubt it matters to team brass. That vet is Peyton Manning, who finally returned to the field for the first time since January 2011. Manning went 4-for-7 for 44 yards and an interception that wasn't entirely his fault, but he didn't take any hits and walked away unscathed in his first action after undergoing multiple neck surgeries last season.
I'm still wary of drafting Manning as a QB1 because even if he plays a full season, he'll take time to develop timing with his new receivers and may have to adjust to playing with diminished velocity. Plus, there's always a chance that the first hit he takes could end his career.