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Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Chargers position outlook: Running back

By Eric D. Williams

SAN DIEGO -- Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead combined to give the San Diego Chargers one of the most productive running back duos in the NFL in 2013. What will these two do for an encore in 2014?

Lock: Mathews, Woodhead
On the bubble: Le'Ron McClain.
Free agents: Ronnie Brown.

Mathews
The good: Mathews ran for a career-high 1,255 yards, and Woodhead was one of the most productive NFL running backs in the passing game, with a career-high 76 catches for 606 yards and six touchdowns. San Diego should benefit early on in 2014 from having both players back. And that continuity will be important, with the Chargers facing some of the best defenses in the league when playing the NFC West this season.

The bad: Some of it had to do with play selection, but the Chargers have to do better in goal-line situations. San Diego finished No. 28 in the NFL in goal-line efficiency at 61.3 percent. Trusting Mathews to carry the load in those situations during the second half of the season helped improve that number.

The money: Mathews is in the final year of his rookie deal, and will make nearly $1.5 million in base salary in 2014. Woodhead is in the final year of a two-year deal that will pay him $1.75 million in base salary for the upcoming season. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco might want to get an extension done for one of those players before the season starts if he believes they are part of the team’s long-term future. Or perhaps you let them play out the contract and see how they perform in 2014. McClain is to make $2.5 million in base salary in 2014, which would make him one of the highest paid fullbacks in the NFL. McClain only played 12 percent of San Diego’s offensive snaps in 2013, and likely will not return at that cap figure. Brown, 32, will be an unrestricted free agent in March. While Brown proved a reliable backup for Mathews, the Chargers could use a backup with a little more juice in the run game who could also serve as a returner.

Draft priority: High. With Mathews and Woodhead set to hit the free agent market at the end of the 2014 season, the Chargers have to protect themselves by selecting a legitimate workhorse running back in the draft. San Diego got a glimpse of what the team’s offense is like without Mathews in the playoffs against Denver, and it was not a good look. So having another running back that runs in a similar style as Mathews is important. Perhaps the Chargers could find a combination running back/fullback in the draft. The Chargers already have a back on the roster with a similar skill set to Woodhead in Kerwynn Williams. The Utah State product spent last season on the practice squad, and the team signed Williams to a futures contract in January.