Ryan Mathews' first year in the league, 2010, was also the Chargers' first season without LaDainian Tomlinson. Both running backs were first-round picks who arrived in San Diego with high expectations.
The difference: Injuries and inconsistency have plagued Mathews throughout his NFL existence, and it's to the point that a fanbase often accused of indifference has been anything but when it comes to Mathews.
The reality is that it's a vocal minority, but in an age where the Internet -- and social media in particular -- is the great equalizer, the grousing of a few can appear much larger.
“I've had people say they hope me and my mom get AIDS and die,” Mathews said via U-TSanDiego.com, referring to some of the messages he has received on Twitter.
Abhorrent behavior from anonymous Internet trolls, for sure. But it's also not surprising; whether it's Twitter, Facebook or the comments section of blog posts or columns, people have proven that they will say anything when their identity is concealed.
But the underlying message -- that Mathews has been a disappointment -- still holds. In 2012, he rushed for 707 yards in 12 games, scored just once, and ranked 28th in Football Outsiders' total value metric for running backs. Mathews had his best season in 2011, rushing for 1,091 yards and scoring six touchdowns. But he knows he needs to be better.
“So far, what I've done right now,” he said, “I've been just an average back. … I got a lot of people just frustrated with my performance in the last few years. They expected me to come in and do big things. And I expect myself to.”
Mathews has missed 10 games in three seasons, due in part to various ailments -- from a high-ankle sprain to a broken collarbone. But he also admits that the specter of Tomlinson has weighed on him.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to fill LT's shoes,” said Mathews. “I was trying to live up to those expectations -- what he was doing in his prime, all the yards he's getting, all the touchdowns he's getting, just trying to live up to that. I knew I was the first-round pick, (the Chargers) moved up (16) spots and all that, and I was just trying to do more than what I should have been doing. I think I took all the fun out of it and stressed myself out over it.”
The Chargers have a new coach in Mike McCoy, who spoke highly of Mathews back in February.
"He's had some bad luck the past couple years with his injuries,” McCoy said at the time. “But he's a very talented back. … We've got to do a better job up front as an entire football team helping him out, getting him involved in the passing game because he's a talented player who can do a lot of different things.”
For any of that happen, Mathews has to stay healthy.
"I want it for him," said quarterback Philip Rivers, who has also struggled at times in recent seasons. "[Mathews] has battled through some stinky injuries. ... They are injuries where you can't go. I hate that for him. And there's no question he can do it.”