This week, we compare a red-hot Marshawn Lynch to a red-hot Ryan Mathews, both of whom have revived their careers after going through some rough patches. In the month of December thus far, they’ve been two of the most productive backs in the league.

On the surface this would seem like somewhat of an unnatural comparison, since Lynch came into the league in 2007 and Mathews was a rookie last year. But Lynch is actually only a year older than Mathews.

Both are California boys — one Northern (Lynch, who’s from Oakland and went to Cal) and one Southern (Mathews, who’s from Riverside and went to Fresno State). Both are power backs who don’t shy away from contact, shed tackles and leave bruises.

And both are former 12th overall picks trying to live up to lofty expectations.

Who would you rather have on your team?

Marshawn Lynch
Age: 25
Experience: 5th season
2011 season: 12 starts, 969 YDS, 4.3 AVG, 10 TD, 22 REC, 178 REC YDS, 2 FUM
Career stats: 60 starts, 72 YDS/GM, 4.0 AVG, 34 TD, 137 REC, 986 REC YDS, 9 FUM


Ryan Mathews
Age: 24
Experience: 2nd season
2011 season: 12 starts, 943 YDS, 5.1 AVG, 4 TD, 45 REC, 420 REC YDS, 2 FUM
Career stats: 21 starts, 68 YDS/GM, 4.7 AVG, 11 TD, 67 REC, 565 REC YDS, 5 FUM

On a per-play basis, Mathews has obviously been much better. But he also hasn’t been asked to carry the same load Lynch has, which might account for at least a part of the gap that separates the two there.

Still, Mathews has been much more versatile in terms of his ability to be a productive receiver, so he has a clear advantage from a statistical standpoint. (Both players have had fumble issues, but each has fumbled exactly five times in the last two seasons, so neither really has an advantage there.)

You do have to consider the teams they play for. Mathews has been part of a top-notch offense ever since coming into the league last year, with Philip Rivers keeping defenses honest. The Chargers are ranked eighth in football offensively and seventh in passing this year; Seattle is 27th and 24th, respectively. Since the start of the 2010 season, San Diego has averaged 80 more passing yards per game than the Seahawks have, scoring an average of seven more points per game.

Mathews has found the end zone less, but he’s surrounded by a deeper offense and complemented by a touchdown vulture in Mike Tolbert, so that doesn’t necessarily make him less of a scoring threat. Although I still have to give the edge there to Lynch, who simply has a remarkable nose for paydirt. While Mathews has never had a run of 40 yards or more, Lynch has done it six times. The numbers indicate that, so far, he has more home-run ability.

But that could change, as it seems Mathews is hitting his stride right now. Year 3 could be a big one for him. Lynch is already finishing Year 5, which has to force you to wonder how much tread he has left on his tires compared to Mathews. Lynch has already played in 69 career games — he’s missed five due to injury and three due to suspension — and has become a workhorse in recent seasons.

Mathews has fresher legs, but he’s already missed as many games due to injury as Lynch has in his five-year career. So it’s very difficult to predict what the future holds for either player.

Sean Tomlinson’s take: Mathews is finally beginning to produce consistently, averaging 121 rushing yards per game over the past three weeks. But since he’s already missed five games in just two years, it’s difficult to trust his durability. Lynch is a similarly injury-prone player, but long-term I’ll favor the running back with the more punishing downhill style. I’ll take Lynch.

Gagnon’s take: As much as I love what Lynch is doing right now, I don’t trust him to keep it up. Consistency has always been a problem, and his body seems a lot older than 25. Mathews is coming into his own right now. Give me him.

So, who would you rather?

Last week’s Would You Rather: Chris Long or Jason Pierre-Paul?