A healthy Ryan Mathews is quick, can identify holes with ease and hit them hard even easier, and he has high-end breakaway speed. A healthy Ryan Mathews averaged 4.9 yards per carry last year and showed his burst with nine runs of 20 yards or more, all in just his second season. A healthy Ryan Mathews could quickly place himself among the league’s elite running backs.

But a healthy Ryan Mathews feels almost like a piece of imaginary folklore at this point. Although this latest injury — a broken collarbone — is the product of a random event and yet another sprinkling of bad luck for a player who’s already been doused with the whole bag of crappy luck, it won’t linger and hold back his performance when he returns, which will likely be this weekend since he’s been cleared for contact and mercifully escaped practice without any problem.

As ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell wrote shortly after Mathews broke his collarbone in early August, there’s a clear and obvious difference between a bone break and a muscle issue in that once the bone heals, the risk of re-aggravation is minimal. Since Mathews owners need a little bit of encouragement before they deploy their walking piece of glass this Sunday against Atlanta, those words are welcome.

These words, however, aren’t, because they sound far too familiar.

After participating in his first full padded practice that took place exactly six weeks since the injury, Mathews expressed confidence that he’ll be the good, really awesome, borderline elite Mathews right away this Sunday.

“I’ve been keeping in shape and keeping on my stuff so that when it was time to go, I wouldn’t be behind,” Mathews said. “I feel right where I left off. Just still getting the plays and just getting the speed down still, but it’s slowed down. It’s really like I never left, but you still have to get the timing down.”

That’s great, Ryan. Honestly, really.

But do you know what happened the last time you were talking like that during a practice and in the days before a game? You ran to the line of scrimmage, bounced off the wall of humanity there, and proceeded to combust. One game, one carry, and one injury.

Mathews was about a third-round pick in most leagues despite his injury, and despite the fact that fantasy owners knew he would miss the first two-to-three games of the season. And that’s fine, because as Matt Forte and Fred Jackson have already shown us, there’s no safe option at running back, just safer options. But conversely, there are also riskier options, and players who have already established a history of brittleness which quickly erases any potential for productivity.

Mathews is set to wear a cowbell this year in San Diego, a status made even more clear by the overall awfulness of the three running backs who’ve tried to replace him over the past two weeks. He has an inviting matchup during what will most likely be his first game of the 2012 season this weekend against a Falcons defense that’s on short rest after they gave up 113 yards on 5.1 per carry to Willis McGahee Monday night, and allowed him to score two touchdowns.

You’ll roll with him, of course, because you have to after taking the risk and making a sizable draft investment. We can say with confidence that the talent is there, and so is the matchup this weekend. But is his health really, truly restored? We can never make a confident statement on that.

Welcome to Ryan Mathews ownership. Good luck.

And now the links part of the links post…

  • We’re going to have much more on last night’s football game in Carolina that hardly felt like a football game in just a little bit as we assess the potential mess that Andre Brown has now created in the Giants’ backfield. For now, though, here’s all the waiver activity involving Brown since 2009. Incredible. [Dave Richard on Twitter]
  • The lone bright spot for the Panthers last night was Greg Olsen, everyone’s favorite tight end sleeper who had 98 yards on seven catches. Viva la TE revolution. [Minneapolis Star Tribune]
  • A month ago Matt Flynn was being discussed as a possible sleeper, and perhaps even a nice long-term investment in dynasty leagues. Is he a backup for life now? [Green Bay Press-Gazette]
  • Yesterday we told scared Greg Jennings owners to pick up Andrew Hawkins, the Bengals receiver who’s enjoyed doing his best impression of a young Wes Welker. Andy Dalton seems to like Hawkins too, because he has a passer rating of over 140 when he’s targeted the rookie wideout. [Bengals.com]
  • The NFL’s most overpaid players of 2012. [Forbes]