Free Agent Spotlight: Rashad Jennings

Among the items on Tom Telesco's offseason to-do list is landing a quality running back. Ryan Mathews is unreliable, at best, and the run game must improve to balance the offense and take pressure off of Philip Rivers. A player to watch is Rashad Jennings, whose power and versatility make him intriguing.

Running back is a clear position of need for the Chargers. Ryan Mathews' 2012 season was a disaster. He had more lost fumbles than 100-yard games (2-0). For that matter, he had more broken clavicles than touchdowns (2-1). He remains a talented player -- he averaged 4.4 yards or better in more than 40 percent of his games last season -- but to count on him at this point would be foolish.

Luckily, Tom Telesco does not have to rely on Mathews. It was A.J. Smith who put together a pricey package to move up and get Mathews in the first round of the 2010 draft, a decision Telesco has no obligation to justify.

Mathews' primary backups, Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle, will both become unrestricted free agents in March.

When Telesco looks at replacement candidates, one name he will consider is Rashad Jennings. The Liberty University product spent his first four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars as the primary backup to Maurice Jones-Drew. His work there included 224 carries for 944 yards (4.21 ypc) and seven rushing touchdowns. He also caught 61 passes for 454 yards.

There are some concerns with Jennings. He missed the 2011 season with a badly sprained knee. He returned in 2012 but scrapped for his place in the rotation with Montell Owens and Jalen Parmele.

"Jennings' biggest issue hasn't been ability, it's been durability," said Charlie Bernstein, a show host for NBC Sports who has covered the Jaguars for years. "He has missed time in each of his four seasons. He has an ability to break tackles and shows good burst for a player of his size (6-foot-1, 228 lbs.).  

"His upright running style has led to injuries throughout his career. After a solid start to the 2012 season, he was hurt again in the team's opening day loss to Minnesota. Jennings was never the same as he struggled with being demoted.  When healthy, he is a great complementary back, but with each passing knee injury the caveat of his health becomes bigger and bigger."

Signing Jennings to an affordable two-year deal is a low-risk, high-reward proposition for the Chargers. He can be used in tandem with Mathews, theoretically allowing both players to stay fresh and healthy. He can also step in and be effective for the handful of games Mathews is sure to miss with minor injuries.

Also, he has the size and tenacity to pick up blitzes, plus the hands and evasiveness to be an effective outlet receiver. In short, he can help Philip Rivers get right.

And that, more than anything, is what this offseason is all about.

Lightning Quicks

--Jennings ran for 4,044 yards and 43 touchdowns and had 48 receptions for 557 yards in his collegiate career. In three seasons at Liberty, he rushed for a Big South Conference-record 3,633 yards on 633 attempts (5.7 ypc) with 42 scores.

--He was picked in the seventh round of the 2009 draft by the Jaguars. Jacksonville's coaching staff coached Jennings at the Senior Bowl and was impressed enough to take a chance on him.

Should the Chargers make a play for Jennings? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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