A few days ago LaDainan Tomlinson decided it was time to retire from professional football, so I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about one of my favorite football players and his accomplishments.
To me LT is a first ballot Hall of Fame selection. Judging by the fact that many other writers out there are ranking where LT fits on their list of the Top 10 Running Backs of All-Time, I would guess they feel the same way. I am going to go into the numbers to see exactly why he belongs on that list and in the Hall.
Production: The first thing you notice about LT is his amazing production. LT finished his college career with back to back 2000+ yard 20+ touchdown seasons and never slowed down when he got to the NFL. In each of his first 6 years he touched the ball at least 390 times per season, and had at least 340 in each of his first 8 seasons. He amassed 8 straight 1000+ yard rushing seasons, 8 straight seasons of 1500+ yards from scrimmage, and 9 straight double digit touchdown seasons. When it was all said and done, LT finished ranked in the top 5 in NFL history in numerous categories.
-4th all time in touches with 3798
-5th all time in rushing yards and attempts with 3174 rushes for 13684 yards
-5th all time in total yards from scrimmage with 18456 yards
-3rd all time in combined rushing/receiving touchdown 162
-2nd all time in rushing touchdowns with 145, only 19 scores behind Emmitt Smith who played 4 more years in the league
With a career 4.3 yards per carry, 43 multiple touchdown games and 47 games of 100+ rushing yards, LT simply produced more than nearly every other player in the league and he did it for a sustained period of time. He leaves the game with 5 Pro Bowl selections, was named First-Team All-Pro 3 times, and was named the NFL MVP for his tremendous 2006 season during which he also won the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year award. For 5 straight years he was in the top 3 in the league in scoring, spent 7 straight years among the top 3 in the league in total touches, won back-to-back rushing titles in 2006 and 2007 and 3 times lead the league in rushing touchdowns (2004, 2006, 2007).
Consistency: LT was one of the most consistent backs in the NFL for his first 8 years in the league with over 1500 yards from scrimmage, double digit touchdowns and at least 340 touches every single year. The most impressive mark from this list is the double digit rushing touchdowns in 9 straight seasons. The all-time leader Emmitt Smith only had 8 total seasons with double digit touchdowns and never in more than 3 consecutive years. The great Marcus Allen only had 6 double digit touchdown seasons spread out over his 16 year career and Walter Payton had 4 straight but only managed 5 total seasons with double digit touchdowns. LT’s final stats average out to 80 rushing and 28 receiving yards per game and nearly 1 touchdown (0.9529) per game and he held up to those averages as you could expect that type of production from LT each and every time he stepped on to the field.
Durability: Over the first 8 seasons of LT’s career, he only missed 1 game despite touching the ball a combined 3167 times! The game he did miss was elective, as he sat out a week 17 game that had no bearing on the teams playoff seeding. At age 30, an age when most running backs begin to decline, LT played and started in 14 games in what would be his last season in San Diego. In 2010 LT played in another 15 games with 13 of them listed as ‘starts’, and in 2011, his final year in the league, he played in 14 more games, although only 1 counted as a ‘start’. 11 seasons, 3798 touches, 18,456 yards and LT played in 170 of 176 possible games. If you add in playoff games, he played in another 10 of 11 possible games, with 156 more touches. (All of this was on top of another 849 college touches in which he accounted for over 5000 yards and 50 touchdowns over 3 years.) To make this all the more impressive, LT fumbled the ball a mere 31 times in his career, only losing 12 of them. 5 of those came in his rookie season and after that he never had more than 2 lost fumbles in a single season.
Versatility: LT was an extremely versatile back and a true threat in the passing game. He had at least 360 receiving yards in 10 of his 11 seasons in the NFL and at least 50 catches in 9 of them. His 2003 season was his best from a pass catching standpoint when, in only his 3rd year in the league, LT managed an insane 100 receptions for 725 yards and 4 touchdowns. Something else that goes unnoticed is that LT could also throw the ball when called upon. He attempted 12 passes in his career, completing 8 of them for 143 yards and 7 touchdowns. 3 of his passes even went for 20+ yards.
Workhorse: For nearly his entire stay in the NFL, LT had no problem being the workhorse for his team. As mentioned he was among the league leaders in total touches for each of his first 7 seasons, and finished 4th all time in touches. What he did with them was amazing, especially when you look at what it meant to his team while he was THE go-to guy. Over the first 8 seasons of his career, LT accounted for, on average, over 35% of his teams total yards from scrimmage and over 40% of his teams scoring. He did this on 4-12 teams as well as on 12-4 teams, regardless of who he was on the field with. In his first season with the Jets, even as he shared carries, he still accounted for nearly a quarter of their yards from scrimmage and close to 20% of their scoring. LT’s 2003 and 2006 seasons rank 4th and 7th all time for most total yards from scrimmage.
2006 Season: In 2006 LT had quite possibly the best season of any player at any position, ever. He started the season with 131 yards on the ground in week 1 and followed that with 2 more very good games, before running into a tough Steelers defense in week 4, where he only managed 36 rush yards and 34 receiving yards. The next week, however, he went off for 4 touchdowns against San Fransisco, his first of 3 games with 4 touchdowns that season. In week 7 LT amassed 240 total yards and scored 3 touchdowns and wouldn’t be stopped again. For the next 9 weeks he would not be held under 103 rushing yards, and for the first 8 of those weeks, scored at least 2 touchdowns in each game. In 4 of those games he had over 170 yards on the ground, 6 times he accounted for over 150 total yards and twice recorded over 200 total yards, racking up 23 touchdowns in that span. (He also threw 2 touchdowns passes that season.) This hands down is the greatest 9 week run any running back has ever had and probably the best season as well. LT went on to finish the season with 1815 rushing yards, a mark good for 18th best all time, 508 receiving yards, 28 rushing touchdowns, an NFL Record, and 31 total touchdowns, also an NFL Record. His 186 points scored also mark an NFL record. For that season he earned the AP Offensive Player of the Year award, the Bert Bell Player of the Year Award, was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year and was crowned the NFL MVP.
LaDainian Tomlinson certainly had quite an impact on the NFL and was one of the rare backs who was able to outrun or run over defenders. He ran with fluidity and power like few others, was a weapon in the passing game, and had an uncanny ability to get into the endzone. While LT did make it to 2 AFC championship games, he never got a chance to play in the Super Bowl and his playoff performances (10 games, 476 rush yards, 6 rushing TDs) were not very strong. This, however, does not take away from the wonderful career that he had. The NFL and the fans, myself included, will miss seeing LT on the field every Sunday and he was truly one of the all time greats.