Earlier this week LaDainian Tomlinson hung up his cleats as a member of the San Diego Chargers, ending one of the greatest careers ever had by a running back in NFL history.
Naturally, it got me thinking about fantasy football.
There are undoubtedly scores of people who owe fantasy football championships to Tomlinson. For an eight-year period between 2001 and 2008, Tomlinson was as dominant a running back as any in the history of the league. He did it through the air and the ground and, amazingly, dodged major injury concerns for the peak of his career while carrying the load for the Chargers.
I remember thinking at some point during this stretch, probably the season when he scored 28 rushing touchdowns, that we were watching one of the best to ever play the position. Lucky us, I thought, because every week was another chance to see something so special.
Bringing it back to the present, it is good to see Tomlinson go out of the game on his own terms after a very successful career. And much like the “narrative” changes in the NBA after every Finals game, the narrative here is this: Who is the next LaDainian Tomlinson?
Two factors at play here. Health, to me, is the most important of these. In order to replicate Tomlinson’s production, a running back would have to stay healthy for eight years during the peak point of his career. The second factor, naturally, would be the numbers. And so far, through two seasons as a starter, Arian Foster is candidate A. The numbers:
Tomlinson’s average season between 2001 – 2008:
1470 rushing yards
15.75 rushing touchdowns
475 receiving yards
1.9 receiving touchdowns
Foster’s average season between 2010 – 2011:
1420 rushing yards
13 rushing touchdowns
610 receiving yards
2 receiving touchdowns
That’s pretty close. Foster averages less rushing touchdowns by about three per season, but also has not had the luxury (yet) of a 28-touchdown season. He’s a better receiving back through the first two years of his career than Tomlinson, which makes him a fantasy football factor in all games (even blow-outs). Rushing yards and receiving touchdowns are a wash.
Now the only question is whether or not Foster can stay healthy for eight consecutive seasons while maintaining this insane level of production.
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