The fantasy value of LaDainian Tomlinson will be a serious point of contention in 2009.
The superstar running back is coming off an injury-plagued season that saw him record a career-low 1,110 rushing yards and the worst yards-per-carry average (3.8) since his rookie season.
But in a recent interview, Chargers coach Norv Turner said he still wants to increase Tomlinson’s workload next season.
“If you talk about being around the great backs, they’re at their comfort level when they get 22, 23, 25 carries,” Turner told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “(Tomlinson) had 290 carries last season. I’d expect him to have more (in 2009). I’d expect him to be in the 320s. That’s what he does. He can handle it, and he’ll be prepared to handle it.”
Turner’s words do seem like a positive for the eventual draft value of Tomlinson, who turns 30 in June. However, the failure of backs at the same age and with a similar number of career carries is hard to ignore.
Some of the best running backs to ever grace the NFL gridiron, a list that includes Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith, saw their numbers fall from the season of their 29th and 30th birthdays.
We also need to take into consideration that Tomlinson’s average of 332 carries from his rookie campaign to last season ranks third behind Dickerson and Eddie George in the Super Bowl era.
That’s a ton of carries for any back, even a superstar like Tomlinson, and that number doesn’t include his postseason work.
Turner also told the Union-Tribune that he would use speedster Darren Sproles out of the backfield, but his projection of 320-plus carries for Tomlinson would make him a true featured back for all intents and purposes.
“I really believe that he’ll have one of his better years this year,” Turner said. “I believe he can be a 1,500-yard rusher and a guy who catches 50 balls.”
Turner’s optimism could be enough to get some owners excited about Tomlinson’s prospects, but he’d have to overcome quite a few historical hurdles to re-emerge into an elite fantasy back.