Let me be the first to wish LaDainian Tomlinson a happy 30th birthday.
Now let me warn fantasy football owners not to expect him to return to elite status in 2009. Tomlinson’s value will continue to be a serious point of contention as we inch closer and closer to the start of training camp and preseason action.
Tomlinson, one of the best running backs to ever grace the gridiron, started to show some chinks in his armor last season.
He was able to play in all 16 games, but the veteran dealt with toe problems throughout and finished with a career-worst 1,110 rushing yards. L.T. also scored 12 total touchdowns, which was his lowest total since his rookie season.
While offseason reports on Tomlinson have been positive — he’s back to 100 percent and coach Norv Turner wants to give him 325 carries — the fact that he’s 30 and has eight NFL seasons of wear and tear should be noted.
I’m not saying that he’ll be a complete bust, but fantasy owners shouldn’t expect L.T. to re-emerge into the elite runner he’s been for much of his career.
Aside from his age, Tomlinson will also have to contend with the presence of Darren Sproles (he’ll see more work regardless of Turner’s 325-carry prediction) and a schedule that includes games against tough defenses like the Ravens, Dolphins, Steelers, Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, Titans and Redskins.
Those eight teams all finished 12th or better against the run last season.
Another reason to temper expectations for Tomlinson is history.
Remember the quote about those who don’t learn from the past? Well, a number of runners crumbled in the season of their 30th birthday.
That list includes Eric Dickerson (350 carries) and Eddie George (346 carries), who rank first and second, respectively, in average carries per season from their rookie campaigns to the season of their 29th birthdays. In the season of their 30th birthdays, both running backs saw significant statistical decreases.
Who is the running back at No. 3 on that list, you ask?
You guessed it — it’s Tomlinson, with an average of 332 carries.
Tomlinson might very well follow in the footsteps of Emmitt Smith or Curtis Martin and put up a huge season despite his age and career carries. Whether or not that’s something you want to risk with your first-round pick, well, that’s up to you.
I’ll be passing on Tomlinson unless I can get him in Round 2.