One of the biggest questions heading into the 2009 fantasy season is the value of LaDainian Tomlinson. Will he rebound from a subpar 2008 season, or is he destined to fold up like so many 30-year-old running backs before him?
Based on a recent NFL.com poll (over 10,000 votes), the majority of readers (39 percent) would rather wait until the second round to draft Tomlinson. He was also considered a first rounder (picks 6-12) by 36 percent of readers, but only 12 percent of you considered him a top-five pick. What’s more, 13 percent of fantasy owners said they wouldn’t even draft him.
For more on Tomlinson, we also asked for your opinions and predictions. Will he be a stud once again or end his run as an elite fantasy back with a thud?
Here are a few of your responses:
Here’s my L.T. prediction for 2009. Norv Turner will come to his senses and realize that Tomlinson is simply not going to sustain 325 carries. Instead, he’ll develop his own version of the Wildcat formation, which will be known in San Diego as the ElectriCat. The formation will feature L.T. and Darren Sproles in the backfield and a four wide receiver set. From left to right, the receivers will be Philip Rivers, Chris Chambers, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. In some short-yardage situations, Rivers may be replaced by Jacob Hester, who would then line up as an H-back. Out of this package, they’ll run an option play featuring L.T. and Sproles, a reverse featuring Jackson and of course, an option pass, through which L.T. will throw four touchdown passes. Two of those will be caught by Rivers.– J. Law, Bassett, Virginia
Tomlinson does not miss games due to injury. That is a well known fact, at least to date. But he has never had a really serious injury that would not allow him to play even if he wanted to tough it out for a game. I think that will be the factor going into the 2009 season when thinking what his output will be statistically. The Chargers proved they can throw the ball and pull off victories last season, and Darren Sproles proved a very decent change of pace back. Both of these facts gave the team confidence that they can make L.T. less of the focal point on offense and still succeed. When you combine these together with the fact that L.T. was playing injured for most of last year, they will try to preserve him as much as possible to ensure he does not get that serious injury this year. Look at the numbers — his carries went from 349 to 315 to 292 the last three seasons. His yards per carry has dropped from 5.2 in 2006 to 3.8 last year, and his touchdown production has suffered (28 to 15 to 11) as well. His rushing yards have also fallen each of the last three years. With this trend in ALL his numbers, it is impossible to think he will even repeat his totals from last year, most of which were career lows. There is no reason to expect him to match last year’s numbers when you think of the Chargers game strategies. either. They will focus on throwing and keeping L.T. fresh, while inserting Sproles more often. This, combined with his statistical trends, point to more career lows in 2009. The big question is how does that translate into his numbers. I predict him to have 289 carries, 1,040 rushing yards, a 3.6 yards-per-carry average 45 receptions, 380 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns. These numbers would rank him just around the top 10 among running backs for 2009, a couple spots below his finish in 2008. As far as fantasy goes, this makes him a marginal No. 1 back in smaller leagues and would raise the question of taking him before one of the stud wide receiver or maybe even Drew Brees or Tom Brady towards the end of the first round. All this is IF his 30-year old body does not sustain a serious injury. — R. Burke, St. Paul, MN
L.T. has a very tough schedule ahead of him. Health permitting, I believe Tomlinson can have a 1,200-yard season but the run defenses he has to face would stymie even the healthiest of backs. He and Brian Westbrook are the two biggest risk-reward runners in drafts, as each will be an early-round pick with the imminent possibility of injury. Tomlinson could be a first-round hero or a draft-day zero, but only time will tell. That’s why fantasy football is so intriguing. — B. DePaoli, Lima, OH
I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about this subject and it seems to me that everyone is biased by their football allegiance. You, for example, are a Dallas fan and don’t know the pain San Diego fans have for never seeing a Super Bowl win. I am a San Diego fan so I am biased to believe that he will rebound. I have put together some arguments for the fact. First, L.T. was playing injured behind subpar offensive line play. Second, Darren Sproles isn’t the feature back and the Chargers didn’t take a running back until the middle rounds of the NFL Draft. That makes me think they aren’t looking to replace him yet. Third, Norv Turner, the guy who watches L.T. practice and work out the most, predicted he would win the rushing title in 2009. He must have seen something he liked, right? Turner is also calling for L.T. to get around 35 more carries this season than last. I’m not predicting a 2006 season, but give the man some credit. He’s not going to completely bomb your fantasy team. I won my league last year with him on my team. Although he had a great supporting cast on my team, Tomlinson contributed at times when needed. I’m not arguing that he is the best running back to draft this season. I’m sure he will have a solid season with ups and downs just like any other featured back. I’m just arguing that L.T. is a great player. — Chris Brissey, Little Rock, Ark.
L.T. is still worth a top-5 pick. Some people think Darren Sproles will hurt his value, but I think it will help. When Sproles takes some of the workload, it will help L.T. stay healthy. I would take a healthy L.T. anytime over anyone but Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte. Even if L.T. gets 275-300 carries, he should be able to at least match last season’s totals, which is still better than most. Also, with San Diego’s passing attack improved, it will keep defenses honest. L.T. might even have more receptions next year, which is good for PPR leagues. — A. Fox, Philadelphia, Pa.
There’s no way LaDainian Tomlinson is worth a top-10 pick in any fantasy draft! Look back at the previous show stopping running backs like Larry Johnson, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander, Marshall Faulk or Eddie George. He’s one and the same. All these guys were high draft picks and fell well short of expectations. I see Tomlinson ending the season on injured reserve and posting maybe 600 rushing yards and no more than 5 scores. Personally, I’d rather wait 10 or 12 rounds and pick up Sproles. — A. George, Rehoboth Beach, DE
— C. Paterson, Australia
I think Tomlinson will rebound and have a big year in 2009. My reason is due to the success Philip Rivers had last year, which leads the Chargers to no longer being a run-first team. Opponents will be forced to cover Antonio Gates, Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson on the majority of downs, leaving space for L.T. and the running game. I also think that even with Sproles on the roster, Tomlinson will be the featured back and get the majority of the carries. Sproles will be substituting when Tomlinson needs a break. L.T. also played hurt for the majority of 2008. Look what he did in Week 17 against the Broncos when he was closer to 100 percent. He’s now had a full offseason to rehabilitate and recover fully so he’ll be back to his best. In addition, I see the Chargers being overall improved and not having to come from behind through pass plays, which will allow L.T. more opportunities to control the clock to put away games. If I have picks 10, 11 or 12 in the first round, I’ll be taking Tomlinson!
L.T. isn’t putting up astronomical numbers anymore like the good old days with Priest Holmes and Sean Alexander, but he is still a No. 1 fantasy back. He might not be in the top 5 anymore, but with all his struggles last year he was still in the top 10 (ahead of Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, Marion Barber, Steve Slaton and Clinton Portis). Perception is reality, however, so a rising star like Johnson will be exalted before his time, while a “falling” star like L.T. will be dismissed before his time. I have Tomlinson as the ninth-rated running back. If you avoid him towards the end of Round 1, it should be for Larry Fitzgerald or Drew Brees. If you avoid him in round 2, well, I don’t have an excuse for that. — Deron in Washington, D.C.
L.T. suffered from a number of nagging, non-career threatening injuries last year and had a bad statistical season (for him). Most running backs can only hope they have a bad year like that – 1,536 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns. The one game he was healthy, (OK, so it was against the Broncos) he looked like L.T. – 96 rushing yards on 14 attempts (6.8 yards/attempt) and three touchdowns. He’s healthy according to all reports, and I expect improved play from the fullbacks this season. While he will lose some touches to Darren Sproles, it probably won’t be as many as some people think. It should be just enough to help keep L.T. fresh. Also, the defense should be better with the return of Shawne Merriman and a healthy Antonio Cromartie. The improved defense should allow the Bolts to run more and control the clock. And when they do, they will be giving the ball to Tomlinson. He also had 297 carries and 52 receptions last year – and NO fumbles!!! I can only hope the rest of the players in my PPR league take your advise and pass on him. I’d love to get him at the end of the first round. — J. Clugston, San Diego, Calif.
I’m one of the many fantasy owners guilty of picking L.T. with the No. 1 overall pick in 2008. I have to say he was a big letdown. Just when you thought he turned the corner, he’d post another sub par performance. It was like eating a bowl of rusty nails week in and week out — after a tetanus shot I’m still feeling the burn! He still posted some decent games but always fell short against weak teams like the Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos. I think the biggest difference this year will be a healthy Chargers defense. The “D” should create more turnovers that equate to more touches for L.T. in the red zone. I still think he has plenty in the tank and is a viable top-12 fantasy back, and owners shouldn’t buy into the 30-year-old running back talk. You can’t even compare his situation to the last 30 year old (Shaun Alexander) that went downhill. In that situation the Seahawks front office dropped the ball and let Steve Hutchinson go to Minnesota. Without Hutchinson, Alexander was exposed for what he really was — an average back with a superior offensive line. Don’t pass up on L.T. — he can still contribute! — R. Sharp, Portland, Ore.
I believe L.T. will bounce back this season. Not necessarily to the same level as a couple years ago, but still better and more consistent then last year. I can see him averaging 4.3 yards per carry and getting about 260 carries, 1,120 yards on the ground and 12 rushing touchdowns. I believe he will add 40 receptions to that for around 350 yards and three more scores. Overall I think he’ll have 1,500 scrimmage yards with 15 total touchdowns. In both standard and PPR scoring formats, I think he should be drafted anywhere in the 8-to-16th pick range. In addition, I think he should go before players such as Brandon Jacobs, Brian Westbrook and Marion Barber. — J. Vorrasi