LT: Fluke season or on the decline?

After averaging more than six 100-yard games per season from 2001-2007, LaDainian Tomlinson cracked the 100-yard barrier just twice last year.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For the past few years, LaDainian Tomlinson has been the consensus No.1 pick in fantasy football, with little argument. His domination peaked following a marvelous 2006 season in which he rushed for 1,815 yards and 28 scores, added 56 receptions for 508 yards and three TDs and had a 125.0 quarterback rating after tossing two touchdown passes in three attempts.

So it was no surprise that Tomlinson was still the consensus No.1 pick ahead of Adrian Peterson last summer.

What was a surprise was how disappointing LT's 2008 season was. After averaging more than six 100-yard games per season from 2001-2007, Tomlinson cracked the 100-yard barrier just twice last year (Week 4 against the Raiders and Week 8 against the defenseless Saints).

Worse, he was frequently not even on the field, yielding playing time to scatback Darren Sproles because his turf toe injury refused to heal.

LT averaged four less touches-per-game in 2008 than over the rest of his career (21.5 vs 25.4) and that hurt fantasy owners as four times he finished a game with 90-99 yards, just short of the bonus yardage.

He also didn't get into the endzone on a consistent basis as he has done in the past. In 2006, LT failed to score in just three of 16 games (Week 17 is rarely included in fantasy leagues). In 2007 he failed in just four games. But last season, LT went "touchdown-less" in eight of 16 games, unacceptable for a No.1 draft choice.

So what are we to make of his 2008 season? A lost year due to injury, or a reflection of the 2,800+ touches over the past eight years and the beginning of a decline in performance?

According to early fantasy drafts, owners are expecting a decline in performance. In 2008, Tomlinson's Average Draft Position (ADP) was 1.73, but his current "RapidDraft ADP" is 8.3.

I'm of the opinion that the late-first round is reflective of what his 2009 fantasy production will look like. He's never going to be that 2,000-yard, 30 TD guy of 2006, because of three factors - his age, Sproles and the improvement of quarterback Philip Rivers.

"LT" turned 30-years-old this summer and we all know that is the age when running backs begin to slow. Particularly ones who have worked as hard as Tomlinson has both in the regular season and postseason.

The team also has confidence in Sproles and is willing to put him in the game at any point to rest Tomlinson. Sproles averaged 5.4 yards-per-carry last year and also scored five times on 29 receptions (342 yards).

Finally, the rapid improvement of Rivers at quarterback and his receiving corps, makes management more willing to throw the ball instead of pounding away with Tomlinson. Rivers went 312-for-478 for 4,009 yards and 34 TDs in 2009 and with just 11 interceptions has shown that he is a star in the making. Rivers finished No.3 in QB fantasy points behind only Drew Brees and Jay Cutler.

Given all these factors, I look for only marginal improvement over 2008 (1,300 yards and 12 TDs) which equates to a late first-round selection.

LaDainian Tomlinson Career Statistic
Year Gm Att Yds Ave TD Rec Yds Ave TD
2001 16 339 1236 3.6 10 59 367 6.2 0
2002 16 372 1683 4.5 14 79 489 6.1 1
2003 16 313 1645 5.3 13 100 725 7.2 4
2004 15 339 1335 3.9 17 53 441 8.3 1
2005 16 339 1462 4.3 18 51 370 7.2 2
2006 16 349 1815 5.2 28 56 508 9.1 3
2007 16 315 1474 4.7 15 6 475 7.9 3
2008 16 292 1110 3.8 11 52 426 8.2 1

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