The LaDainian Tomlinson Hall of Fame candidacy is the most clear-cut argument in the 2017 class. In an era where running backs have been greatly devalued, it might be easy to overlook Tomlinson’s greatness. Scan across the league and you will see that 12 running backs crossed 1,000 yards (far less impressive since the NFL went to 16 games). Just one year ago there were only seven 1,000-yard rushers. The 2015 and 2016 seasons combined to have nine 1,200-yard rushers. Tomlinson broke into the NFL in 2001, when he started as one of ten running backs to cross 1,200 yards in that season alone. He was the heir to the Marshall Faulk style of all-purpose back, only he did it better.
LaDainian Tomlinson Hall of Fame Argument
Compared to History
LaDainian Tomlinson followed in the line of dual-threat running backs from Roger Craig to Marshall Faulk. Faulk and Craig managed higher receiving yardage numbers over their careers, but Tomlinson is currently 15th all-time in receiving yards among running backs. He averaged over 430 yards a season over his eleven year career. Tomlinson is still just one of three running backs to ever reach the 100 catch plateau in a season. Only Matt Forte (102) and Larry Centers (101) have done better than LT’s 100. Tomlinson ranks among the greatest pass catching threats to ever line up in the backfield.
Still, he topped this by being one of the top five rushers in NFL history. Of the top ten rushers in NFL history, only Tomlinson and Frank Gore are not already in the Hall of Fame. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first eight seasons. Beyond this, he also led the NFL in rushing yards in both 2006 and 2007.
In terms of his all around ability, LT ranks fifth among all players in total yards. His 18,456 yards fall only behind Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Walter Peyton and Marshall Faulk. LT was most proficient as a scoring threat. Among all non-kickers, he is the third all-time scoring leader behind just Rice and Smith. Tomlinson also set the record for the greatest single scoring season in NFL history. In 2006, he scored 28 rushing touchdowns and added three receiving touchdowns. The 28 rushing touchdowns was a record as was the 31 total touchdowns. The 186 points scored passed the mark set by Paul Hornung back in 1960.
Tomlinson’s career was a historical mark. He is one of the greatest receiving backs. LT was one of the greatest rushing backs. He scored at an historical clip. The only two non-kickers to outscore him, played in considerably more games. Rice scored 284 more point in 133 more games and Smith scored 80 more points in 56 more games.
Compared to Peers
One of the other key points is a player must be compared to those with whom he played. Tomlinson came in the last few years of Marshall Faulk’s career, but played in a time of Jamal Lewis, Priest Holmes and Shaun Alexander. LT set the touchdown record in a time when running backs led their teams. Running backs have only crossed over 20 rushing touchdowns 11 times and five of them happened during Tomlinson’s career (of course Emmitt Smith had two of those 11 and so did Priest Holmes). In fact, over a four-year period, the rushing touchdown record was broken three times (Priest Holmes and Shaun Alexander did so in the years prior to Tomlinson).
Tomlinson led the league in rushing twice. This was during an era where Jamal Lewis rushed for over 2,000 yards. Between 2001 and 2006, there were five players (other than Lewis) who rushed for 1,800+ yards. Tomlinson was one of those players. There have only been three such seasons from 2007 through 2016.
In terms of accolades, Tomlinson was named First Team All-Pro three times. Oddly, Tomlinson was First Team All-Pro three times in four years with the lone exception being the 2003 season when he had 100 receptions and led the NFL in yards from scrimmage. In a time with great running backs, Tomlinson was the best. He had an MVP season in 2006 when he hit the 31 touchdown plateau.
The Final Argument
LaDainian Tomlinson has the statistical pedigree of the greatest names in NFL history. He falls in the lists surrounded by Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith and Marshall Faulk. In the eight year stretch of 1,000 yard seasons that started LT’s career, he only missed one game. He was a consistently amazing player to watch. Tomlinson carried a team that had been a football backwater for years to prominence. The Chargers had been 1-15 prior to picking Tomlinson with the first overall pick. In fact, between 1983 and 2000, the Chargers had four winning seasons. There were five winning seasons in LT’s nine seasons in San Diego. He also led the Chargers in the second time they ever managed four straight playoff appearances.
LaDainian Tomlinson was a clear cut Hall of Famer well before he walked away from the game and his numbers and leadership fail to dim over these several years.