I know, I know. This is no time to be pessimistic. During the very season that LaDanian Tomlinson is projecting better numbers than any running back in history, who am I to knock on the bathroom door and politely tell fantasy owners that they’d better hurry and get their rocks off humping his leg before it’s too late.
Now, I’m not saying anything about THIS season. No way! Ride that donkey all the way to the championships, big fella! What I’m talking about is the future. Something struck me as I was driving home the other evening. I thought, “Every year there seems to be one running back who gives an unfair advantage to the team who owns him…and it never fails that someone thinks they’re the luckiest person in the world to get that #1 pick the following year and wind up drafting Marshall Faulk in 2002, or Priest Holmes in 2004, or even Shaun Alexander in 2006.” I thought, is there a way to somehow PREDICT the unpredictable fall off of these stellar running backs in time to save face for next seasons draft?
Of course…well, not a foolproof method, but it’s certainly something to think about. Let’s continue, shall we?
Now to stick to a Fantasy Football perspective and not a Hall of Fame contest, I’m going to stick strictly to Fantasy Points in this comparison. The fantasy points were derived from the universal stats and point values: 10 yards (rushing & receiving) = 1 point, TD = 6 points. We’re just talking about the basics. Just the meat. If you’re the type who gives points for rushing attempts, broken tackles, and crotches sniffed…well, get a life.
Let’s start with the classics. The old greats from around the time when most (some) of us started playing this silly little game of ours:
Thurman Thomas lead the AFC in rushing in 1990, 1991, and 1993. Ironically enough, the year that he didn’t win the rushing crown was the year of his greatest fantasy performance. On top of that irony is that in 1993, he won the AFC rushing crown on the cusp of his downward slide.
Peak Fantasy Points: 283.3
Seasons To Get To Peak: 5
Next Season Total: 206.2
Maybe a couple of you had heard of this guy back in the day. I thought twice about including this guy on the list due to his line not fitting in with the rest, but then in a fit of journalistic integrity I decided it would be irresponsible not to include one of the best running backs of the 90s. Maybe it was because Barry took his ball and went home when the Lions refused to trade him and he was able to retire on top of the game, but while everyone else’s graph on this list resembles a mountain, Barry’s resembles a rocky plateau. Maybe that speaks to Barry’s ownership of the game, or maybe he just got out of the game before he pulled an Emmitt Smith.
Peak Fantasy Points: 319.8
Seasons To Get To Peak: 9
Next Season Total: 202.0
The NFL’s Career Rushing Yardage record holder, Emmitt Smith, was a monster to own in the early 90s. If he was on your team, no one could touch you. In 1995, he did the unthinkable when he hopped over the 350 Fantasy Points mark. However, the next year his fantasy points fell to 235.3 and he only topped that mark one more time (240.7 in 1998) over the course of 9 more seasons spent desperately trying to take Walter Payton’s record.
Peak Fantasy Points: 364.8
Seasons To Get To Peak: 6
Next Season Total: 235.3
Many of you are probably most familiar with Marshall Faulk, as he was many people’s golden child in their virgin seasons. As part of the the seemingly unstoppable Rams, it seemed that Faulk was an unstoppable force by himself. He created fantasy league champions all over the world from ’99 to ’01. But, when trigger happy owners spent their #1 pick on him in 2002, jaws hit the floor and pants filled with poo. We watched the cliff fall out from under Mr. Faulk like Wyl E. Coyote in Looney Tunes, but Mr. Faulk forgot his tiny umbrella and he suddenly became a tiny dust cloud at the bottom of the fantasy canyon.
Peak Fantasy Points: 374.9
Seasons To Get To Peak: 7
Next Season Total: 334.7
NEXT Season Total: 203.0
Ah, Priest Holmes! What a great story. He just wanted somewhere to play. Baltimore couldn’t seem to fit him in. He did well in 1998 cresting 1000 yards in his rookie season, but then sat back in a reserve role until Kansas City grabbed him up in 2001. He took that opportunity to say, “Eff-You Baltimore, I’m goin’ off!” He put up numbers the likes of which have never been seen, and he called himself Tenacious D…excuse me… No one before him had put up two consecutive 350+ point seasons. But, we all know what happened next, and people were STILL drafting him in 2005 in hopes of catching just a glimpse of what he had been.
Peak Fantasy Points: 371.0
Seasons To Get To Peak: 6
Next Season Total: 193.9
Now we get to LT. Now, I’m an LT owner and I know what kind of benefits this man has provided for my team this season. If I’m down 35 going into the afternoon games on Sunday and Tomlinson hasn’t played yet, I can still kick my feet up and rest easy that good ol’ LT will run circles around whatever defense they throw at him. This weekend I started LT and Joseph Addai who combined for 74.96 points. That’s enough to win games all by themselves, but I had seven other players on top of that. (Just wanted to brag again…)
Back to the topic at hand. Looking at the five players we’ve discussed prior to King Tomlinson, if you’ll notice, they all seem to hit their peak fantasy value at around the 6th year (the average is 6.6, but you get the idea.) This just happens to be LT’s 6th season in the NFL. While the totals for 2006 are just projections according to his statistics up to Week 12, he’s not only about to beat the all-time fantasy points record, he’s about to smash it by more than 50.
LaDanian reminds me of the story of Icarus. Long boring mythology short, Icarus built wax wings to prove to his father that he could touch the sun, the sun melted his wings, he plummeted back to Earth. Now, I’m not saying LT is pushing himself too hard or anything like that. But, you can look at the charts above and see historically that once a running back hits a peak, he not only never touches that number again, he continues to plummet right back to Earth.
Why do I think LT has hit his peak? You mean besides the fact that he’s on the verge of scoring 441.1 points, when the highest I’ve run across is Faulk’s 374.9? I guess the way he’s running this season, I can’t wholeheartedly say that it’s his peak…but, you’ve got to consider it.
So, there you have it. Take it for what it is. One guy’s opinion and attempt at predicting the unpredictable. But, I know that if I land the 1st pick in 2007, I will be wary of drafting LaDanian Tomlinson with my pick.
Just thought you should know…