Very few times does the desired timing match-up with our goals of making lists. In thinking about LaDainian Tomlinson’s place in history, evaluating players against those they played against is always the easiest way to compare. And in drawing conclusions we prefer to have it packaged in an easy to understand and conveyed message. It works out well to call LT2 the best back of the 2000 decade.
His career with San Diego ran from 2001-2009. Perfect. He ran for more yards and scored more touchdowns than any player over that time-span. He had no weaknesses in his game. He ran with power, speed, finesse, quickness, and determination. He caught the ball, even once registering a 100-catch season. He blocked, and protected the quarterback. He broke NFL records, and a lot of them.
His competition has been limited somewhat because of that timing thing. Emmitt Smith only played until 2004. Jerome Bettis until 2005, and Curtis Martin until 2006. Those are the guys around him in the all-time rankings. I’ll qualify the decade as 2000-2009. If I flipped it from 2001-10 then the list would change somewhat, as you’ll read below. So who would I rank behind Tomlinson as the obvious #1?
1. LaDainian Tomlinson
2. Edgerrin James
3. Marshall Faulk
4. Fred Taylor
5. Shaun Alexander
6. Jamal Lewis
7. Priest Holmes
8. Clinton Portis
9. Curtis Martin
10. Tiki Barber
Who misses? Well some good guys who played in the decade like Brian Westbrook, Thomas Jones, Ahman Green, Warrick Dunn, Corey Dillon, Ricky Williams, Willis McGahee, Deuce McAllister, Larry Johnson, Bettis, and Eddie George. Some I just deemed a step below, and for guys like George and Bettis they played too much of their prime in the 1990’s.
The other guys that were omitted that you are probably wondering about include Adrian Peterson (3 years), Maurice Jones-Drew (4), and Frank Gore (5). The number represent the number of seasons they played in the decade. These guys might make an appearance on the list if I flipped it to 2001-10.
As far as talent, and simply playing prime years in the last decade, the conversation of the best back would be LT2, Faulk, Peterson, and maybe James.
Tomlinson never got a Super Bowl ring. He never even got to play in one. That doesn’t take away from the greatness he displayed and all the fantasy leagues he won during a powerful run of being the top pick in leagues. I’d rank him among the ten best backs to ever play.