Two years ago, LaDainian Tomlinson was the only arsenal the Chargers possessed. Since then, however, they have run off a 12-4 season and are looking for more in 2005, starting with the addition of second round pick Vincent Jackson – a physical beast at 6-foot-5 and an increased desire to spread the ball around.
That means more production from a wide receiving corps that accounted for 12 touchdown receptions as a group – one less than Antonio Gates managed by his lonesome.
While it is true that Tomlinson crossed the goal line 18 times on the year, ranking him second in the league behind Shaun Alexander, the belief is more wide receivers will actually make red zone plays this year.
Consider that the Chargers were the number three scoring offense in the league. To think that they will match that total this year may be premature.
Jackson, a rookie, will certainly not take the load as a rookie, but he could play a significant role as a red zone presence. Given his frame, it is conceivable that he produces touchdowns at an alarming rate – even if his overall receptions don't stand out.
Reche Caldwell appears healthy again. He had three touchdown receptions in six games. Over a full season, that would give him nine touchdown receptions. Erring on the side of caution, giving him seven would still cut into the production of Tomlinson.
The Chargers offense, paired down last year with rookies on the line, also limited his exposure in the passing game. It was by design, as no team truly wants their running back to catch 100 passes, as Tomlinson did in '03. He ended up catching 53 passes and that number may dwindle even further as the screen pass is just a drawn up play seen in other teams' playbooks.
What is realistic for the best running back in football?
The offensive line is together again – building on its second year of continuity after being thrown together for the first time in 2004. If the offense can maintain open passing lanes, it is more likely that Tomlinson's yards per carry will again move up towards the 5.0 mark. That does not, however, mean he will cross into the end zone as often as he has.
Defenses will inevitably throw eight men in the box to stop the Pro Bowler and the Chargers, already looking to make their wide receivers a more integral part in the game, will pass the ball.
At the same time, when the Chargers will run when they believe the defense will be softer against the run. It will produce more yards for Tomlinson – and as long as he is healthy it could mean threatening 2,000 yards.
History has shown that 2,000 yard runners don't necessarily lead the league in touchdowns.
Jamal Lewis had 14 touchdowns during his 2,000 yard campaign in 2003, falling well shy of the 27 Priest Holmes procured that year. Barry Sanders matched that total in 1997 with his magical season but heck, Miami's Karim Abdul-Jabbar had 16 that year. Ditto Eric Dickerson in 1984 when he ran for 2,105 yards, while two players – one rusher and one wide receiver led the league with 18. O.J. Simpson crossed into the end zone 12 times during his 14-game season but was passed by Larry Brown who scored 14 times.
Terrell Davis is the only back to cross 14 touchdowns, scoring 23 during his 2,008 yard magical tour in 1998. He paced the league by six over Fred Taylor. What was so impressive about that offense was Shannon Sharpe and Ed McCafferty scored ten apiece for the Broncos that same year. Their 501 points scored was 55 more than the Chargers secured in 2004.
Based on that, it would be wise to say that Tomlinson is a safe bet for 14 touchdowns and anything else is gravy. When three receivers had that many or more last year, and the return of a healthy Priest Holmes, coupled with the likelihood that Willis McGahee will have to run every ball over the goal line, it could mean Tomlinson has been relegated to the bottom half of the top five in fantasy drafts.
For the best back in the league it may not matter as wins and losses are what counts but the faithful fantasy juggernauts should take a care.
Tomlinson's stats may suffer in San Diego
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