Free Agent Forecast: T.J. Duckett

The San Diego Chargers will lose an important element to their offense when Michael Turner departs as a free agent. Turner provided the power complement to the shiftier LaDainian Tomlinson, helping wear down defenses late in games. GM A.J. Smith may have found the perfect replacement for Turner in former first-round pick T.J. Duckett.

T.J. Duckett (6 foot, 254 pounds) is the kind of big back the Chargers have been missing since Natrone Means left after the 1999 season. Duckett is a decisive north-and-south runner who runs with great leverage and power. He also has a nose for the end zone, as his touchdowns-to-carries ratio (1 to 18.2) is better than even LaDainian Tomlinson's (1 to 20.6).

Duckett is coming off a resurgent season with the Detroit Lions, averaging a career-high 5.2 yards per carry. He got stronger as the season wore on, culminating in a dominating Week 16 performance in which he carried 15 times for 102 yards and a touchdown.

The Chargers have a sizable advantage if they pursue Duckett. New running backs coach Ollie Wilson served as Duckett's positional coach with the Atlanta Falcons from 2002-05. Duckett and Wilson remain close, and it is expected that Wilson will give his former pupil a glowing recommendation.

Duckett would play a significant role in San Diego's offense. When Tomlinson is healthy, Duckett can contribute the 75 or so carries that Michael Turner has toted in recent seasons. If Tomlinson should go down with another injury, Duckett and Darren Sproles could provide a two-back system similar to the Duckett-Warrick Dunn pairing that helped the Falcons lead the league in rushing in 2005.

For his career, Duckett has carried 655 times for 2,642 yards and 36 touchdowns. His best year came in 2003, when he established single-season career-highs with 197 carries, 779 yards and 11 TDs.

Duckett is the type of player A.J. Smith has traditionally targeted in free agency. He is young (26 years old), talented and affordable -- the Chargers could likely land him with a three-year, $8-million contract. That kind of low-risk, high-reward deal will be difficult for the Chargers to pass up.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.


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