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LaDainian Tomlinson is often taken for granted because he is so consistently spectacular. However, he does more than produce eye-popping numbers on a weekly basis; he draws attention away from the offense's other playmakers.
Tomlinson's statistical accomplishments are borderline incomprehensible. He averages more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage per season; he holds the single-season records for rushing touchdowns (28) and points (186); and he fumbles only once every 117.6 touches.
L.T. is the ultimate do-it-all back. He can make plays as a receiver, catching more than 50 passes in each of his seven seasons and tallying 100 receptions in 2003. He can also attack defenses with his arm, as he's tossed seven career touchdown passes. Most importantly, he excels in the unglamorous aspects of football such as picking up blitzes and carrying out play-fakes.
Tomlinson's all-around dominance opens up the offense for everybody else, including Antonio Gates. Linebackers become so infatuated with L.T. that they're unable to properly jam Gates at the line of scrimmage. Additionally, Tomlinson's success makes defenses honor the play-action pass, which is a staple of Norv Turner's passing attack.
Tomlinson's presence ensures the Chargers will have a lethal running game. San Diego has ranked inside the top-10 in rushing for six consecutive seasons; only two other teams have ranked inside the top-10 for more than three consecutive seasons, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants.
Teams that hope to win big games in December and January must be able to lean on a powerful running attack. San Diego aims to play all the way to Feb. 1, the date of Super Bowl XLIII. The only way for the Chargers to bring that dream to fruition is to ride No. 21 as far as his powerful legs will take them.
LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates are both elite, rare talents at their respective positions. However, no one in the League creates more matchup problems for opposing defenses than Gates.
With tight end size, wide receiver speed and route-running, and a basketball player's rebounding mentality, no one has the skill-set that makes Gates one of the most dangerous weapons in the League right now.
It is very rare that a tight end leads his team in receptions, and even more so when he does it every year. He knows how to find the chains in key situations and is nearly unstoppable in the red zone.
When Gates signed with San Diego after playing basketball at Kent State, the Chargers had hit rock bottom. But it is no coincidence that his first season as a starter in 2004 coincided with the Bolts' steep rise to prominence due to the fact that he provided the safety net that Drew Brees so desperately needed to resuscitate his career before moving on to New Orleans.
When Philip Rivers was finally handed the keys to the offense in 2006, he leaned on Gates more than anyone, which allowed him to develop at his own pace while still leading the Bolts to victory after victory.
Gates is also supremely tough, contributing in the playoffs despite an extremely painful dislocated big toe, which made it almost impossible for him to run routes.
There may never be another star with such an unexpected rise to prominence like Gates. He has the look of an all-time great at the position and there are few players in the NFL right now who inspire more fear in opposing defensive coordinators.
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