It’s always interesting to ask professional athletes when they knew they would be successful in their sport, when they knew they were going to make it.
LaDainian Tomlinson, for example, didn’t know he would make it as a running back until his rookie season in San Diego in 2001.
“The only reason why (I didn’t know for sure until then) is because it’s different on the NFL level,” Tomlinson said on Tiki and Tierney. “You’re still an amateur on the college level, and the holes are still massive at times in college. So for me, yeah, I had 2,100 yards my senior year (at TCU), but I needed to know in the National Football League if I can translate the speed I had, the power I had and the moves that I possessed – and the ability to catch the ball. I wanted to know if that (would translate to) the National Football League.”
Tomlinson rushed for 1,236 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie. In fact, he averaged 1,470 rushing yards and 15.8 rushing touchdowns in his first eight seasons, routinely getting 300+ carries. He also routinely got 50+ catches out of the backfield, making him arguably the best tailback of his generation.
“I knew right away that everything I did in college could translate to the National Football League,” Tomlinson said.
Tiki Barber, of course, was one of Tomlinson’s contemporaries. Neither one believes the running back position is truly dying, but it is definitely evolving. The role has become more specialized, as do-everything backs are a dying breed.
“I really think it’s because of the state of the game today,” Tomlinson said. “Think about it, Tiki. When you and I were growing up, running back was the glamorous position. You knew you could gain glory from the running back position, and there was value in the position. You would get paid. First-round pick, you’re going to free agency, you’re going to get paid. Nowadays, it’s all about the wide receiver. So the best athletes are not playing running back no more. They’re playing wide receiver.
“But at the same time,” Tomlinson continued, “if you still have a dynamic runner, that player is still going to have value, even coming out of the draft. We’re going to see it this season.”
Indeed, we’ll see it with Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley, among others. Both Gordon and Gurley are physical runners still capable of running right by you. They can also make plays in the passing game.
“So even though (do-everything running backs are few and far between),” Tomlinson said, “they’re still going to be certain guys that are still going to be relevant at the running back position.”
Tomlinson is truly one of the great running backs of all time. He played 14+ games in each of his 11 seasons, accounted for more than 18,000 total yards, scored more than 100 touchdowns and even threw seven touchdown passes.
And do you want to know the crazy part? Tomlinson – at 5-10, 215 – was actually not a good fit for Marty Schottenheimer’s power-run game.
“I had to adjust my game and really learn how to run inside and run that play that Marty Schottenheimer wanted to run,” Tomlinson said. “And I remember my mother used to say all the time, ‘Why he keep running you up the middle?’ Ma, I have to do it! If I want to get paid at this job, I have to run up the middle. It’s the coach I have, and it is what it is.”