Thursday, June 26, 2008

Is LT's Reign At An End?

Welcome to the inaugural edition of fantasyfootballgeek on Special thanks to vikesgeek and company for extending an invitation to work for free. I will do my best to return the favor.

With the NFL regular season roughly two months away, serious fantasy football players are now beginning to make their lists for upcoming drafts. In previous seasons, the player at the top of most draft boards, no matter the league's scoring system, has been San Diego Chargers' running back LaDainian Tomlinson. While that might again hold true for most fantasy football team managers in 2008, there are signs that LT's reign at the top might soon be coming to an end.

No fantasy football team owner wants to be the one to obtain the overall number one pick only to use it on a player who fails to live up to billing. That sentiment is particularly true in eras in which there is a consensus number one pick who may or may not be on the verge of succumbing to the wear and tear of the NFL.

Prior to LT's recent run atop the fantasy rankings, the most notable long-term fantasy football player of similar merit and having a similar run as LT was former St. Louis Rams' running back Marshall Faulk. For years, fantasy players could count on Faulk to solidify their fantasy rosters, with Faulk capable of winning several games a season virtually on his own.

Then came the injuries. And the difficulties returning to the lineup. And personnel changes around him. And suddenly, Faulk was not only not the best fantasy player in the NFL, he wasn't even owned in 100% of fantasy football leagues.

The lesson for fantasy football fans is that production is fleeting. The difference between winning your league and losing, thus, often is the difference between holding too long or drafting too high yesteryear's top player.

While LT appears poised for a better year this year than he had last year, when a coaching change, questionable offensive scheming, and suspect play by quarterback Philip Rivers created problems for the Chargers' running back, the rise might merely be part of a gradual, or more precipitous fall from his lofty 2006 season.

For those in yardage plus scoring leagues, LT had a strong fantasy season in 2007. But for those in scoring only leagues, LT's 2007 results were abysmal when adjusted for his average draft position. After a sparkling 2006 season in which he produced 31 touchdowns rushing and receiving, LT dropped to 18 touchdowns in 2007. In most leagues, that's enough of a drop-off to cost a team relying on LT as the number one point producer a handful of games.

Of course, 2006 could be viewed as an aberration for LT, as his 2007 numbers more closely mirrored his career numbers than did his 2006 numbers. One thus could argue that if you liked LT before 2006, you ought to like him just as much in 2008.

But the number fluctuations nevertheless raise a concern about LT. Marshall Faulk enjoyed his greatest production in year seven of his career, but was one year younger at the time than was LT in year seven of his career. After his peak year, Faulk's numbers dropped noticeably to the point that, within one year he was slightly above average in fantasy production for starters at his position--though still in line with his pre-high point numbers, within two years he was below average, and within four years he was done.

To date, LT's numbers appear to be tracking eerily similar to those of Faulk (see, Faulk's stats versus Tomlinson's stats). And while Faulk had injury issues that LT largely has avoided, there is little in terms of use, physical size, or team composition to suggest that LT will track differently from Faulk going forward.

While LT remains a solid top of the draft pick in 2008, he thus comes with a sizeable caution and with a caveat, especially for those in keeper leagues. With the Chargers' loss of Michael Turner, LT should have a more consistent role with the Chargers in goal-line situations. That could be both good and bad for LT's fantasy owners--good in that he should score some of the easy TDs that he seemed to lose last season to Turner and bad in that he's going to get hit more in short-yardage situations. But even with a strong start, 2008 might not be the year of LT. That might make 2008 the year to shop LT, particularly for those in keeper leagues.

Up Next: Challenges to LT's reign.

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