Saturday night, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will again open its exclusive gates and enshrine the seven member class of 2017. Pro Football Weekly is highlighting them all, continuing with former Chargers and Jets RB LaDainian Tomlinson.
Credentials: NFL's MVP and Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2006. Two-time NFL rushing leader (2006-07) and three-time TD leader (2004, 2006-07). Five-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro (first team in 2004, 2006-07 and second team in 2002-03, 2005). 3,174 regular-season carries for 13,684 yards (4.6 YPC) and 145 touchdowns. 624 regular-season receptions for 4,772 yards and 17 touchdowns. Postseason stats: 131-468-6 rushing and 25-176-1 receiving in 10 games.
Triple-threat TD machine: The fifth overall pick in 2001, following a record-breaking career at TCU, Tomlinson struck the NFL like a lightning bolt with his unique combination of all-encompassing explosiveness. His 1,236 yards as a rookie began a super-charged eight-year streak of 1K rushing seasons, matched only by fellow Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin and Thurman Thomas, in addition to former Rams great Steven Jackson.
Only Smith and Jerry Rice have more career touchdowns than Tomlinson's 169 — 145 rushing, 17 receiving and seven (!) passing, which trails only Walter Payton (8) — and they played four and nine more seasons, respectively. Just don't discount Tomlinson's special brand of durability and longevity; he started 127-of-128 regular-season games to begin his Chargers career and missed just six combined games in 11 seasons. Now consider he averaged 368 touches over his first decade, when he was the bell cow for Marty Schottenheimer, then Norv Turner, yet averaged 4.5 yards a pop for its majority.
Tomlinson was perhaps the only back of his generation to rival Marshall Faulk in terms of versatility. In addition to his awesome north-and-south burst, cat-like quickness to gain the edges and underrated finishing ability — how else do you set a single-season record with 28 rushing touchdowns? — he was smooth as silk in the passing game. With soft hands, special instincts and separation quickness and creativity to punk linebackers, Tomlinson, alongside Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers, became one of the game's most feared and unstoppable trios on offense.
Tomlinson's 2006 MVP campaign remains among the most dominant by a back ever. In addition to the record 33 combined touchdowns, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry and 9.1 yards a catch — both personal bests. The focal point of a 14-2 division winner, Tomlinson did all he could to will the Chargers past Belichick and Brady in the division round, tallying 187 yards and two touchdowns on 25 touches in a 24-21 divisional-round defeat.
Unfortunately, Tomlinson didn't finish his career in San Diego, instead leaving unceremoniously and spending his twilight with the Jets, nor did he reach a Super Bowl. There's still no mistaking his Chargers and NFL legacy — a blend of electricity, versatility and scoring propensity rivaled by few that came before him or since.
Quotable: “As an offensive lineman—and you could probably include tight ends and fullbacks in that equation—you were really inspired to get your block and stay on your block," said former teammate and C Nick Hardwick, "because you knew that his ability to break off a long run and finish off a game at moment’s notice was right there in the power that LaDainian Tomlinson held in his feet.”
Previous Canton calling cards: Kurt Warner