I find writing about football and baseball to be too completely different animals. In baseball we have a lot of underlying statistics to help determine if a performance is for real, or maybe it is a little bit of an aberration. Things like Batting Average on Balls in Play or Strand Rate or whatever other sabermetric statistic you want to use that fans and writers can point to. In football, those things don’t really exist, or at least they are not as prevalent.
So, when I compare two players on the football side, I find it to be a little bit more subjective, especially when you are looking at players the quality of LaDanian Tomlinson and Matt Forte. These are two guys who are likely to be among the elite, sure-fire first round draft picks. I know in my recent Top 10 RB list I took some heat in ranking Forte so low, and I can guarantee that he is going to be bumped up when things are revised in the coming weeks. Will it be ahead of LT, however? Well, let’s just take a look.
What does Tomlinson really have working against him? The fact that he is 30-years old, the age that many star backs have hit the wall and begun to deteriorate? Is it the fact that he’s coming off the worst year of his career, having rushed for “just” 1,110 yards and 11 TD? Don’t forget about the 52 receptions for an additional 426 yards and 1 TD.
I find it funny that his “bad” season is a year that the majority of backs would love to enjoy.
Over his career he’s rushed for 4.4 yards per carry, but struggled to just 3.8 last season, the first time since 2004 that he was below the 4.0 mark. I just don’t think it is unreasonable to see him rebound.
Is Darren Sproles being franchised the thing that worries people? Granted, it is hard to imagine the team franchising him and then only letting him carry the ball 61 teams this season. I could easily see that number being worked up to 100, maybe 110, but not much more than that. Tomlinson is still the man on that team, and even if his carries drop to the 250 range, the improvement in yards per carry will offset the decrease.
With the injury concerns, how many vicious hits do you really remember seeing him take? While some may call it weak, others would call it smart. Skirting out of bounds. Sliding before huge contact. It helps to preserve a player.
Other than that, where have the changes come from? The departure of Mike Goff really worry anyone? I don’t see that having a major impact on Tomlinson’s production. This is one of the elite backs in NFL history, and it is hard for me to imagine anything but a big season from him.
In Matt Forte we have a second-year back who has the potential for greatness. He rushed for 1,238 yards last season, to go along with 477 yards receiving. Those numbers came with a less then terrific QB, so the opposing defense had the ability key on Forte.
With Jay Cutler in place, it’s just another wrinkle for defenses to focus on. They will be less likely to crowd eight men into the box, especially if the Bears can add a true home run threat into the mix.
Just how much is that going to allow him to run? Well, it’s kind of a mixed bag for me. While it will open more holes up for him to run through, chances are he isn’t going to see 316 carries again this season. You don’t bring in a quarterback like Cutler and then plan on using him more as a decoy to continually hand the ball off to Forte. Cutler wants to put the ball in the air and I can see the Bears giving him ample opportunity to do so.
Obviously, Forte is still going to get his touches. Plus, Cutler may depend on him even more as a check down option, strengthening his value. That extra value is important, because even if the team does go more pass conscious, he has the ability to contribute.
So, where exactly does that leave us? In my opinion Forte is a slightly higher risk then Tomlinson. I know his age and the fear that he may breakdown, but his down year matched what Forte produced last season. To me, it seems like a far greater bet that Tomlinson rebounds then expecting Forte to take the next step and emerge as one of the Top 3 or 4 backs in the league.
That’s what Tomlinson is, even at his age with the wear and tear on his body. He is still performing like one of the elite. If both of these backs are on the board, I am going Tomlinson without hesitation. What about you? Who would you take and why?
Make sure to check out our baseball site by clicking here.
Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.