Draft Review: LaDainian Tomlinson
What NFL talent evaluators were saying before Tomlinson was drafted...
GOSSELIN DRAFT ANALYSIS: LaDainian Tomlinson spent four seasons at a non-Power 5 school and became a two-time NCAA rushing champion at TCU. He rushed for 2,158 yards as a senior – the 10th best single-season in NCAA history – and won the Doak Walker Award as the top running back in college football. He left TCU as the all-time leading rusher in WAC history and second only to Marshall Faulk in career touchdowns with 54. He rushed for a career-best 406 yards in a single game against Texas-El Paso in 1999 and hit 100 yards in all 11 of his games as a senior in 2000. Tomlinson then was lights out at the NFL scouting combine, turning in a 4.41 40-yard dash with a vertical jump of 40 ½ inches. Gosselin rated him the top running back in the draft and No. 3 on his overall Top 100 board. The San Diego Chargers selected Tomlinson with the fifth overall choice of the 2001 NFL draft.
Here are comments on Tomlinson from six talent evaluators leading up to the 2001 NFL draft:
Scout: Impressive in Senior Bowl.
Scout II: Made himself some money at the combine.
Scout III: Lights up a room. Tough with something to prove.
Scout IV: Like Emmitt Smith except faster. Durable. Low center of gravity. By far the most solid back in this draft class. But Deuce (McAllister) is so big and fast.
Offensive coordinator: Grows on you…but I don’t see it on film. What he did at the combine I didn’t see on film. Against Nevada his longest run was 10 yards until they ran an option, knocked everyone down and he goes 50. Most of his long runs are options. I don’t see all that cutting and slashing that we saw at the combine. I see his shoulders way up in the air every time he tries to make a cut. That tells me he doesn’t have the quickness. Doesn’t make people miss.
General manager: Is he Rashaan Salaam (1994 Heisman Trophy winner who lasted only four NFL seasons)?
HALL OF FAME RESUME: It turns out Tomlinson wasn’t Salaam and he could make people miss. Lots of people. He rushed for 1,236 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie – the first of eight consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Tomlinson led the NFL in rushing in back-to-back seasons with 1,815 yards in 2006 and 1,474 in 2007. He scored 31 touchdowns in 2006 – 28 rushing and three receiving – on his way to NFL MVP honors. His 145 career rushing touchdowns rank second-all-time to fellow Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith. He also caught 17 TD passes for 162 career scores, third all-time behind Jerry Rice and Smith. Tomlinson also completed 8-of-12 option passes for 143 yards and seven more touchdowns. He became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2017 and was a first-ballot selection.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Gosselin spent 20 years as the NFL columnist for the Dallas Morning News, including 20 offseasons studying and researching prospects for the NFL draft. He didn’t watch any tape – he was a writer, not a scout – but he talked to the men who did watch tape. He built a network of NFL general managers, head coaches, personnel directors, scouts and assistant coaches from all 32 teams who would share with him their analyses of players. Gosselin used their insights to build his own draft board, Top 100 board and mock drafts. For 10 consecutive years he had the best Top 100 board in the country (2001-10), according to the Huddle Report, and three times he produced the best mock draft. Gosselin resurrected his scouting reports here for a look back at how NFL talent evaluators viewed the top draft prospects coming out of college.