Entering the NFL:
When a team owns the No. 1 pick in the draft, there’s a lot of pressure to select the right player. In just seconds, you could be adding the missing piece that can revitalize your franchise and ultimately lead you to a Super Bowl. Or, you could make the wrong choice and spend millions of dollars and countless hours trying to develop a player who’s nothing more than a bust.
In 2001, the San Diego Chargers opted for the alternative and decided to trade out of the top spot with the Atlanta Falcons. At the time, the trade was viewed as a risk, because the Chargers needed a quarterback and they were giving up on the consensus No. 1 prospect, Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick.
“We passed up a great guy to look more immediate,” former Chargers Head Coach Mike Riley said in regards to Vick. It turned out to be the best move for the Chargers, as Vick is now out of football.
It didn’t take long for Tomlinson to become the superstar that he is today. After a storied collegiate career at TCU, where he amassed 5,263 career rushing yards – 2,158 of them coming during his senior campaign – Tomlinson exploded on the NFL scene as a rookie and rushed for 1,236 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 59 passes for 367 yards.
“I know how to rebuild a team,” Tomlinson said to the media after he was drafted. “I know how to step in and work hard. I knew what it took to rebuild TCU’s program. That’s kind of the same situation [in San Diego].”
With Tomlinson on board, the Chargers as a whole didn’t have immediate success. It wasn’t until Tomlinson’s fourth season (2004) when the Chargers finally won the AFC West and advanced to the playoffs. In three of the next four seasons (2005 – 2008), the Chargers were AFC West Champions, but they only advanced to the AFC Championship game once (2007) and lost to the Patriots. Tomlinson wasn’t a factor in the game, as he was nursing a sprained knee.
The Chargers most realistic chance at bringing the Lombardi trophy to San Diego was during the 2006 season when they finished with a league best 14 – 2 record. During that season, Tomlinson, who was named league MVP, had the best year of his career rushing for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns and also hauled in 59 passes for 508 yards and three touchdowns. But once again, the Patriots stood in their way during the Divisional round and upset the Chargers at home, ending their hopes of a possible Super Bowl appearance.
This past season, Tomlinson had the worst statistical output of his career, but the Chargers rallied to an 8 – 8 record behind quarterback Philip Rivers and won the AFC West. Tomlinson was bothered by injuries the entire season and still managed to rush for 1,110 yards and 11 touchdowns. But the down year has brought about the realization of Tomlinson possibly slowing down, as many running backs tend to do, when they turn 30 (Tomlinson turns 30 on June 23rd).
Tomlinson still has three years remaining on his contract, and with the emerging Darren Sproles being a free agent, the Chargers will have to make a tough decision and let one of them go. In the end, Tomlinson may be the odd man out and that will open the door for the Chargers to draft a young, versatile player to share time with Sproles next season.
Entering the NFL:
It’s hard to compare any player to LaDainian Tomlinson, because a player of his talent comes around once in a decade. But Knowshon Moreno is also a special player who has yet to realize his full potential; the potential to be the next LT.
Since he arrived at Georgia, there was a buzz about Moreno. Although he was redshirted his first year in Athens, the highly rated high school sensation was being talked about as the next Herschel Walker; a player who would one day win the Heisman trophy and put the Bulldogs in contention for a National Championship.
But just like Walker, who left Georgia after his junior year to join the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, Moreno decided to leave school early and declared for the NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore.
“It was a very tough decision,” Moreno said. “I went home, talked to family members about the pros and cons of leaving. I came to the decision to leave early to pursue my career in the NFL. It’s a life-long dream. It’s been awesome coming to Athens. It’s like a second home to me.”
Georgia was the place that Moreno developed into the dynamic offensive weapon he is today. In his first year, Moreno was inconsistent at the start, but finally broke through during a five-game stretch where he averaged 26 carries, 153 yards (5.9 YPC) and two touchdowns on his way to the second highest rushing total (1,334) by a Georgia freshman since Walker. Moreno was also a big factor in the Bulldogs 41 – 10 win over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. In a dominating effort, Moreno scored two first quarter touchdowns and rushed for 61 yards on just nine carries.
This past season, Moreno continued to showcase his versatility and became a much more consistent player. He displayed more patience running the ball and had a larger role in the passing game. He finished the season with 1,400 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns to go along with his 33 receptions for 392 yards and two touchdowns.
There are a lot of NFL teams that could use Moreno’s talents next season. The NFL landscape is changing, and having a quality one-two punch in a backfield is becoming more prevalent. A team like the Chargers, who hold the 16th pick in the draft, would be a perfect fit for Moreno, as would the Denver Broncos (No. 12), New York Jets (No. 17), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 19) and Philadelphia Eagles (No.21).
It’s possible that the Broncos could take Moreno at No. 12, but with defense being a higher priority, the likelihood of him slipping to the Chargers is a realistic possibility. If Moreno ends up with the Chargers, the Tomlinson era in San Diego will likely come to a close. But for the Chargers to feel comfortable with moving Tomlinson, they have to resign Darren Sproles, who will be an unrestricted free agent this spring.
With Moreno and Sproles in the backfield, the Chargers get much younger and just as athletic, even though they removed a future Hall of Fame player from their lineup.