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LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Emmitt Smith

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There's been far too much comparison by everyone here, myself included, between LaDainian Tomlinson and Emmitt Smith to not take a closer look at these guys next to each other.  We're going to look at them year by year, not just to see which player is better, but to help us predict where Tomlinson might be headed.  A comparison of their stats and mileage is after the jump.

Year One: Although both players had record-breaking college careers, they were each looked upon as being too small and too slow for the NFL.  Their first year would have to be a big one, because they would have to silence the critics before more people piled on.
RushAtt RushYds RushTD Rec RecYds RecTD
Smith 241 937 (3.9 Y/A) 11 24 228 0
Tomlinson 339 1,236 (3.6 Y/A) 10 59 367 0


Winner: Tie.  It should be pointed out that Smith won the Rookie of the Year Award while Tomlinson lost out to Anthony "A-Train" Thomas.  LT certainly carried a heavier load than Emmitt in his first year, but came away with roughly the same results.


Year Two: To me, there is no more important year in a running back's career than his second year.  I've seen too many players have huge rookie years and do nothing afterward.  I don't know if it has something to do with conditioning, or making an adjustment to how the defense players you, all I know is that it's a difficult thing to do.  Players like Steve Slaton and Chris Johnson had great rookie seasons, but should still be looked at as relative unknowns.  The great ones always get better in their second season, so it's no surprise when you see there numbers.

RushAtt RushYds RushTD Rec RecYds RecTD
Smith 365 1,563 (4.3 Y/A) 12 49 258 1
Tomlinson 372 1,683 (4.5 Y/A) 14 79 489 1


Winner: Tomlinson, but not by much.


Year Three: We're now entering the "peak" for both guys.  Get ready for some big numbers.  Going into their third seasons, Emmitt is 23 and Tomlinson is 24.  Although both guys put on a lot of mileage in high school and college, this is what they've been aiming for their whole lives and it's time to take advantage.

RushAtt RushYds RushTD Rec RecYds RecTD
Smith 373 1,713 (4.6 Y/A) 18 59 335 1
Tomlinson 313 1,645 (5.3 Y/A) 13 100 725 4


Winner: Tomlinson (2-0-1).  I know the argument is that he only had 100 receptions because the rest of the team was so bad and I'll accept that.  However, if you're arguing that point than his 5.3 Yards Per Attempt is even more impressive.


Year Four: One big advantage LT has in this is that he's never missed a regular season game due to injury.  Not once!  Emmitt was consistently on the field, albeit usually with some nagging injuries, but he's probably just going to get smaller in LT's rear-view mirror after only playing in 13 games in his fourth season.

RushAtt RushYds RushTD Rec RecYds RecTD
Smith 283 1,486 (5.3 Y/A) 9 57 414 1
Tomlinson 339 1,335 (3.9 Y/A) 17 53 441 1


Winner: Smith (1-2-1).  I know, I know, there's a huge difference in the number of touchdowns.  Two things worked in Smith's advantage here.  One is the big difference in Yards Per Attempt.  3.9 is nearly pedestrian and 5.3 is outstanding.  Smith ran for 150 more yards in 3 less games than LT.  That's impressive.  The second thing working in Emmitt's favor is that he won the NFL's MVP Award in his fourth season.  It's hard to say the guy wasn't the better RB that year when he proved himself to be the best player in the league that season.


Year Five: We've officially hit the peak of the peaks.  The big numbers are about to get bigger.  Emmitt pulled out a tough win in year four and this is his only chance for a comeback.

RushAtt RushYds RushTD Rec RecYds RecTD
Smith 368 1,484 (4.0 Y/A) 21 50 341 1
Tomlinson 339 1,462 (4.3 Y/A) 18 51 370 2


Winner: Tie.  Sorry, I can't cut that any other way.  Every single category is too close to call.  Tomlinson is now 2-1-2 (2 wins, 1 loss, 2 ties) matched up against the first 5 seasons of his own idol.  That must be nice.


Year Six: I know these guys are similar, but it always surprises me HOW similar they are.  It's like they're the exact same player!  More on this at the end.

RushAtt RushYds RushTD Rec RecYds RecTD
Smith 377 1,773 (4.7) 25 62 375 0
Tomlinson 348 1,815 (5.2) 28 56 508 3


Winner: Tomlinson (3-1-2).  Emmitt's finest year could stand against every other LT year, but not 2006.  Nothing to date can stand against LT's record-breaking MVP season.  Emmitt did get much closer than I thought he would, but unfortunately he lost out in the MVP voting to Brett Favre (in his first of 3 consecutive MVP seasons).


Year Seven: After playing at an other-worldly level for 2-3 seasons, it was time for these guys to come back to earth and go back to simply being "great" again.

RushAtt RushYds RushTD Rec RecYds RecTD
Smith 327 1,204 (3.7 Y/A) 12 47 249 3
Tomlinson 315 1,474 (4.7 Y/A) 15 60 475 3


Winner: Tomlinson (4-1-2).  The first easy victory.  The drop-off in Emmitt's numbers from year six to seven is startling, even when you consider that this was around the time that he started dealing with nagging leg injuries every season.  Tomlinson dealt with similar injuries in the playoffs of his seventh year.  With Emmitt being on a team that consistently went to the Super Bowl and LT being on teams that didn't make the playoffs or got bounced early, it's possible that Emmitt just had more wear on his tires at this point in his career.  In Emmitt's seventh season, he won his third and final NFL Championship with the Dallas Cowboys.


Year Eight: This will be the last direct comparison of the two players, since LT is preparing for his ninth NFL season.

RushAtt RushYds RushTD Rec RecYds RecTD
Smith 261 1,074 (4.1 Y/A) 4 40 234 0
Tomlinson 292 1,110 (3.8 Y/A) 11 52 426 1


Winner: Tomlinson (5-1-2).  So LT's the better player, at least at this point in their careers.  However, what I'm more interested in is the arc immediately after this.  Smith's two down seasons were caused by nagging injuries, which is what has caused a recent drop in production from Tomlinson as well.  Both players dropped a full yard per attempt once they hit this point in their career.  Let's look at what Emmitt did during his final five seasons with the Cowboys:

RushAtt RushYds RushTD Rec RecYds RecTD
1998 319 1,332 (4.2 Y/A) 13 27 175 2
1999 329 1,397 (4.2 Y/A) 11 27 119 2
2000 294 1,203 (4.1 Y/A) 9 11 79 0
2001 261 1,021 (3.9 Y/A) 3 17 116 0
2002 254 975 (3.8 Y/A) 5 16 89 0


So is this what we can expect to see from LT over the next five seasons?  It's possible.  Everything else about their careers has matched up so well, it's hard to doubt it.  Do you expect results like this or something better?  Do you expect Tomlinson to be the LT from 2006 again?  Can he stay healthy?  Most importantly, if he puts up the same numbers Emmitt did for the next five seasons, will you be happy with that?  Will the Chargers?

Do you have any thoughts about Bolts From The Blue?  Any tips you want to send our way?  Whenever you have something to say, don't hesitate to e-mail me directly.