Discussions about LaDainian Tomlinson being the best running back ever are about as commonplace nowadays as criticisms of the President of the United States. Particularly in San Diego are claims of the beloved "LT"'s position as the number one all-time RB prevalent. He most certainly is not; at this point he is not even the best current running back.
One of the main misconceptions about Tomlinson is that he must be fantastic since he scores so many touchdowns. A stat like this means very little if anything at all in regards to a player's talent. Tomlinson can simply and many of his TDs are scored this way run the ball one yard and get credit for a touchdown. I certainly am not arguing against the worthiness of this tactic (I would be stupid to say that considering the Chargers converted many of their points in this way), but I am saying that some rushes, many of which are less than the NFL average yards per carry, don't prove a player's greatness simply because the run occurred in a specific spot on the field.
Further, many analysts and Chargers fans overlook the fantastic fullback Tomlinson gets to run behind very often (Lorenzo Neal), not to mention a very good run blocking offensive line. Also, if so much credit goes to LaDainian, more should indeed go to the Chargers offensive scheme and less should go to LT himself. He just executes while the true brains behind the operations is/was the ex-Chargers Offensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips.
Returning to a statistical debate, the true stat which should determine an all-time great, since consistency is probably the top attribute for such a player, is his yards per carry average. Over his career, Tomlinson has only averaged a 4.5 yards per carry average, while San Francisco's Frank Gore has a 5.2 average, longtime Eagles RB Brian Westbrook has a 4.7, and Kansas City's Larry Johnson has a 4.7 (stats courtesy of Yahoo! Sports). Even Steven Jackson, the young Rams running back who has suffered injuries and the struggles of getting a large carry load at a young age, has a 4.4 average.
Tomlinson supporters also point to LT's receiving capability as a reason for him to deserve an all-time honor on the basis of his well-roundedness. In fact, Jackson had more catches this past season than Tomlinson. A running back with a similar knack for receiving as well as running effectively is Westbrook, who has more seasonal averages for receptions and receiving TDs than Tomlinson.
Playing in a system that purposely suppresses quarterbacks (just look at Drew Brees' performances in and out of San Diego) in order to favor the running game, Tomlinson is made to look much better than he actually is. His touchdown statistics provide a perfect example for this idea. In much of the same way that the Colts throw for touchdowns close to the goal line, the Chargers always give LT the chance to score until they as a team cannot anymore. Today's sports culture puts too great of an emphasis on "scoring" in assessments of individual athletes' greatness when it truly only reflects the ability of the team. Tomlinson definitely is not the best running back ever, and any other claim to number one fame status for him is based on this flawed perception of greatness.