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Game-time panic on LT is premature

9/17/2009

Oh, the dreaded game-time decision. Fantasy football owners hate hearing those words, because we often become forced to make a decision on whether to use a player but we just don't have all the information we need. Wouldn't it be nice to know if this guy will play or not, and then we could decide? Well, LaDainian Tomlinson
was seen limping around the San Diego Chargers offices Tuesday and Wednesday with his sprained right ankle in a protective boot. He's already been labeled a game-time decision for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens. Man, couldn't they wait until Friday?

What surprised me the most -- and scared me, to boot -- was the fact Chargers coach Norv Turner told reporters Tuesday that Tomlinson would have this designation for the injury report. That's awfully early in a week for any coach to already know, and furthermore announce, that his star player is in such dire straits. Most coaches would keep the information to themselves, so the opponent would be guessing and would not necessarily prepare for this result. Fantasy football owners are guessing as well, and they don't like it.

I ranked Tomlinson No. 20 among running backs for this week, so obviously I expect he will be healthy enough to play, and play well. I don't have any inside information, just a hunch. As Stephania Bell notes in her Thursday injury blog, Tomlinson told reporters he doesn't expect this injury to be a long-term problem.

I see three major questions on the message boards as pertaining to Tomlinson:

1. Why did I take this guy in the first round?

2. Is this guy too brittle now to trust?

3. When does Darren Sproles take over?

Don't question yourself on your first-round pick. It's one game, and Tomlinson was a very productive player last season, which is why he went top-10 in most leagues. Note that Tomlinson dealt with numerous injuries last season and still managed to total more than 1,500 yards and score 12 touchdowns. It's clear he has lost a step from the ol' days, and he's not capable of doing what Adrian Peterson can, but there's a reason we labeled him a first-round pick. And by the way, Tomlinson did score Monday and deliver a double-digit fantasy effort. He'll be worth it.

Of course, this isn't the first injury Tomlinson has suffered in the past few seasons: He tore a knee ligament late in 2007, dealt with toe and groin problems much of last season and suffered this sprained ankle on a seemingly innocuous screen pass in the game against the Oakland Raiders, even though his lower leg didn't seem to get hit. He's 30 now. You know what I'm implying. Tomlinson has been the best fantasy player this decade, but the decade is coming to a close. I don't think there's any statistical evidence that a player all of a sudden becomes brittle when he hits 30. He might be more inclined to break down, and recovering from injury gets tougher, but suffering a sprained ankle doesn't mean someone is breaking down.

It sounds to me -- and did in the preseason -- that the Chargers intend to keep Tomlinson as the workhorse running back when he can handle it. Sproles entered the Raiders game and scored while the Hall of Famer was out. It did not appear to be a time-share, and Turner has never really implied that one is coming. Michael Turner was always the backup in San Diego, and much of his production came in blowout games, or when Tomlinson was on the sidelines needing a break or nursing an injury. That's how I see Sproles.

As for this week, I assume it really will be a game-time decision on whether Tomlinson plays or not, which stinks for everyone in fantasy. It's not a good matchup for Tomlinson either way, so you might feel safer just looking elsewhere. Since I ranked him as a RB2 (barely), I will be using him. On one of my teams, I have to choose among Tomlinson, Derrick Ward, Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor, and for now I have chosen Tomlinson. I was not able to select Sproles in that league, but I wasn't disappointed at the time. I don't think Sproles would be used the way Tomlinson is anyway. If Tomlinson misses the game, Philip Rivers would just be asked to throw more.

But if Tomlinson plays ... well, I think we know it's too early for mass panic to set in. He'll be fine.