You have heard of the phrase “always start your studs”, but how many of you owners (I was one) have been burned by this effective, but tricky, rule of thumb? An excellent example of this is LaDanian Tomlinson.
In 2006, he went from being a perennial Top 10 or better overall stud, to the fantasy king, with his record-breaking season (1800+ rush yards, 500+ receiving yards, 31 total touchdowns). Now unless you were five years old or younger you should have expected a dropoff or return to normal and for L.T., that is still better than most.
In 2007, he tallied 1400+ rush yards, 400+ receiving yards and18 total touchdowns. Then in 2008 he tallied 1100+ rush yards, 400+ receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns. That’s a Top 5 and a Top 10 season for those years.
Now here is where it gets tricky. If you were one of the owners who had the foresight to see the writing on the wall, then a huge congratulations is in order. If you were not, then you were either new to the game or a diehard homer fan. Still you should have known better. For those of you who still don’t get it, I will explain.
Entering the 2009 season, Tomlinson had compiled eight heavy work loaded, top fantasy ranked seasons, mounting injuries, approaching the dreaded age of 30 and the offense was in transition to a passing offense. All of these were red flags, by the way. If you drafted him with one of your top three picks, you may have had a bad year. If so, I bet it was because of the rule of thumb “always start your starters.” It’s hard to let go or face the hard truth – that the end is near.
In 2009 his numbers took a big blow. For the first time in his career, he did not reach 1,000 yards rushing (730 to be exact, about 400 less than his previous career low). Also, his receiving numbers slumped (20 receptions – first time of career with less than 50 and 150 receiving yards – about 200 less than previous career low). Those are barely flex position worthy numbers. His saving grace was his 12 total touchdowns. Eleven of those came in the last 10 games. It marked his ninth straight season of double-digit touchdowns. So for the first six games of 2009, he played in four games (missing two to injury), tallied 61 carries, 211 rush yards, seven receptions, 32 receiving yards and one touchdown. Those are season- (real and fantasy) destroying numbers, especially if you consider where he was probably drafted. All of which leads to this.
By this point, most owners had cut, traded or benched (in hopes of a rebound) and tried to save their season. Those who let him go were the better for it. Those who didn’t were probably so gun shy of being burned or were flip-flopping, third- and fourth-guessing themselves on whether to start him or not, that may have missed on the few good games he did have.
The struggle and pressure of “is this the week he turns it around or is he going to lay an egg again?” is tiresome. You do the research – matchups, weather, his history against upcoming opponent, and if he is healthy can be a lot of work. And all the way up to the moment when you submit your weekly lineup, that little voice is in your head saying “always start your studs,” when you know you should leave him on the bench. Go away, just freakin’ go away. Sorry about that, I am getting a little worked up. Ugh the pressures and struggles of this game we love.
Just keep in mind when using rules of thumb to also use your head. As with anything, there are exceptions to every rule. Don’t get caught up in the craziness. Set reasonable expectations for your players. That way when they perform great you look like an expert and when they stink it doesn’t hurt your team as bad. I hope this helps you and good luck to all in 2010.
PS: One more thing before I go. Remember when draft day rolls around, you have all your sheets and magazines ready and have swore off drafting L.T. ever again, that 2010 is not 2009 and he plays for the New York Jets (run-heavy team) and not San Diego. Plus how great would it be, to be the owner who had the foresight to see this is his comeback season and ride him to a championship? How crazy would that be? Good luck.