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On list of best ever, L.T. already No. 6 (with a bullet)

by | National Columnist
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When I watch LaDainian Tomlinson, the man who possesses as many letters in his name as he does NFL records, I am reminded of Gale Sayers.

And Eric Dickerson. And O.J. Simpson, minus the knives. Oh, and Jim Brown, too.

When watching Tomlinson, he is all of these players, and others. He is so much like many of the greats, it is one of the more uncanny things I have witnessed in sports.

Talk of the NFL's best ever running back might soon begin and end with LaDainian Tomlinson. (Getty Images)  
Talk of the NFL's best ever running back might soon begin and end with LaDainian Tomlinson. (Getty Images)  
He possesses the vision and strength of Brown, the grace of Dickerson, the quickness of Sayers, the moves of Simpson. He is all of these men.

Tomlinson reminds us of another era in football's history. Now, mediocrity rules. Few runners truly qualify as great. Tomlinson is the next great running back and is such a dominant player at his position, he already outshines backs who are in the Hall of Fame.

My keyboard didn't stutter. You read that right.

The numbers are part of the reason. Numbers like 100: Fastest to 100 career touchdowns, in just his 89th game.

Or 19: the most touchdowns in a six-game span.

Or 22: the most touchdowns in the first 10 games of a season. That's more touchdowns than the entire Denver Broncos offense.

Or 4: Consecutive 4-touchdown games, tying a league record.

Tomlinson is not just rewriting record books, he is re-engineering our thoughts about what a great running back is.

Now, prepare your "Freeman is an idiot" threads on the feedback pages.

Or just reheat the old ones.

Because I am about to stimulate your outrage glands.

Listing the top 10 running backs of all time is like debating who is prettier, Halle Berry or one of those CSI babes. We love arguing over this stuff; some like brawling over this stuff.

My top 10 running backs pre-Tomlinson: Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, Marcus Allen and Emmitt Smith.

Tomlinson is already better than Emmitt Smith. Far superior. Tomlinson would also beat Smith on the dance floor.

Tomlinson is already better than Marcus Allen.

Better than Dorsett.

And better than Payton. Yes, Payton.

He is better than John Riggins, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Franco Harris or almost any other runner you can think of.

Already.

The only runners Tomlinson has not yet surpassed are Brown, Simpson (Simpson also leads Tomlinson in the double-murder category), Dickerson, Sayers and Sanders -- although he is standing right behind both Sayers and Sanders.

Assuming none of his knee ligaments head south when he runs north, Tomlinson will end up better than both of them.

Because he is a better blocker than both runners and a superior athlete to Sanders.

Thousands of trees have met their demise and ga-jillions of gigabytes are produced to extol the virtues of Reggie Bush. Tomlinson receives a fraction of that publicity, and he is so much better than Bush it's like comparing a luscious dessert at a five-star restaurant to Klondike bars. And you get production and numbers from Tomlinson without a hint of scandal. What a bonus.

Again, we are not talking strictly numbers, though Tomlinson is shredding his share of records and will continue to do so. It's more than that. His moves, his intelligence, his power, his quickness, his speed put him on par with the greats.

It's as if God were a football fan, and she decided to create the perfect running back by mixing the genome of past greats into one Petri dish and -- poof -- out came Tomlinson.

Please do not counter with the quite old, unimaginative and silly argument that Tomlinson has not played enough games to warrant such hefty consideration. He has played plenty. You can just look at him and tell he's better than all but a handful of runners to ever play the game.

The biggest criticism of Tomlinson, the only one really, is that he greatly benefits from having good skill position players around him. His quarterback is talented, his receivers are solid, and his tight end is athletic.

Players like Brown, Simpson, and definitely Sanders, for the most part had corpses at other skill positions. Players like Smith are penalized because he played with a Hall of Fame quarterback, maybe the best offensive line ever and a wide receiver in Michael Irvin who was one of the top receivers of the 1990s.

What Tomlinson is doing is beyond remarkable. It's eerie. It's eerie because he looks so much like the past greats, and one day, he might surpass them all.

In some ways, he already has.

Mike Freeman is a CBS SportsLine.com National Columnist and the author of the newly released Jim Brown: The Fierce Life of an American Hero. It can be purchased here.

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