Earlier today, Grantland's Bill Simmons posted a great column on why LaDainian Tomlinson was the most influential fantasy football player ever. In short, he was right. No player was better for fantasy football for a longer period than Tomlinson. However, Maurice Jones-Drew is the player that best represents the fantasy football era.
Comparing the two purely as football players makes little sense. As great as Jones-Drew is, he'll never be an all-time great like Tomlinson.
However, consider the following: Tomlinson has won an MVP award, played an AFC championship game, made the playoffs six times and has stirred up controversy with comments about both of his former teams (the Jets and Chargers).
In other words, had Tomlinson played in the '70s rather than the 2000's, we'd still remember his career. He actually meant something in the grand scheme of things.
Now think about MJD's career. He has only played for arguably the NFL's smallest market team. He has played in only two playoff games. He has one rushing title, but it was during a season when the running dialogue was how the league had shifted entirely towards the passing game.
MJD's career has made no impact on the NFL as a whole. He didn't swing Super Bowls or shatter records. He never created major stories (unless you want to count his current contract situation, which barely registers as one on the modern NFL Richter scale); and had he played in the '70s, we'd barely remember his name.
So what sets MJD apart? Fantasy football.
While Tomlinson might have been the most significant fantasy player ever, I'd argue Jones-Drew is the only one whose career was defined by it. Has anyone ever had a conversation about MJD that didn't begin with "I grabbed him fourth in my fantasy league?"
The narrative on his career is that he's consistently consistent. He has never averaged less than four yards per carry. He's scored at least eight touchdowns every year except 2010. Since he became Jacksonville's primary back, he has never run for less than 1300 yards.
He has just never captivated us like Tomlinson or Adrian Peterson because he was never the best. He never ran for 296 yards in a game or 2000 for a season. He is consistently great but never legendary.
For fantasy purposes that is exactly what you want. You've always known exactly what you were getting with MJD which is what made him so valuable.
Nobody has ever been excited about building a team around MJD, but nobody has ever been disappointed. That's the story of his career, both on the field and on the computer.
There's no better barometer for how much we care about fantasy football than MJD. Our collective interest in beating our friends has elevated him from a middling star on a terrible team to a potential Hall of Famer.
Think about it. Have you ever argued that the Jaguars could contend behind MJD's legs? Has his name ever come up in a capacity not involving fantasy football outside the city of Jacksonville?
It hasn't. Fantasy football has allowed this small market player to stay relevant on a national level.
He is the first player whose fantasy career means more than his actual career. Fantasy football is just a footnote on Tomlinson's legacy, but it is MJD's entire legacy. That is why Maurice Jones-Drew best represents the fantasy football era, even if he wasn't its best player.