COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Though LaDainian Tomlinson will go down as one of the best runners in NFL history, his numbers as a pass-catcher are staggering.
The former Chargers star, who will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, finished with 624 receptions. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that's the third most for a running back in league history, behind Larry Centers (827) and Marshall Faulk (767).
Tomlinson is one of three running backs in league history to catch 100 or more passes in a season, along with Matt Forte (102 in 2014) and Centers (101 in 1995).
Tomlinson finished with 13,684 rushing yards and 4,772 receiving yards. He's one of two running backs in NFL history with more than 13,000 rushing yards and more than 4,000 receiving yards, joining elite company -- Tomlinson's idol, Walter Payton.
"He was a student of the game," said Tomlinson's former teammate Lorenzo Neal. "He would study tendencies, and because of his speed, he would step on guys' toes and get on them so quick that they didn't know what to do.
"So it was his ability to get up on people so fast, eat up the cushion and still make moves in a phone booth. It was unbelievable."
One of the reasons Tomlinson was such a dangerous weapon was his ability to grind out yards as a physical runner between the tackles but also beat defenses on the perimeter with soft hands and elusiveness in space.
Tomlinson developed his pass-catching skills working out in the offseason with Faulk, perhaps the best pass-catching running back in league history.
"I was fortunate enough to be around a guy like Marshall Faulk, who stayed in San Diego," Tomlinson said of the San Diego State product. "And so I spent a lot of time with Marshall talking about running routes out of the backfield and catching the football.
"And then I just had to work on it in the offseason, perfecting my craft by running routes."
Faulk said what made Tomlinson so effective was his combination of pass-catching ability and bruising running style.
"I always felt like LT and I played the game the same," Faulk told the Chargers' website. "But he had this other dimension of when he was running inside, the power he could bring and the tackles he could break. He had the ability to cut running full speed and not lose a step, and that was just impressive to me."
Tomlinson said the height of his pass-catching career in the NFL was catching 100 passes for 725 receiving yards and four touchdowns during his third year in the league, 2003.
"He was so versatile," said Antonio Gates, Tomlinson's former teammate. "You could use him in so many different ways, which we did.
"You could use him on slants, screens or up the seam [of a defense]. His ability to understand the game, I think that's what separated him from a lot of other guys I played with in the past. To say the least, I was privileged to play with a guy like that."