Here are the best running backs in NFL history.
Barry Sanders – The knock on Barry Sanders is the fact he never won a Super Bowl ring, but the guy played on some horrible Detroit Lions squads and still racked up the third most rushing yards of all time with 15,269. Keep in mind, Sanders probably would be the league’s all-time leading rusher if he didn’t retire at the young age of 31 years old. Sanders still had plenty left in the tank considering he rushed for 1,491 yards in his last season. Overall, there has been nobody as elusive or shifty as Sanders in NFL history, and he’s done a lot more with a lot less. Sanders is the best running back in NFL history, pound for pound.
Jim Brown – Jim Brown is one of the best old school runners of all time and was one of the first players we’ve seen with a unique combination of size and power. In eight of Brown’s nine seasons, he led the league and rushing yards and finished his career with 12,312 rushing yards despite playing only less than 10 years. Brown is currently ninth in the all-time rushing list and didn’t really play all that long, which is a number that pretty much speaks for itself. Like Sanders, Brown never won a Super Bowl, but his numbers are really unmatched.
Emmitt Smith – Most people consider Emmitt Smith to be the best running back ever because he has the most rushing yards with 18,355. But Smith also played 15 years, well into his 30s, mainly to simply break the record. While you can’t knock Smith’s accomplishments, those numbers are still kind of tricky considering he was washed up three or four years at the end of his career. Still, Smith also holds the records for 164 rushing touchdowns, 78 career 100-yard rushing games and is the Cowboys all-time leading rusher with more than 17,000 yards. Smith also won three Super Bowls, which only helps his legacy. Smith is still one of the best backs to ever do it, but the numbers argument can be a little deceiving and doesn’t give him the top spot.
Walter Payton – Walter Payton was the NFL rushing yards leader with 16,726 yards, before Smith came along. Nicknamed Sweetness, Payton was born to run on the football field, as he often glided down field and made everything look so easy. While Payton was a great runner, he was also a tremendous receiver who caught more than 30 passes in 11 of his 13 seasons with the Chicago Bears. As simply a pure runner, it doesn’t get much better than Payton, who also won a Super Bowl.
LaDainian Tomlinson - LaDainian Tomlinson has got to be one of the more underrated running backs in NFL history. Maybe it’s because Tomlinson just recently retired from the game, which is why he doesn’t get as much credit but the guy had a nose for the endzone and was the heart of the San Diego Chargers for much of his career. Tomlinson is fifth all time with 13,684 rushing yards and holds the record for the most combined touchdowns in one season with 31. Tomlinson also scored a touchdown in 18 straight games, which is an NFL record and his 28 rushing touchdowns in 2006 is also a record that may never be broken. Like many of the backs on this list, Tomlinson never won a Super Bowl, but he accomplished just about everything else a player could do and will soon be in the Hall of Fame.
Marcus Allen – The most complete running back ever was probably Marcus Allen, who was the first player in NFL history to reach 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards. Anything you needed, Allen could get it done as he finished his career with 12,243 rushing yards and 123 rushing touchdowns, while racking up 5,411 receiving yards and 21 receiving touchdowns. Allen holds the record with a rushing touchdown in 16 consecutive seasons and he’s also the oldest player to score 10 or more touchdowns in a season at the age of 37, a record that may never be touched. Allen was the real deal and can sometimes be forgotten in lists like this.
Eric Dickerson – Eric Dickerson’s first few seasons were better than any running back the game has ever seen. Dickerson not only holds the single-season rushing yards record with 2,105 rushing yards, but he was also the fastest player to reach 2,000 career rushing yards, all the way to 11,000 rushing yards. Dickerson’s numbers just went through the roof from the moment he stepped on the field, which explains why he also holds the rookie single-season rushing record with 1,808 rushing yards. Dickerson is also another runner who never won a Super Bowl but nobody can argue his production and off the charts career.
Adrian Peterson – While Adrian Peterson is still carving out his career, it’s safe to say he’s one of the greatest running backs of all time. Peterson is currently 27th on the all-time rushing list with 10,115 rushing yards, and he’s only 29 years old. Keep in mind that Peterson has spent his entire career on some mediocre Minnesota Vikings teams were he was always the main focus for defenses. Still, Peterson had a season with 2,097 rushing yards, which is second all time, holds the single-game record with 296 rushing yards and has 12 touchdown runs of 60 or more yards, which is also an NFL record. Assuming Peterson can stay healthy for another two seasons, there’s no doubt he’ll finish somewhere in the Top 10 all time in rushing yards.
Curtis Martin – Curtis Martin is fourth all time with 14,101 rushing yards and was recently inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Martin spent much of his career being the most consistent back in the league, as he ran for more than 1,000 yards in 10 of his 11 seasons. In fact, Martin is just the second player ever to begin his career with 10 straight 1,000-yard performances. Martin is also the oldest player to win a rushing title, a feat he accomplished at 31 years old back in 2004. Overall, Martin scored 100 total touchdowns but was yet another great running back who never won a Super Bowl.
Marshall Faulk – Want to hear a mindboggling statistic? Marshall Faulk finished his career with 767 receptions. That’s more catches than actual receivers such as Chad Johnson, Michael Irvin, Andre Rison and Eric Moulds. In fact, Faulk is just one of two players to have 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in one season. Overall, Faulk is 10th all-time with 12,279 rushing yards and scored 136 total touchdowns in his career. Faulk was often underappreciated in pass heavy offenses, but his versatility and playmaking ability helped the St. Louis Rams win the Super Bowl in 1999. While he may not be mentioned enough, Faulk is a Top 10 running back of all time.
Randy Chambers // SportsChatPlace.com