Best Running Backs of All Time

By Loot, NFL Handicapper,

Best Running Backs of All Time: The Top 10

1. Jim Brown: Not often can you watch grainy old black-and-white footage and still see greatness come out in living color. Anyone who sees old Jim Brown footage doesn’t need glitzy production to see the excellence just ooze off the NFL’s most dominant-ever force. No running back was even close, especially if you measure a man against his peers–which is really the fairest appraisal. And by that measure, it didn’t get any better than Brown–a Pro-Bowler in all of his 9 seasons and a rushing champion an incredible 8 times.

2. Barry Sanders: Magic in cleats. In just ten years as a pro, he ran for over 15000 yards, meaning he averaged over 1500 yards rushing per season–an incredible stat. In a few more seasons, he could have put the rushing record permanently out of reach, but he retired abruptly after the ’98 season at age 30 with a lot of run left in him.

3. Walter Payton: It’s still hard to believe that he’s not with us anymore. “Sweetness” was a 9-time Pro-Bowler and at one time, the all-time career leader in rushing yards, finishing with 16726 yards and 110 touchdowns. Payton used a deadly stutter-step and an expert stiff-arm to repel defenders during his long career.


4. Emmitt Smith: The all-time leading rusher in NFL history might actually be one of the more underrated running backs ever. Smith’s name is only mentioned peripherally when the greatest ever running backs are discussed. It’s a shame because there weren’t many, if any, who were better than old number 22. The legendary Cowboys back ran for an ungodly 18355 yards and 164 touchdowns.

5. O.J. Simpson: A 2000-yard season in a 14-game schedule. Yikes. That’s the kind of game O.J. brought to the table. And while the passage of time has cast him in a far less-glorious light, there is no denying his ability on the field or his standing as the greatest running back of the 1970’s. The number-one pick in the draft played 9 seasons with the Bills, before ending his career after 2 seasons with the 49ers. Simpson ran for over 11000 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.

6. Gale Sayers: One of those guys who gets a little of that “what coulda been” mojo. Sayers can’t match up statistically or in terms of longevity to some of the guys on this list, but those who saw him will all tell you the same thing–they never saw anything like him. If you gave him a foot of space–he was gone. One of the more elegant and speedy players to ever grace the field.

7. Earl Campbell: Only a lack of longevity costs him. If he put together a decade of rushing excellence, he could have been at the top of this list. Campbell was that good and single-handedly made the Oilers a must-watch team during his short but explosive tenure. He was a runaway train, with speed to spare. But he was so hard to bring down and that’s what separated him from his peers. Simply, one of the more thrilling players to watch.

8. Marcus Allen: Consistency and excellence. Allen was born to do this, parlaying a big career at USC into one of the more glorious pro careers ever seen at the running back position. After 11 seasons with the Raiders and 5 more with the Chiefs, Allen had racked up incredible numbers and accomplishments–12243 yards rushing and 5412 more yards receiving. Allen scored 145 touchdowns in his career.

9. Eric Dickerson: There was just something different about this guy. He was bigger than the running backs we were used to seeing, but somehow, he was also faster. And he moved a little differently than most. No one who saw him can forget him slashing through defenses with his upright running style. Still the all-time single-season rushing record-holder with 2105 yards on the ground in 1984.

10. Marshall Faulk: An explosive player who struck fear into opposing defenses, Faulk starred for both the Colts and Rams during his distinguished career. The 7-time Pro-Bowler was so deadly as a pass catching back that his career stats in that category alone are remarkable, with 767 career catches. He also ran for over 12000 yards, including seven 1000+ yard seasons. In his first year with the Rams he averaged 5.5 yards per run on his way to a 1381 yard season. In the same year, he also caught 87 passes for over 1000 yards receiving. Jeez.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like to read my piece on the Best Quarterbacks of All Time.

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