The Top 15 Running Backs of All-Time

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15. Curtis Martin

Curtis Martin does not get enough credit. The man had 1,000 yards every year of his career outside of his final one in which he only played 12 games. He is the all-time leading rusher for the Jets and produced every single year of his pro career. He is the oldest player to ever lead the league in rushing. Martin was incredibly durable and had over 300 carries in all but 3 of the seasons he played. He was always reliable only having 29 fumbles out of over 4,000 touches.

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14. Thurman Thomas

Thurman was the star running back for the infamous 90s Buffalo Bills. He helped lead the team to 3 Super Bowl appearances. He was one of the first running backs to be featured in the passing game on a consistent basis. He had two seasons with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 4 seasons with over 50 receptions. He was always unfairly compared to Barry because of the time period but regardless he was a great running back.

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13. Shaun Alexander

When I think of the Seahawks I think of Shaun Alexander. That comes along with being able to watch him each week and not the other Seattle greats such as Steve Largent. I was never a huge fan but for a 5 year stretch he was without a doubt the best running back in the league. He had arguably one of the greatest seasons ever for a running back. He had 27 touchdowns (was a record then), led the league in yards with 1,880 yards and led the team to the Superbowl. He is the first guy ever to rush for at least 15 touchdowns in five consecutive seasons. His power running style did not allow him to be as great as he could’ve been after wearing down. He had a dramatic drop after his record breaking season. Nonetheless he should not be forgotten because Alexander was an elite running back.

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12. Terrell Davis

Elway gets all of the attention for his two Super Bowls to end his career, but in reality the reason the Denver Broncos got back to back championships was because of Terrell Davis. His three year stretch from 1996-98 is one of the most prolific for a running back. He had two offensive player of the year awards , an MVP and a Super Bowl MVP award. T.D. not being in the Hall of Fame is a crime, hopefully it won’t be too much longer before he gains his rightful place in Canton.

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11. Marshall Faulk

Marshall Faulk took the receiving game for a running back to a whole other level. In 1999 he gathered over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. He was used in every type of offense and was essential for the “Greatest Show on Turf”. He had 4 seasons with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and two years with a total of over 20 touchdowns. He never backed down even in big games having two hall of fame performances in each Superbowl he appeared in.

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10. Gale Sayers

His career was cut incredibly short retiring at the age of 28, but without a doubt could have been a top 3 running back of all-time. He was an all-around athlete. His power and deceptive speed would tear through the opposing defenses. Without a doubt one of those guys that you ask what could have been if not for injuries.

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9. Earl Campell

Is another guy who defined his Hall of Fame status very early in his career. In his first three season he had 5,081 rushing yards, 45 touchdowns, and 4.9 yards a carry. You almost felt sorry for defenders that stood in front of this freight train as he cannon balled through holes. Sadly his body could not take the beatings it received every Sunday.

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8. Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson is physically possibly the greatest ever. He can run over a linebacker, juke a defensive back out of his shoes and has the vision to find the hole that he can take advantage of. He owns the record for most rushing yards ever in a game with 296 yards. His most impressive season was without a doubt the season following Peterson coming off of an ACL surgery in which he gained the second most yards ever in a season averaging 6.0 yards a carry. The 6.0 yards a carry with the defense stacking the box on him is beyond impressive. He wasted this season due to off-field issues but I hope he jumps farther up this list, because he is totally capable of ending his career as a top 3 running back of all-time.

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7. O.J. Simpson

It’s funny that most people of my generation do not even know that O.J. was a football player and know him for his infamous trial. Nonetheless the “Juice” was a dominating running back in the 70s. In 1973 he had 2,003 yards in only 14 games averaging over 140 yards a game. This record will probably be one that will never be broken especially with the trigger happy passing offenses that dominate the league today. Take away what you have heard about him and look at his production and you may even argue that he should be higher.

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6. Eric Dickerson

Eric Dickerson came into the league and immediately made an impact. He reached the Hall of Fame with his numbers in his first 5 years in the league being a dominating force for the Rams and then later the Colts. From 1983-89 Dickerson never had less than 1,000 yards. He owns the record that so many have tried to break with his 2,105 yards in a season. Injuries came to Dickerson very quickly and he had a dramatic drop after his first 7 years.

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5. Emmitt Smith

Emmit was a great running back and nobody can deny that. Yes he had one of the greatest offensive lines in history but that should not take away from what he did as a Cowboy. He was impossible for defenders to bring down. He helped lead the Cowboys to 3 Super Bowl championships. His best performance is coming back into the game in week 17 against the Giants and led them to a victory coming back from a separated shoulder.

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4. La’Dainian Tomlinson

The “L.T.” I grew to love dominated all aspects of the game. He was a touchdown machine having over double digits from 2001-2009. He was the first running back ever to have 1,000 yards rushing and 100 catches in a season. He owns the record for most touchdowns in a season breaking Shaun Alexander’s record the year after Alexander had his amazing season. L.T. once scored 19 touchdowns in a six game stretch. That just completely astounds me. He holds the record for most consecutive multi-touchdown games in a row with eight. He is second all-time in touchdowns and would have been first if he tried to stay in the league longer than he should like Emmit did.

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3. Walter Payton

Walter Payton did everything you could ask of a running back. He could catch when it was needed, he was a great blocker, and without a doubt the 3rd best running back of all-time. He was also always there when you needed him at one point playing in 186 consecutive games. He is second all-time in rushing yards and fourth in all-time rushing touchdowns. He is known as the best all-around back to have ever played.

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2. Jim Brown

Jim Brown was a man among boys. So far ahead of his time, many believe him to be the greatest football player of all time. He lead the league in rushing every single year except for one. And retired owning nearly every single rushing record imaginable. He was the most unstoppable force imposing power and deceptive speed. He retired very early in his career; it’s crazy to think about how good his numbers could have been if he stayed around another couple of years.

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1. Barry Sanders

Barry was probably the most electrifying player to ever step foot into the league. He had a horrible offensive line and the rest of the weapons around him were below par. Despite that Barry made the most of every play. He was so fast that he could run to one side of the field, decide he doesn’t like it, and then turn it all the way to the other side of the field for a positive gain. He’s one of those players that nobody could hate because he was going against the odds every single time he stepped out on to the field. He retired surprisingly early and if he stayed for just another 2-3 years he would have without a doubt owned the record for career rushing yards.

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6 thoughts on “The Top 15 Running Backs of All-Time”

  1. Emmitt is the All-Time leading rusher , period. He is also the all time rushing TD leader. Emmitt is second only to Jerry Rice in total yards from scrimmage at 21, 579 yards. This list is deeply flawed. Tony Dorsett also deserves mention among all-time greats.. Dorsett is number 8 in total yards all-time and you don’t even have him in the top 15? No Marcus Allen? No Beau Jackson?

    1. Beau Jackson? And Emmitt is the all time rusher because he decided to stay around much longer than he should have and the best line ever helped him out a bit too. Tony Dorsett wasn’t a better all around back than any of the guys mentioned because he didn’t have the longevity or nose for the end zone like other guys on this list.

    2. Marcus Allen only had 3 years with a 1,000 yard rushing. Chris Johnson has similar of not better numbers in the amount of time he’s been in the league is he a top 15 RB as well?

    1. Understandable but Emmitt’s numbers were inflated by staying around much longer than he should have and the all purpose yards that LT had.

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