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Top 10 NFL Running Backs of All Time Rankings

Ranking the best Running Backs in the history of the NFL such as Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, and many more

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By Fan Rankings | October 16, 2021 - 10:03 PM

One of the most exciting positions in all of football is the running back position. A position that has the ability to change the outcome of a game with a juke move to the right or a stiff arm to the left. 

The running back position is one of those positions that has featured so many great stars of the game of football over the years. From the power running styles of Jim Brown and Walter Payton, to the finesse style of play of Barry Sanders to the workhouse Emmitt Smith to the stars that could both run and catch such as LaDainian Tomlinson. 

 

As any debate comes with any position the same can be said about the running back position and which greats over the history of the game are deserving of a spot on the Top 10 Running Backs of All-Time list as well as the number one overall spot. While the debate is difficult, here is our list of the Top 10 Running Backs of All-Time.




Honorable Mention

Curtis Martin

Team(s): New England Patriots & New York Jets

Coming in just outside of the top 10 is the former New England Patriots and New York Jets Hall of Famer Curtis Martin. Martin put together a stellar resume to include 14,101 yards rushing and 90 rushing touchdowns.

Over his career, Martin made five Pro Bowl teams, led the NFL in rushing yards and won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Martin also racked up 3,329 yards receiving to go along with 10 receiving touchdowns.



Earl Campbell

Team(s): Houston Oilers & New Orleans Saints

The former Texas Longhorns standout put together a solid NFL career averaging 4.3 yards per carry and racking up 9,407 yards over his career. His production in the late 70’s was as good as any running back in the history of the NFL while winning three straight Offensive Player of the Year awards and the 1979 NFL MVP award.

In addition, Campbell made five Pro Bowl teams, led the NFL in rushing yards from 1978 to 1980 and rushing touchdowns in 1979 and 1980. Campbell was a key part of the Houston Oilers team that made three straight playoff appearances.

 

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Top 10 Running Backs

  1. Bo Jackson

Team(s): Los Angeles Raiders

What If? That is the only thing you can do when you think about Bo Jackson and the game of football. Jackson who was a two way star with the Auburn Tigers was as good of any player we have ever seen but unfortunately one that saw his career cut short after just a few short seasons.

Jackson, who walked away from the game had power and speed that comes once in a generation and the talent that kids dream about. Over his short career, Jackson rushed for 2,782 yards to go along with 16 rushing touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

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  1. Marshall Faulk

Team(s): Indianapolis Colts & St. Louis Rams

Another great two way player who could dominate both in the back field as well as a wide receiver option is the great NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. Faulk was as good as any running back to play the game and one that could change the game with a juke or catch on any play. Faulk rushed for a career 12,279 rushing yards over his career while racking up 6,875 receiving yards to go along with 136 combined touchdowns (100 rushing & 36 receiving).

Faulk helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl XXXIV championship while taking home the 2000 NFL MVP award. Other accolades include the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, three time First Team All-Pro and seven time Pro Bowler.




  1. Eric Dickerson

Team(s): Los Angeles Rams, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Raiders & Atlanta Falcons 

A name that was much higher on the list when he retired, Eric Dickerson is still one of the great running backs of All-Time. Dickerson set the NFL rushing yards in a season mark at 2,105 after setting the rookie rushing yard mark with 1,808 rushing yards.

Dickerson finished his career with 13,259 career yards to go with 90 rushing touchdowns, six receiving touchdowns and 2,137 receiving yards. The former Rams and Colts star was the Offensive Rookie of the Year, six time Pro Bowler, led the NFL in rushing yards four times and is a member of the 2,000 yard rushing yard club.




  1. Gale Sayers

Team(s): Chicago Bears 

Having his career cut short due to injuries, Gale Sayers never got to put up the accolades or numbers that many of these great running backs were able to do over their careers. However from 1965 to 1971, Sayers was as good as any running back in the NFL rushing for 4,956 yards while averaging five yards per carry to go along with 39 touchdowns.

Sayers also racked up 3,172 return yards and eight return touchdowns as a returner. His production on the field over the short career included leading the league in rushing yards twice, making four Pro Bowl teams, winning Rookie of the Year and being selected as a First Team All-Pro five different times.




  1. Adrian Peterson

Team(s): Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Football Team & Detroit Lions

The former Oklahoma Sooners standout Adrian Peterson was as good as advertised over his NFL career and one that put together a brilliant all around career. A career that saw Peterson rack up 14,820 rushing yards while taking home a wide range of hardware including the 2012 NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the year award, seven Pro Bowl trips, three time rushing yard leader and the NFL record with 296 rushing yards in one game.

Despite seeing his career limited by games in 2014, 2016 and 2017, Peterson still nearly managed to rush for almost 15,000 career yards while adding 118 rushing touchdowns. His biggest success came in 2012 when Peterson rushed for a career high 2,097 yards to go with 12 rushing touchdowns.




  1. Emmitt Smith

Team(s): Dallas Cowboys & Arizona Cardinals

When it comes to longevity and durability, Emmitt Smith would take home the top spot as the top running back. The former Dallas Cowboys star running back helped form a dynasty in Dallas that put the Cowboys a top the NFL as one of the greatest teams of the 1990’s after winning three Super Bowl Championships.

Smith finished his career as the All-Time rushing leader with 18,355 rushing yards, All-Time rushing touchdown leader with 164 and the most rushing attempts All-Time with 4,409. Smith was an eight time Pro Bowler, four time rushing yard leader, and three time rushing touchdown leader, Super Bowl MVP, NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.




  1. LaDainian Tomlinson

Team(s): San Diego Chargers & New York Jets

When you think of modern day stars LaDainian Tomlinson was as good as any we have seen play the game since 2000. The former San Diego Chargers great put together an NFL resume that included an NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards, five Pro Bowl nods, led the NFL in rushing yards twice, rushing touchdowns three times and set the NFL record with 28 rushing touchdowns during the 2006 NFL season.

When his career was over LT racked up 13,864 rushing yards to go with 145 rushing touchdowns, 4772 receiving yards and 17 touchdown receptions while also throwing seven career passing touchdowns. Tomlinson was as versatile as any player to play the position and one that could line up in the back field or out wide as a receiver.




  1. Walter Payton

Team(s): Chicago Bears

You could take Walter Payton, Jim Brown and Barry Sanders name, put it in a hat, shake it around and pull it and any of them could come out as the greatest running back of All-Time. However in reality only one of those three could land at the number one and the other two at number two and three.

While Payton lands at number three, he was as good of a football player to play the game possessing both speed and power that the position had only saw a few times similar over the course of the history. Payton racked up 16,726 yards rushing to go along with 4,538 yards receiving yards. Payton finished with 110 rushing yards, an MVP award, led the NFL in rushing and rushing touchdowns while making five First Team All-Pros.

 

 

  1. Jim Brown

Team(s): Cleveland Browns 

There was nothing on a football field that the great Jim Brown couldn’t do for the Cleveland Browns. Brown, who was the sixth overall pick during the 1957 NFL draft put together a stellar career rushing for 12,312 yards while averaging 5.2 yards per carry to go along with 106 rushing touchdowns.

The Browns star played nine seasons in the NFL leading the NFL in rushing yards in eight of those seasons while making nine Pro Bowl teams, winning the NFL Rookie of the Year, three MVP awards and leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns five different seasons. In addition, Brown was an eight time First Team All-Pro and helped guide the Browns to the 1964 NFL Championship.




  1. Barry Sanders

Team(s): Detroit Lions

Yes, while a few of the names above Barry Sanders are well deserving of the top spot, it is just too hard to look past the Detroit Lions legend as the best running back of All-Time. If you don’t believe us just look at his highlight reel on YouTube sometime. Sanders walked away from the game healthy after just 10 seasons leaving an opportunity to shatter the career rushing yard record.

Nonetheless, Sanders racked up an amazing 15,269 yards on the ground while topping the 1,115 mark in all 10 of his seasons in the NFL including 2,053 yards in 1997 just a season before he elected to retire. In addition to his rushing yards, Sanders racked up 2,921 yards receiving to go along with 10 touchdown catches. The Lions running back was the 1997 NFL MVP, two time Offensive Player of the Year, NFL Rookie of the Year, six time First Team All-Pro and rushing touchdown leader.

 

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