The running back is one of the most versatile positions on a modern-day NFL football team. An effective running back can change the dynamic of the entire team. They come in different shapes and sizes, some small and agile while others are large so they can block more effectively.
Today we’re looking at the ten best running backs that have ever graced the fields of the NFL. After the recent Super Bowl, you may want to get in early on some NFL action. If that’s the case, consider the NFL draft odds.
1. Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders is the definitive NFL running back. Across his 10 years in the league, he never fell below 1,100 yards per season, and all but one were over 1,300 yards. Unlike so many other football players out there, he never had a bad season towards the end. Instead, he bowed out at his best with 99.8 rushing yards per game, all at just 5’ 8” and 200 pounds.
2. Jim Brown
The oldest player on this list, Jim Brown’s legacy doesn’t need any introduction. As a fullback for the Cleveland Browns, he established himself as one of the best running backs in NFL history despite lacking the diet and training of modern players. Over 9 years, he made All-Pro 8 times before retiring at just 29. He probably had another 5 years in him, if not more, had he stayed with football.
3. Walter Payton
Walter Payton made 10 seasons where he exceeded 1,500 yards after a scrimmage. What’s more, 4 of those 10 seasons saw him covering over 2,000 yards, which is why he’s one of the best running backs that the NFL has ever seen. While he was taken from us too soon, he lives on as one of the best players in NFL history.
4. Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson’s energy just cannot be denied and that’s why he’s one of the best running backs. His 2012 season was what put him on the map, where he beat a single-season rushing record and secured a single-game rushing record of 296 yards. That’s good for a quarterback, let alone an RB. Like many great players, the injuries got to him and he had to bow out with an average of 95.5 yards per game.
5. LaDainian Tomlinson
The hype around LT can’t be denied. He had multiple seasons where he led the season, if not the league, in impressive RB stats. In his 2003 season, he caught 100 passes while his 2006 season is remembered for an NFL record, 28 touchdowns. He also threw 7 career touchdowns. With his fast legs and a stiff arm, he had the perfect combination of power and speed that saw him make a rushing TD in 85% of his games.
6. Emmitt Smith
Emmitt Smith was probably one of the names that first came to mind when thinking about the NFL’s most prolific running backs. That said, his joint proficiency in all-time rushing and touchdown scoring make him more than just a great running back. His record for rushing yards, 18,355, will probably never get broken since modern running backs just don’t run like they used to.
7. Marshall Faulk
Next, we have Marshall Faulk, who stood beneath 6-feet tall. Sure, he wasn’t a bruiser, but he was great at avoiding defenders and anybody else who tried to tackle him. His compact frame and his ability to see tacklers coming, even from the side of his vision, made him formidable. How formidable? Try four-seasons of 2,000+ yards formidable.
8. Eric Dickerson
The highlight of Eric Dickerson’s career is his first seven seasons with the NFL. Despite playing in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, he carried his 220-pound self like a modern running back. He could make sharp turns despite his large size, which helped him keep his single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards to this day. He would be higher but his late-career performance lets him down.
9. Curtis Martin
Curtis Martin was one of the best and most consistent running backs in the NFL across his 11-year career. 10 of those years ended with 1,000+ yards covered and more than 30 passes. Martin was both physically imposing and light on his feet, the perfect combination for a running back that can hit hard and slice through defense when rushing. With these features in mind, it’s clear to see why he’s a Hall of Famer.
10. O.J. Simpson
Yes, he is known for something entirely different nowadays, but he became famous for a reason before that. Putting off-field issues aside, his 1973 season earned him a place on this list. That was where he became the first NFL player to rush over 2,000 yards in one season. He still holds the record for single-season average yards per game at 143.1, which is 10 points above the next guy.
As it stands, these are the ten best running backs in the NFL. There’s no doubt that, as new talent enters the league, this list will get shaken up in the next few years.
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