With the NFL season less than a week away, players are chomping at the bit to get after it with someone else other than their practice squad. Fans, (myself included) are ready to see some great Sunday afternoon smash-mouth football. All thirty-two NFL teams would love to have a great running game, and the reality is, that it all comes down to the quality of your back. Today, we’re seeing a lot more of the “two back” system, because the reality is, every team doesn’t have a back with all of the qualities of a three-down back such as Arian Foster or Ray Rice. In honor of the retired greats who have made the running back position so popular, here are my top ten NFL running backs of all time. (*Note: only backs that have played an entire career and are currently retired are in this list).
#10- Jerome Bettis (1993-2005- Rams/Steelers)
“The Bus” is probably the largest running back in NFL history to have the most success. For thirteen seasons, he used his great footwork and power running to rush for 13,662 yards and 91 rushing touchdowns for the Rams and Steelers. He ended his career in storybook fashion, by winning Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit.
#9- Tony Dorsett (1977-1988- Cowboys/Broncos)
During Dorsett’s twelve year career he rushed for 1,000 or more yards eight times with his best effort coming in 1981 when he rushed for 1,646 yards. For his career he rushed for 12,739 yards and 77 rushing touchdowns. He holds the NFL record for longest run from scrimmage at ninety-nine yards against the Vikings on Monday Night Football in 1983. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994.
#8- Eric Dickerson (1983-1993- Rams/Colts/ Raiders/ Falcons)
During Dickerson’s eleven seasons, he rushed for 13,259 yards and 90 rushing touchdowns. He made six Pro Bowls from 1983-1988 and was a four time NFL rushing champion between 1983-1988. During his first year of eligibility in 1999, Dickerson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He still has the single season rushing record in the NFL during the 1984 season at 2,105 yards.
#7- Curtis Martin (1995-2005- Patriots/Jets)
During Martin’s eleven seasons in the NFL, he rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of them up to his final year. His 14,101 rushing yards is fourth most all-time in NFL History. He was a five time Pro Bowler between 1995-2004, and became the oldest leading rusher in a single season at thirty-one years of age in 2004 with 1,697 yards. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past August.
#6- O.J. Simpson (1969-1979- Bills/49ers)
O.J Simpson’s five 1,000 yard rushing seasons and six Pro Bowl selections were just some of the highlights of his eleven year pro career. In 1973, he became the first pro player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season by gaining 2,003 yards. From 1972-1976 Simpson won the NFL rushing title four times. For his career Simpson gained 11,236 yards and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985. Simpson’s legal issues have highlighted his post football life, highlighted by his acquittal in the 1994 murder of his late ex-wife and her boyfriend.
#5- LaDainian Tomlinson (2001-2011- Chargers/Jets)
“LT” holds numerous records that he established during his eleven year pro career. His 13,684 rushing yards ranks fifth all-time. He holds NFL records for total touchdowns in a single season (31), rushing touchdowns in a single season (28) and most points scored in a single season at 186. There are plenty more to list, so hit up NFL.com’s stat link, and LT’s more specific career records can blow you away. He led the NFL in rushing twice and made the Pro Bowl five times between 2002-2007. On June 18th, 2012, LT signed a ceremonial contract with Chargers to retire with the team he played the majority of his career with.
#4- Emmitt Smith (1990-2004- Cowboys/Cardinals)
Smith is the NFL’s all-time rushing leader with an astounding 18,355 yards. He also holds the NFL record for career rushing touchdowns at 164. Smith’s longevity at playing fifteen seasons helped him break Walter Payton’s previous record. Smith’s rushing style wasn’t flashing, but his field vision to follow blockers, leg strength, and stamina made him hard to stop on the field. For his career, Smith had eight Pro Bowl selections and four NFL rushing titles. He was selected to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
#3- Walter Payton (1975-1987- Bears)
“Sweetness” is the NFL’s longest holder of having the most career rushing yards. Payton rushed for 16,726 yards, taking the record from Jim Brown in 1984, and held it until 2002 when Emmit Smith broke it. He was the 1977 NFL MVP, and also was a nine time Pro Bowl selection between 1976-1986. In February of 1999, Payton died from complications of the bile duct cancer that he had.
#2- Barry Sanders (1989-1998- Lions)
Sanders retired ranked second on the NFL’s all-time rushing list behind Walter Payton with 15,269 yards. Growing up a Lions fan, I may be a bit biased, but if Sanders would have played five more season, like Emmit Smith did, there is no doubt I feel that he would have the all-time record for total rushing yards. Like Jim Brown, Sanders was a Pro Bowler all ten seasons he played in. He also led the league in rushing four times between 1990-1997.
#1- Jim Brown (1957-1965- Browns)
Jim Brown’s 12,312 yards is ranked ninth all-time. When Brown retired in 1965, he was still on the top of his game rushing for 1,544 yards, the second most of his career. The most amazing figure of Brown’s statistics, is that he only played in twelve game seasons between 1957-1960. The NFL season then expanded to fourteen games for the remainder of his career. Based on those numbers, Brown missed out on twenty-six games compared to later running backs who had sixteen game seasons. That is almost two seasons of rushing yards that could have been added to his numbers. Brown was a Pro Bowler every season during his nine year career, and led the league in rushing eight times.
By: Craig Emmert