Top Five Running Backs In NFL History

by Michael Drahota | Posted on Saturday, September 27th, 2014 | 0

Walter Payton #34

The position of running back is one of the most revered in football, as elite backs once took their teams on their shoulders and plowed forward to victory.

True workhorse backs are becoming more and more a thing of the past, making the best of all-time more likely to stay in that coveted position.

A long list of legendary talent populates the list of history’s best backs, but in the end, only five can populate the absolute top. Here are the top five running backs in NFL history.

1.) Walter Payton

Legendary Chicago Bear Payton was the utmost example of a workhorse back. “Sweetness” could run with power, he could run with speed, and he could run with finesse. He amassed 21,803 all-purpose yards over the course of 13 seasons, and although he was never the biggest back, he was the hardest worker. Payton could do it all. His records may fall, but “Sweetness” is the best all-around back in NFL history.

2.) Barry Sanders

The electrifying Sanders’ career was cut short, but not before he left an irremovable mark on the NFL before retiring. Spending his entire 10-year career with the Detroit Lions, Sanders ran for 15,269 yards and 99 scores. He never won a Super Bowl, but he rarely had a complete team to work with. Taking Sayers’ elusive style to another level, Sanders could take a busted play and turn it into an 80-yard touchdown. His lateral movement and agility may never be duplicated at the position.

3.) Emmitt Smith

Smith owns many of the most prominent rushing records in NFL history. He was a dependable, straightforward back whom the Cowboys relied on to win three Super Bowls in the 1990s. Smith racked up a record 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns, finishing with 21,579 all-purpose yards. He didn’t have the moves of Sanders of the overall skillset of Payton, but Smith got the job done with more consistency than any running back that has ever played the game.

4.) Jim Brown

Brown was a throwback of the game, a juggernaut who played multiple positions and never missed a game. Brown averaged an insane 104.3 rushing yards per game during his career. He racked up 15,459 all-purpose yards in nine seasons, and he could have earned way more had he not retired at the peak of his effectiveness. There may be more flashy backs on out there, and there are certainly those with bigger stats, but not many can rival Brown’s overall dominance.

5.) Gale Sayers

Sayers had an absolute amazing career cut short by injuries. Despite playing only 68 games, however, he scored 22 touchdowns in his rookie year and still owns the NFL record for rushing touchdowns in one game with six. Sayers was also an incredibly dangerous dual threat, as he also maintains the NFL record for highest kickoff return average with a lofty 30.56 yards per attempt. There’s no telling what Sayers could have done with more time to showcase his skills, and he proved in a short time that he deserves a spot amount the sport’s greatest.

About the Author

Both an avid NFL fan and analyst, I’ve been following professional football since the late 1980s. I’m also an avid fantasy football player with several league victories under my belt. Check out my NFL articles on TSM for the latest NFL news, highlights, predictions, and more.

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