These Are Unarguably The 10 Greatest Running Backs Of All Time

These Are Unarguably The 10 Greatest Running Backs Of All Time

Who's the GOAT?
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There has been a lot of good running back performances recently. Saquon Barkley's season at Penn State, Georgia's running backs against Oklahoma in the CFB Playoff, and Todd Gurley's potential MVP season have all been outstanding. So outstanding in fact that I think it's time to revisit a series of articles I promised some time back.

It is time to return to the G.O.A.T. series.

From the intro it is pretty obvious what the subject will be this time around, the running backs; a position that has become undervalued in football, but it has become pretty clear between the college bowl season and the NFL season that it is still important. No jokes this time around, just straight numbers and analysis, so let's get started.

10. Marshall Faulk

Stats/Records: 2,836 Rushing Attempts (16th all-time), 12,279 Rushing Yards (11th), 100 Rushing TDs (T-7th), 4.3 Yards per Attempt (T-73rd), 69.8 Yards per Game (40th), 19,190 All-Purpose Yards (6th), and 136 Total TDs (7th)

Awards: 7× Pro Bowler (1994, 1995, 1998–2002), 3× First-team All-Pro (1999–2001), 3× Second-team All-Pro (1994, 1995, 1998), AP NFL Most Valuable Player (2000), Bert Bell Award (2001), 3× NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1999–2001), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1994), NFL Hall of Fame, Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor, and Los Angeles Rams No. 28 retired

Championships: One AFC Championship, Two NFC Championship, and One Super Bowl (XXXIV)

Faulk's placement on this list is a bit weird because you could make a case for him to have a higher placement due to those last two stats, but this list is for best running backs, so rushing stats are weighted more than receiving stats. That said, even as a pure rusher, Faulk still has respectable numbers. His total stats secure his placement at number 10, especially since "The Greatest Show on Turf" loves passing so much that Faulk had to play the receiving role more in that Rams' system.

9. Earl Campbell

Stats/Records: 2,187 Rushing Attempts (T-33rd all-time), 9,407 Rushing Yards (37th), 74 Rushing TDs (T-26th), 4.3 Yards per Attempt (T-73rd), 81.8 Yards per Game (13th), 10,213 All-Purpose Yards (143rd), and 74 Total TDs (81st)

Awards: 5× Pro Bowler (1978–1981, 1983), 3× First-team All-Pro (1978–1980), AP NFL Most Valuable Player (1979), 3× NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1978–1980), Bert Bell Award (1979), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1978), NFL Hall of Fame, and Tennessee Titans No. 34 retired

Championships: None at the professional level.

With these lists, I limit myself to the professional success for the sake of fairness because as we've seen in this year's college football season, not all conferences are equal. If it wasn't for the limitation, a case could be made for Earl Campbell to be in the top three because he was one of the best players since high school. Still, Earl Campbell had amazing success at the professional level and is considered one of, if not the greatest, power backs of all-time (basically he hit really hard, really well as a running back).

8. Gale Sayers

Stats/Records: 991 Rushing Attempts (206th all-time), 4.956 Rushing Yards (140th), 39 Rushing TDs (T-121st), 5.0 Yards per Attempt (T-8th), 72.9 Yards per Game (31st), 9,435 All-Purpose Yards (175th), and 56 Total TDs (195th)

Awards: 4× Pro Bowler (1965–1967, 1969), 5× First-team All-Pro (1965–1969), NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1969), NFL Rookie of the Year (1965), NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL Hall of Fame, and Chicago Bears No. 40 retired

Championships: None at the professional level.

If you look just at the numbers with Gale Sayers, you wonder how he even made this list, but this goes deeper than his stats and awards. Gale Sayers had a seven-year career, and he only played about five and a half of those years due to injury, which is why most of his numbers are small in relation to others on this list. For those five and a half years in the late 60's and early 70's (making him one of the oldest players on this list), Gale Sayers was the best player on the planet, and had he stayed healthy and played longer, he'd probably be even higher.

7. Orenthal James "O.J." Simpson

Stats/Records: 2,404 Rushing Attempts (27th all-time), 11,236 Rushing Yards (21st), 61 Rushing TDs (T-46th), 4.7 Yards per Attempt (T-17th), 83.2 Yards per Game (11th), 14,368 All-Purpose Yards (46th), 76 Total TDs (T-72nd), and NFL Record 143.1 yards per game in a season.

Awards: 5× Pro Bowler (1972–1976), 5× First-team All-Pro (1972–1976), NFL Most Valuable Player (1973), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1973), Bert Bell Award (1973), AP Athlete of the Year (1973), AFL All-Star (1969), NFL 1970's All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and NFL Hall of Fame

Championships: None at the professional level.

This list is based on what these players have done on the field, and disregards any off-the-field exploits, hence O.J.'s placement on here at all. That said, "The Juice" was a beast of a running back during his playing career, and his number could be even greater if, like some of the other players on this list, he played seasons with a full 16 games. In fact, O.J. was on pace to have the greatest single season for any running back in history, but he only had a 14 game season vs the 16 game season that started in 1978 during the twilight of his career.

6. LaDainian Tomlinson (L.T.)

Stats/Records: 3,174 Rushing Attempts (6th all-time), 13,684 Rushing Yards (6th), 145 Rushing TDs (2nd), 4.3 Yards per Attempt (T-73rd), 80.5 Yards per Game (17th), 18,456 All-Purpose Yards (9th), 162 Total TDs (3rd), and NFL record 28 rushing touchdowns in a season, 31 touchdowns from scrimmage in a season, and 18 consecutive games with a touchdown

Awards: 5× Pro Bowler (2002, 2004–2007), 3× First-team All-Pro (2004, 2006, 2007), 3× Second-team All-Pro (2002, 2003, 2005), NFL Most Valuable Player (2006), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2006), Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (2006), NFL 2000's All-Decade Team, NFL Hall of Fame, Los Angeles Chargers No. 21 retired, and Los Angeles Chargers Hall of Fame

Championships: None at the professional level.

It hurts a little placing L.T. outside the top five because he was one of my favorite players when I was growing up in California, but I set personal bias aside (for the most part) when making these lists. L.T. still has the stats and records to warrant a place on this, and his recent induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame pretty much secured his place. For years, L.T. carried the San Diego Chargers and he and Phillip Rivers came so close to bring a championship to San Diego, but never could, despite Tomlinson being a TD machine.

5. Eric Dickerson

Stats/Records: 2,996 Rushing Attempts (10th all-time), 13,259 Rushing Yards (8th), 90 Rushing TDs (T-13th), 4.4 Yards per Attempt (T-51st), 90.8 Yards per Game (5th), 15,411 All-Purpose Yards (30th), 96 Total TDs (25th), and NFL record 2,105 rushing yards in a season and 1,808 rushing yards in a rookie season

Awards: 6× Pro Bowler (1983, 1984, 1986–1989), 5× First-team All-Pro (1983, 1984, 1986–1988), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1986), 3× NFC Offensive Player of the Year (1983, 1984, 1986), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1983), NFL 1980's All-Decade Team. NFL Hall of Fame, Los Angeles Rams No. 29 retired, and Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor

Championships: None at the professional level.

Oh look, a third running back from the state of Texas, well isn't that interesting. Like his fellow Texans, Earl Campbell (Tyler, TX and UT) and L.T. (Rosebud, TX and TCU), Eric Dickerson (Sealy, TX and SMU) was drafted in the top five picks of the first round, became an amazing running back in the NFL, and could never win a championship. Dickerson has the greatest rookie and single-season rushing performances, but like most great running backs, he doesn't have a ring to show for it.

4. Emmitt Smith

Stats/Records: 4,409 Rushing Attempts (1st all-time), 18,355 Rushing Yards (1st), 164 Rushing TDs (1st), 4.2 Yards per Attempt (T-109th), 81.2 Yards per Game (15th), 21,564 All-Purpose Yards (4th), 175 Total TDs (2nd), and NFL record 18,355 rushing yards in a career, 164 rushing touchdowns in a career, and 4,409 rushing attempts in a career

Awards: 8× Pro Bowler (1990–1995, 1998, 1999), 4× First-team All-Pro (1992–1995), Second-team All-Pro (1991), AP NFL Most Valuable Player (1993), Bert Bell Award (1993), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1990), NFL 1990's All-Decade Team, NFL Hall of Fame, and Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor

Championships: Three NFC Championships (1992, 1993, and 1995), Three Super Bowls (XXVII, XXVIII, and XXX), and One Super Bowl MVP (XXVIII)

Thank you, Emmitt Smith, for being so great that I could justifiably put a Dallas Cowboy on this list because I would not enjoy doing it otherwise. In all seriousness, Emmitt Smith was a workhorse for the Cowboys while his fellow "Triplets," Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, were coming into their own before the Cowboys' Super Bowl runs. I said L.T. was a TD machine, well, Emmitt Smith was an entire TD factory, and he holds so many other records, but he stays at four because his numbers are largely a result of sheer volume, whereas the top three had more rare ability to go with the numbers.

3. Barry Sanders

Stats/Records: 3,062 Rushing Attempts (7th all-time), 15,269 Rushing Yards (3rd), 99 Rushing TDs (T-9th), 5.0 Yards per Attempt (T-8th), 99.8 Yards per Game (2nd), 18,308 All-Purpose Yards (10th), 109 Total TDs (18th), and NFL record five 1,500 yard seasons, with a NFL record four consecutively

Awards: 10× Pro Bowler (1989–1998), 6× First-team All-Pro (1989–1991, 1994, 1995, 1997), 4× Second-team All-Pro (1992, 1993, 1996, 1998), NFL Most Valuable Player (1997), 2× NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1994, 1997), 2× Bert Bell Award (1991, 1997), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1989), NFL 1990's All-Decade Team, NFL Hall of Fame, and Detroit Lions No. 20 retired

Championships: None at the professional level.

Well, we've got our second running back out of Wichita, Kansas, and like Gale Sayers before him, Barry Sanders went to a team in the north and dominated the league. Barry Sanders had an elusiveness and explosiveness that was unparalleled in his day, which led to him being a dominant player during an era of dominant players with a career of yards per game near 100. The thing that holds Barry Sanders back is his decision to retire early, because he could realistically hold some of the records that belong to others on this list, but I will not blame a guy for retiring in his prime when he feels like there is nothing left to prove or risk his health for.

2. Walter Payton

Stats/Records: 3,838 Rushing Attempts (2nd all-time), 16,726 Rushing Yards (2nd), 110 Rushing TDs (4th), 4.4 Yards per Attempt (T-51st), 88.0 Yards per Game (6th), 21,803 All-Purpose Yards (3rd), 125 Total TDs (11th), and NFL record 170 consecutive career starts for a running back

Awards: 9× Pro Bowler (1976–1980, 1983–1986), 7× First-team All-Pro (1976–1980, 1984, 1985), Second-team All-Pro (1986), AP NFL Most Valuable Player (1977), Bert Bell Award (1985), 2× NFC Offensive Player of the Year (1977, 1985), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1977), NFL Man of the Year (1977), NFL 1970's All-Decade Team, NFL 1980's All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL Hall of Fame, and Chicago Bears No. 34 retired

Championships: One NFC Championship (1985) and One Super Bowl (XX)

Everything about Walter Payton can be summed by his motto, which was also the title of his posthumously published autobiography, "Never Die Easy." Walter Payton could do it all, and he did it all while making sure that every team he faced respected him and feared him and his patented "stutter-step," which you see people still using today. I honestly believe that his most important legacy to the league was his dedication to community, which is why the "NFL Man of the Year" award is now the "Walter Payton Man of the Year" award, and while that does not change his ranking, it is worth mentioning.

Before we get to number one, I have a few honorable mentions, two that are active running backs and two that are retired.

Honorable Mentions:

Active:

Adrian Peterson: It was a tough call between AP and Faulk, and while I would have loved having a fourth guy from the state of Texas, Faulk's one ring and all-purpose yards total lifted him just above AP and his amazing rushing and lack of other success.

Ezekiel Elliott: I was between Zeke and Gurley over who I would give the other active honorable mention to, but Zeke's totals over the past two years are just better than Gurley's. Zeke is on pace to have one of the all-time great careers in the NFL, and I hope it happens. Gurley winning the MVP or having more years like this one could change who holds this spot.

Inactive:

Curtis Martin: Martin is one of the most underrated running backs of all-time. He is top 5 in rushing attempts and yards. Martin suffers from the fact that his career overlapped with other greats who just outperformed him. Martin's stats fall short of Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders who preceded him, Faulk and Jerome Bettis who played with him, and L.T. who succeed him, so he falls out of the top 10 because he could be argued out of being the top five of his era.

Tony Dorsett: This spot was between Dorsett, Franco Harris, and John Riggins, but the fullbacks stats can't match those of the halfback in Dorsett. Dorsett sits around number 10 in most running back categories, but he doesn't have the touchdowns to pass Faulk. Still, I guess the halfback is just better than the fullback.

1. James "Jim" Brown

Stats/Records: 3,838 Rushing Attempts (2nd all-time), 16,726 Rushing Yards (2nd), 110 Rushing TDs (4th), 4.4 Yards per Attempt (T-51st), 88.0 Yards per Game (6th), 21,803 All-Purpose Yards (3rd), 125 Total TDs (11th), and NFL record 170 consecutive career starts for a running back

Awards: 9× Pro Bowler (1976–1980, 1983–1986), 7× First-team All-Pro (1976–1980, 1984, 1985), Second-team All-Pro (1986), AP NFL Most Valuable Player (1977), Bert Bell Award (1985), 2× NFC Offensive Player of the Year (1977, 1985), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1977), NFL Man of the Year (1977), NFL 1970's All-Decade Team, NFL 1980's All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL Hall of Fame, and Chicago Bears No. 34 retired

Championships: One NFC Championship (1985) and One Super Bowl (XX)

Or maybe it is just because THE GREATEST RUNNING BACK OF ALL-TIME played fullback for the Cleveland Browns. Jim Brown might even be the greatest player in the history of pro-football (Don't worry, I'll get to that list eventually), but there is one absolute fact, his career average yards per page is 104.3 y/g. Not only does he hold that record, among others, but he holds it by four and a half yards over Barry Sanders and is twelve yards per game better than number four, which basically means Jim Brown is the G.O.A.T.


All data was pulled from profootballreference.com, NFL.com, and Profootballhof.com

Cover Image Credit: Facebook

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Volleyball can be intimidating to get into, especially if you have had zero experience before. From the extremely bruised forearms to knee burns, it's understandable why people try to avoid this sport as much as possible sometimes. However, after the initial few weeks of struggle, the bruises will disappear, and the knee pains will feel much less terrible. In fact, after experiencing these six feelings, you will get hooked onto the sport.

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