By Brian Kalchik @RantsportsBrian on June 21, 2014
While the running back position has been devalued in recent years, there have been a handful of great running backs in NFL history. From Walter Payton to Jim Brown and even Barry Sanders, these players helped change the game, and make it what it is today. With current players like Adrian Peterson (pictured), Jamaal Charles, and LeSean McCoy starting to make names for themselves, which running backs are the 10 greatest in NFL history?
In just his second season in the NFL, Eric Dickerson set the single-season rushing record with 2,105 yards in 1984. Just a year later, he set another record by rushing for the most yards in a playoff game with 248 against the Dallas Cowboys. At the time of his retirement in 1993, Dickerson was the NFL's second all-time leading rusher with 13,259 yards.
In just 137 games, LaDainian Tomlinson became the fastest player to reach 150 touchdowns. Tomlinson holds the NFL single-season records for total touchdowns (31 in 2006) and rushing TDs (28, also in 2006). In 2003, he became the first player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards and have 100 receptions in the same season. He also was just the seventh player in NFL history to run, catch, and throw for a touchdown in a game.
While Roger Craig may have been the first dual threat running back in NFL history, Marshall Faulk was the best in NFL history. Faulk retired as the 10th all-time leading rusher with 12,279 yards and 767 career receptions. In 2000, Faulk was named league MVP after gaining 2,189 yards from scrimmage, an NFL record at the time. A three-time Offensive Player of the Year, Faulk also helped the Rams win Super Bowl 34 and reach Super Bowl 36.
Playing in a league that has shifted away from the running game, Adrian Peterson has cemented himself as the best running back in the game today. Peterson has rushed for over 1,000 yards in six of his first seven NFL seasons, and was 30 yards away in 2011, but only a Torn ACL stopped his streak. In 2012, Peterson had arguably the greatest season by a running back ever with 2,097 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
Despite a career that was cut short because of injury, Gale Sayers was one of the NFL's most electrifying players in its history. In his rookie year, he scored 22 touchdowns, an NFL record for first-year players, and had six in a single-game against the 49ers. He earned rushing titles in 1966 and 1969; the latter was the year after he had a gruesome knee injury. For his career, Sayers had 9,435 combined net yards and 4,956 rushing yards.
Aside from his now infamous off-field incidents, O.J. Simpson was one of the greatest running backs of all-time. On a team that had no other offensive threats around him, Simpson single-handedly carried the Bills. He was the first running back to rush for 2,000 yards in a season (1973) and in a 14-game season. He led the league in rushing four times and scoring touchdowns twice.
As the NFL's all-time rushing leader, Emmitt Smith was one of the most consistent players in NFL history. Smith had 11 straight 1,000 yard seasons (the most in NFL history), won four rushing titles and led the league in rushing touchdowns three times. He was the key offensive piece for the Cowboys' dynasty in the 1990s, winning three Super Bowls in four years. Smith has the records for most carries, rushing touchdowns, and most 100-yard games.
Barry Sanders was one of the game's most dynamic rushers in NFL history and his greatness helped revitalize a franchise. Sanders became the first player to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first 10 seasons. In 1997, Sanders was named NFL MVP after rushing for 2,053 yards and had 14 consecutive 100-yard games that season. He also made the Pro Bowl in each of his 10 NFL seasons.
For nine years, Jim Brown was the most dominant running back in the NFL. A three-time NFL MVP, Brown finished his career with 12,312 rushing yards, 262 receptions and had 15,459 combined net yards. He led the league in rushing yards eight times and in rushing touchdowns five times. Brown helped Cleveland win their last title in 1964 after rushing for 114 yards against the Baltimore Colts.
While some will say that Brown or Sanders is the greatest of all-time, my choice for the best ever is Walter Payton. In his 13-year NFL career, Payton had 10 1,000-yard rushing seasons, led the league in carries four times, had over 300 carries in 10 seasons, and retired as the NFL's all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards. In Payton's only Super Bowl season, he rushed for 1,551 yards and scored nine touchdowns.
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