Best Football Running Backs of All Time

The Top TenXW

1Barry SandersBarry Sanders is a former American football running back who spent his entire professional career with the Detroit Lions of the National Football League.

Detroit's first-round draft pick, 1989... Electrifying running style... First player to rush for 1,000 yards his first 10 seasons... Led NFL in rushing four times... NFL's MVP, 1997... Gained 2,053 yards including record 14 straight 100-yard games, 1997... Career rushing record: 15,269 yards, 99 TDs... First- or second-team All-NFL each of his 10 seasons... Selected to 10 Pro Bowls.

People often compare Barry Sanders to Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith. While Payton and Smith were great running backs and deserve every bit of recognition they've received, comparing Barry Sanders to these great backs is almost like comparing apples to oranges (perhaps plantains and bananas is more fitting).

Payton and Smith both had offensive lines envied by today's NFL coaches. Sanders did not have a solid offensive line, often had no holes created for him, and, had they counted the number of yards he ran sideways and backwards to avoid defenders, he likely would've topped the 20K yard mark.

Ranked the #1 most elusive back in NFL history. There's a reason coaches and commentators would say, "You couldn't tackle this guy in a phonebooth". What truly makes Barry Sanders the greatest RB of all time though? In my opinion, his display of skills that you can't teach... The keen sense to switch directions on a dime, for example.

Barry Sanders is the best! And always will be... L. T. Is good but he will never be like Payton Or Sanders

Simply Amazing to watch, always a show

V229 Comments
2Walter Payton

I have to go with payton. I think everyone on this list has earned a their spot here. Except I don't think peterson should be here quite yet but in a few years adrian peterson will be one of tops for sure. I've seen all of these guys highlights and I don't care what order their in but the top five should be Payton, Sanders, Brown, Smith, and Campbell. I go with payton because he can run, pass, and catch. He was also good man off the field. Who else on this list led their team 15-1. He also suffered from cancer and still went on and played

Easily one of the greatest players to grace the nfl

Amazing! RUSHED FOR SO MANY YARDS HAD CANCER AND LANDED ON HIS HEAD NUMEROUS TIME ALL TIME GREAT ENOUGH SAID! Go walter

Payton was so much fun to watch and redefined the position with his versatility of catching, blocking, and passing as well. Perhaps the most complete football player ever, he accomplished a lot early in his career with subpar offenses around him followed by a late career surge when he finally had top talent surrounding him.

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3Jim Brown

He gained more yards in fewer games and season than any other running back, didn't miss a game due in injuries.

In case you haven't noticed Payton was in the nfl longer and only called it quits when he was like 38 - Danmarino4

My older brother told me about Jim Brown. He would carry tacklers down the field with him. He would lift defenders into the air with his driving force. He heard testimony of defensive players who hated to see him coming. It hurt to take him down. To accumulate the stats he did playing on a losing team like he did -- not to mention he played only 12 game seasons if I remember correctly. These things demand him being in the top 10. I also like Sayers and Simpson and Tony Dorsett.

When talking greatest of All time lists like this are born and frequently the names on it are all deserving of some recognition. In this case though it really is rather simple... When Barry Sander's was inducted into the Hall of Fame, even his own Father acknowledged he was no Jim Brown. Jim Brown was the greatest running back of All Time and that is widely held as law among his peers. It would be nice if the average modern fan understood this.

Definitely the best of all time. Sanders a close second

V115 Comments
4Emmitt SmithEmmitt James Smith III is a former college and professional American football running back who became the National Football League's all-time leading rusher during his fifteen seasons in the league during the 1990s and 2000s.

QB's are judged by Superbowl wins and stats, why not running backs? Emmitt's stats far exceed the rest of the backs on this list, he has more superbowls than the rest of this list put together. He may not have had the raw skills of a Barry Sanders or the power of a Jim Brown, what he did possess is all the attributes you look for in a football player intelligence, leadership, durability (only missed 14 games in 15 seasons) the list goes on. There is no need to say anymore, Emmitt is the greatest of all time.

He also had a pro bowl offensive line and not just 1 how many pro bowler did barry run behind on that garbage team he played for year after year s and

He has more rushing yards than anybody else
- ginn19

Rushed for the most yards, can break tackles, won 3 superbowls, was one of the triplets, and is a Florida gator! He is definitely #1!

Here's your number 1

V78 Comments
5Adrian PetersonAdrian Lewis Peterson is an American football running back for the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League.

He's on pace to break dickersons yardage record In an era where qb's reign supreme. He's going up against teams who are stacking against him because he's the Vikings only threat, and all this after tearing his acl and mcl. He has 1000 yards after contact. He also has a 99 yard TD run, (not this year) his speed in and out of his cuts are unmatched, not to mention his POWER, he's not even done his career yet, in an age where qb's have a short shelf life, he's still getting better. I think when it's all said and done, he'll be the best to ever play the game

1000 rushing yards so quick someone put tape and that boys hands and it'll be the end for every other team as we know it - dissthisnoob

He might not have the best stats. But every season he has 100 yards or more that isn't bad at all. He is very fast strong and talented. With heart that has passion for the game.

Adrian Peterson might not be the best but I guarantee that when he retires he'll easily be the best back in history

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6LaDainian Tomlinson

I'm pretty sure no one had seen his receiving stats. He has over 1400 yds more than Barry Sanders and well 1200 yds over Emmitt Smith, not to mention his 144 TDs in only 10 seasons. Granted he hadn't finished strong he's last years, but he still putting some yards in. Also, we shouldn't used superbowl rings when comparing positions, because it takes a whole team to win one not just one player, that's more of a Quarter Back's conundrum. I think the list should go Emmitt first, then LT and third Barry. By the way I'm not a Charger's fan; more of a Colts fan, who's hopes had been crushed by the Chargers in the Playoffs more than any other team.

Most touchdowns in a season. First to get 1000 rushing yards and 100 receptions in one season. 8 straight seasons 1000 yards rushing and 50 receptions. Fastest player to score 100 touchdowns. One of only 7 players to rush for, catch, and throw for a touchdown in a single game. Broke 46 year old record for most points scored in a single season (which was held by a kicker). The list goes on and on. Most of all, he declines being on the cover of Madden '08 and calmly and willingly steps down from the limelight to share a roll with a young running back. I don't know how you can get any more humble than that

Fast, Agile, Smart, Strong, Breaks tackles like the tackler is a QB, catches and runs like a WR. Never doubt LT, to come up big. - henryperson

He is so good the best

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7Eric Dickerson

Dickerson's Rookie Rushing season, it the Best ever in the NFL and has stood for 24 seasons. His 2105 Single Season Rushing record has stood for 23 seasons. Jim Taylor held the record for most yards in a season for 1 year. Jim Brown broke it the next season. Brown held that record for 10 Years, until O.J. broke it. 10 years later, Dickerson broke the record. He has held onto it more than twice as long as ANY Single season Rushing record holder has held this mantle. It's time to Place this feat up there with the other hallowed benchmarks in Sports.

The best there was and best there may ever be, his only problem was maybe wanting to much money and complaining about it. And I agree he should have be much higher in the order and for sure ahead of Payton, he was in the same scope of Barry Sanders.

P

He held a very long record and is a true legend in the game

Best of all time

V20 Comments
8Earl Campbell

Earl is under rated. Understand this is a back who took a week team to the afc championship twice only to loose to the stealers twice a team who had 9 hall of fame players on the same team. 1 Swan. 2 Ham 3 Green 4 Bradshaw 5 Blount 6 Harris 7 Lambert 8 Knoll 9 Webster. Houston had none. Everyone knew he was getting the ball. His 1934 yards in 1980 was done in 14 games not 16. In his 15th game he had 2025 yards rushing he would need one more game 81 more yards if he had the opportunity to hold the single season record.

Earl was the greatest. In case most of you forgot, Walter Payton and Tony Dorsett played in his era and neither could compare to him. He was a beast and a classy player not like todays players. Remember he played the Steel Curtain twice a year and if not for them stacking the line to stop him he would have easily broken the 2000 yard barrier. Great Player and great person, he really made the Oilers although he would never agree because he was the ultimate team player.

Set 'em up and knock 'em down and if they don't go down, then just drag them on down the field!

Earl is the best!

V39 Comments
9Marshall FaulkMarshall William Faulk is a former college and professional football player who was a running back in the National Football League for twelve seasons.

This guy was amazing. He could step buy or run over linebackers. He flew past DBs. At his peak he was so good he was lining up as a reciever. He picked defenses apart and set many records. He was so smart, his coaches used to say he was like having a second quarterback on the field. Super bowl champ, leage mvp, rushing leader,record holder, and probowler,he is a lock for the hall of fame.

Faulk was my favorite of all time, don't get me wrong it doesn't bother me about a few of the names ahead of him, but peterson practically gave away the game in the nfc championship, faulk rarely fumbled, and never in such a clutch moment - Nemesis57

is like the best are you kidding me he appears in 2 super bowls he wins one and has such great rushing yards and if you saw ck up americas game he picks up az hakim so tha team can spike it man!

Very smart back

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10O. J. Simpson

O.J. simpson IS one of the TOP 3 running backs of all time along with Jim Brown and Walter Payton. That is not debatable. The rationale behind this is very clear and straight forward if you have an understanding of the evolution of the game and what it meant to run the football in the era of the 60's and 70's. Quite simply O.J. simpson was a world class sprinter that could run between tackles. Look it up people he was on USC's world record setting sprint relay back in the day. World class speed! The NFL HAS not seen another back like him since. He had it all. Size, speed, moves. His only problem as a football player was he played for an organization that was completely in shambles and was inept at complimenting his skill until Lou Saban arrived in Buffalo. Also O.J. played in an era where the NFL was still a developing franchise. This is a whole discussion all by itself. I could write a book on that! But in short it makes a difference in today's game where so much $$ is being spent to ...more

O.J. Simpson not in the Top 10? How can that be? Just so you youngsters can relate --- that's like saying Peyton Manning is not among the top three quarterbacks in football today. I think O.J. was the best running back ever, but I could understand why someone would vote Jim Brown over him. Walter Payton, to me, doesn't come close, and neither does Eric Dickerson. And how did Barry Sanders get to No. 1. Not a chance. - aquaman

Okay, yeah, he supposedly did a few bad things off the field but on the field he was amazing. he deserves the top ten. HE IS IN THE HALL OF FAME. YEAH YOU KNOW THE BIGGEST HONOR EVER FOR AN NFL THAT IS IN CANTON YAH THAT PLACE PUT HIM IN THE TOP TEN HE DESERVES IT

Decent rating but I wouldn't put him in Top 10

V28 Comments

The Contenders

11Gale SayersGale Eugene Sayers, also known as "The Kansas Comet", is a former American college and professional football player who was a running back in the National Football League for seven seasons during the 1960s and early 1970s.

I've been watching football since 1964 and I've never seen a runner like, or better than Sayers. First he was elusive, so much so that Barry Sanders is the only top back that could compare with him. He broke tackles like no else, he seemed to run through them. And he was fast. In the open field, he was like poetry in motion, a beauty to behold.

No doubt Sayers should be higher then this. If he had been playing now and his knees could have been repaired more effectively he may have been on top of this list. He was capable of scoring whenever he touched the ball. He accomplished what he did on a team that really wasn't very good. Very hard to find video of him playing which is a shame.

I grew up watching all of these players.
I'm 62 closer to 63 and as much as I loved Walter's
Style and Jim Brown's arm chop, nobody and I mean that, nobody had
The style and grace, of Gale Sayers!
He was the best, just as Michael Jordan!
There will never be another!
Sayers was the best!

Needs to be top 5 or so. Completely Underrated

V17 Comments
12Jerome Bettis

He said he always wanted to be remembered as the guy who fought to get that extra one or two yards. Mission accomplished.

after 12 years, still finishes with his all time career high rushing touchdowns... he's unstoppable. He never even played running back till the NFL. He didn't dodge cornerbacks, he ran them over. I'd like to say he's humble but he knows he's good but he also knows what a privilege it is to be a role model and inspiration for his city.

He didn't run to the side or dance around, he just plowed you over. He fit the Steelers' style very well. He also did a good job at adjusting as his speed left him with age by running more of a fullback style.

Bettis was a fat slob that doesn't deserve to be on this list

V12 Comments
13Bo Jackson

Bo jackson was the best running back of all time if he stayed healthy and played for a better team he would be the best running back he was the strongest and the best forget payton and peterson peterson not even close to the best running back marshall faulk is better than him but I'm writing about bo and bo is the best running back that ever lived period.

Most atheletes have trouble excelling in one sport but Bo was different. He played in two and did very well in both football and baseball. So if you are going to talk about excellent atheletes of some kind you have to put Bo somewhere at the top!

Name a RB that combined more power, speed and could hit the hole or beat the defense to the corner more than Bo Jackson? His talent was never seen before him and hasn't been seen since.

It was tragic to lose him to injury before we could see him get even better than he was... - corebare32

Bo Jackson at his peak compared to Walter Payton at his peak would be equally talented. In terms of who has the most talent Bo beats most running backs even though he didn't play for that long

V45 Comments
14Marcus Allen

ok this list is not as retarted as the basketball one but its pretty damn retarted. the 1st 2 are good but number 3 does not earn it yet what happens if he gets hurt. and adrian peterson number 6 its his 2nd year! maybe they could be the greatest but you dont know what could happen to them erick deserves top 7 and jim brown deserves number 3 and larry csonca should be in there he is amazing. and jim brown had the most yards per carry. and my final one gale sayers deserves top 20. and marcus allen should up there to. - fortebros777

Anyone who is a student of football should know Marcus Allen deserves to be top ten. Had the hands of a wide receiver, with incredible break away speed. An unselfish player that would give up his body for a block. He understood it was a team game what other Hall of Fame Player would give up his starting position for half a year to a rookie and throw blocks for that rookie like a seasoned fullback.

I am embarassed for everyone that he is ranked so low. Any student of the game knows he is one of the all-time greats. The fact that he is often overlooked by amateurs making lists is a testament to his humbleness. But if you question his greatness, just look at his accomplishments - they speak for themselves. - chambon

Marcus allen should be 5

V12 Comments
15Thurman Thomas

This guys the best i mean he has been to 5 pro bowls went to 4 super bowls and is on the bills wall of fame and hes a 2nd round pick(40) this guys the best

Could do it all. Run, catch, block and shared the ball with other big time players. A team leader as well... Payton hillis? Darren sproles (that's a joke, right? ) tiki barber? Gimme a break

He was a great all-around player. Not only could he run extremely well, but he could catch like a reciever and block like a tight end. Just an all-time great.

His really close to O.J very good player. - htoutlaws2012

V4 Comments
16Franco Harris

It is harder to find a more inspirational moment in the game of the football than "the immaculate reception" and the trans formative effect it had on one of the greatest teams in history and on the career of this--certainly one of the top five. Power, speed, attitude, and LUCK. I'd rather be lucky than good--Franco was both.

How is reggie bush, brian westbrook, CJ2K, AP, curtis martin, bo jackson, O.J, marcus allen, tony dorsett, shaun alexander, and terrell davis better than this legendary running back?

3-4 super bowls steelers fan

...because a bunch of morons are picking guy like bush,mcfadden,johnson and so forth.They probably were not around to watch Franco back in the 70's.

Immaculate Reception, though?

V7 Comments
17Tony Dorsett

The combination of great speed, patience, hole selection and deceptive power. Jack Lambert called him one of the most powerful backs he ever played against. Smart, not to run over everyone and fast enough not to need to run over everyone. Definitely would be in top 10 if he played on different team in his prime that would have featured him.

TONY IS ONE OF THE NFL GREATEST RUNNING BACK HE WAS THE TRUTH HE HAS THE LONGEST RUN FROM SCRIMMAGE IN HISTORY 99 YARDS AGAINST THE VIKINGS ON MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL GIVE TONY HIS PROPS

they never give my cousin his props, so I've been standing up for him since 1978 when my dad and I watched him win s.b. 12! he's one of the top 5 greatest ever!

Dorsett's keen vision, quick acceleration and fast speed made him dangerous to defenses as well as beautiful and exciting to watch.

V11 Comments
18Terrell DavisTerrell Lamar Davis is a former American football running back who played for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League from 1995 to 2001.

Too bad he does not get the credit he deserves because he played in denver. Been a lot of backs get 1000 in denver's shanahan years but only one with over 2,000. Davis was scary on the super bowl teams. Elway would get them the lead and td would run out the clock. His play in super bowl 32 is amazing, prob could of set the rushing record if he didn't have to sit out some of the game with that migrane. I really hope he will make the hof someday, elway had no rings till td came to town!

Terrell is by far the best when he played. If you look back at him in tape he had skills that I don't think any other back in the league has possessed. He won a superbowl without eyesight! He played well his whole career and it is not fair he is cut short on the list because of an injury. He was a pure beast.

2 super bowl wins and over 1000 yards in 7 games. Played his first super bowl with a migraine headache. Who know where he would have ended up if John Elway had continued two more years. Poor QB like Brian Greise hurts a great RB. He tore his ACL on a tackle after an interception. Same deal with Eddie Mac on 9/10/01.

So good the best amazing

V21 Comments
19Curtis Martin

Curtis Martin, deserves more credit than what people give him. He's one of the great players at his position; very consistent, reliable & unselfish...rushing 1000 + yrs for over 10+ seasons.

Curtis Martin, will not be easily replaced.... often greatness is not realized until it moves on.... Todays players will find it very hard to achieve the same consitant level of success...the game has changed...its more about the player than the game these days!

Curtis Martin....What a player. He was drafted in the 3rd round and look where he got. He had 10+ 1000 yard seasons, and probably would've had 11 if he wasn't injured. I'd rate him 4th. Barry #1, Walter #2, Emmit #3, and Curtis #4. He was so consistent, and even at his 10th season, he had his career year.

Curtis Martin was so consistent! I mean, not like 958 yard, 976 yards, I'm talking about 1400, 1300, 1500, 1600, come on, he's the 4th best ever! Give him some credit.

Great consistent player! - htoutlaws2012

V6 Comments
20Maurice Jones-Drew

As soon as he stops sharing carries with Fred Taylor Maurice will be dominating defenses. He's extremely fast and he can blow over defenders.

If your gonna put him low in your rankings, at least put him in the 20's or something higher because this is just bullcrap. he is one of the best in today's football I think

You people really don't know what the definition of a great back is, to mention this clowns' name is an insult to the great runners of the past.

The best Jags player there could of ever had. - htoutlaws2012

V3 Comments
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List StatsUpdated 31 Jul 2016

12,000 votes
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10 years, 235 days old

Top Remixes (77)

1. Barry Sanders
2. Walter Payton
3. Franco Harris
Rubberducktruck412
1. Jim Brown
2. O. J. Simpson
3. Gale Sayers
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1. Barry Sanders
2. Jim Brown
3. Adrian Peterson
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Emmitt Smith simply the greatest ever.
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