Best Football Running Backs of All Time

The Top Ten

1 Barry Sanders Barry Sanders Barry 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

I know someone who said jim brown was the best, but barry had electrifying skills. He could juke anybody and once he was on the outside he was gone. But every one knows he ended his career too quickly, I believe he could of gotten a super bowl ring if he stayed longer, now you can hate me lions fans, but you know its true

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2 Walter Payton Walter Payton Walter Jerry Payton was an American football running back who played for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League for thirteen seasons.

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


The true goat

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3 Jim Brown Jim 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.

Should be #1 he is best ever!

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4 Emmitt Smith Emmitt Smith Emmitt 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.

I will vote for Emmitt. Going over this list time and time again has been an exercise in futility. Each of these great backs could make an argument to be in the top 5, but I will leave my comment under Emmitt's slot as he simply has the most yards. I'm a Viking fan, but in all honesty, Adrian Peterson probably does not belong at No.5 all time yet, he has missed too many games that leave his numbers wanting, in my eyes. Earl Campbell was indeed a beast, but for him, his brutal, violent running style took a toll on him physically and he played a very short career. I know Sanders and Sweetness well, having seen my team play them twice a year. Sanders would sometimes hurt Detroit while running backwards to try and break everything long, his cuts, shake and speed would many times bail him out, it had to be like chasing a pinball for defenders. He was on many Lions teams the only thing they had, and even with the increased attention, he prospered. He was the best elusive RUNNER I've ever ...more - Ned964

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.

While your point of Emmitt playing behind those great lines is valid, I do think he was the perfect back to play behind them. Emmitt Smith would have been successful where ever he played in the NFL, but his explosiveness thru the hole, the inability of defenders to arm tackle him, and his ability to choose where to run at the second level were legendary. Yes, those great lines were a factor, but I always have felt Emmitt was a special back as well. - Ned964

He has more rushing yards than anybody else
- ginn19

The best lesding rusher in nfl histoiry

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5 Adrian Peterson Adrian Peterson Adrian Lewis Peterson is an American football running back who originally played for the Minnesota Vikings and currently plays for the Arizona Cardinals 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

No back ever had the combination of speed, power and cuts at the second level that Peterson had. He truly is/was a physical freak. Unforetunatly, his power left him grinding for extra yards, and defenders quickly learned to try to rip the ball out, which was far too often successful. Additionally, his physical fitness, like many finely honed, or freak athletes, left Peterson susceptible to injury. To watch him play in his prime is truly awe inspiring but I just feel at the basest level his fumbling issues leave him wanting on this list. Many forget he fumbled 4 times in the NFC Championship game against New Orleans, losing 2. He was benched for a time. Combined with Favre's interceptions, the Vikings lost a game they clearly dominated. Turnovers will kill you in the NFL, add that to the injury history and I feel Peterson does not belong at #5 on this list. - Ned964

He's a beast

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6 LaDainian 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.

I would have to research it, but like you, I truly doubt anyone can match LaDainian's receiving numbers, and there have been quite a few worthy adversaries. That being said, there is no doubt in my mind that he was the best all purpose back. A yardage machine - Ned964

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


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7 Eric Dickerson Eric Dickerson Eric Demetric Dickerson is a former college and professional American football player who was a running back in the National Football League for eleven seasons during the 1980s and 1990s.

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.

Something that I feel doesn't get mentioned enough is that Eric Dickerson played behind some very nasty, very good run blocking lines in LA. That is in no way to detract from this great RB. I think Eric was a very good runner overall, but what separates him was his speed for a man that size. His explosiveness thru the hole is probably the best ever. The Rams simply fed him the ball and waited for the defense to make a mistake on gap integrity, because when they did, it was over. No matter where the ball was snapped from, you weren't going to catch Eric. - Ned964

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.


He's the greatest of all time no doubt

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8 Earl Campbell Earl Campbell Earl Christian Campbell is a former American football running back who played professionally in the National Football League for the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints.

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!

A semi truck. The most punishing runner ever. Awesome. - Ned964

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9 Marshall Faulk Marshall Faulk Marshall 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.

One of the most one-sided trades in NFL history is the Colts sending Faulk to the Rams for 2nd and 5th round picks. The Rams were extremely lucky in the fact they got Faulk so cheap, and of course they found a back up QB named Warner, and when you factor in the drafting of Tory Holt, you have arguably the most unstoppable offensive machine in NFL history. Faulk was the centerpiece of that machine - Ned964

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


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10 O. 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

I caught half of Simpson's career. There is no doubt he was one of the greatest ever. He ran behind some very good lines in Buffalo. A gliding, quick big man, he would get maximum yardage out of almost every touch. - Ned964

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The Contenders

11 Gale Sayers Gale Sayers Gale 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!

When I watched film of this cat for the first time, it dropped my jaw. Tremendously elusive, and the template for a new type of back. It's a shame injuries robbed us all of seeing more of this great back - Ned964

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12 Bo Jackson Bo 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

Super bo is a running son of a bitch in a episode of family guy quagmire said bo jackson is to fast

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13 Jerome 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.

What a great back. Didn't look the part, but punished defenses. A classic back that got better as the game wore on. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with defenses simply wearing down from trying to take this beast. A great man and back - Ned964

The bus

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14 Marcus 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

Nothing he couldn't do. No way he should be this low. Come on people!

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15 Thurman 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

32 you got to be kidding this list is officially retarded!

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

Thermal dominated the AFC for like 5 years. He was the centerpiece of one of the most powerful offenses ever. Unfortunately he had some of his worst games on the biggest of stages. The NFC was right in the middle of winning 12 straight Super Bowls when Buffalo rose in the AFC, so part of Thomas' legacy will forever be linked to that, and that's just some bad timing. Keep in mind, this guy started ahead of Barry Sanders at Oklahoma St. for 2 years. - Ned964

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16 Franco Harris Franco Harris Franco Harris is a former American football player. He played his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks. In the 1972 NFL Draft he was picked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round, the 13th selection overall.

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.

He caught the immaculate pass obviously he has to be the best of all time he's fast strong powerful and smart

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17 Tony Dorsett Tony 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.


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.

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18 Terrell Davis Terrell Davis Terrell 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.

THE BEST RB in post season & Supper BOWLS & 7,000 yard in 7 7yrs, 2k yard game, 186yrs on the best #1 defense, no one close to doing what TD did, TD got hurt on making a tackle, So take TD SATISTICS out of the best RD & move all lessor RB up, what a JOKE, ALL THE OTHER RUNNING BACK HAD TO KEEP RUN TO CATCH UP with TD & they had lots more changes to break TD RECORDS & could not could not do it!

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19 Maurice 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.

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.

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

He sucks

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20 Curtis 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.

He is a legend! vote number!

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1. Barry Sanders
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Emmitt Smith simply the greatest ever.
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