1) Barry Sanders – Sanders tops this list as the number one running back of all-time. Despite being third in total rushing yards, with 15,269, and ninth in total touchdowns, with 99, the former Detroit Lion finds himself a class all his own. Sanders never had the support that Emmitt Smith, or many other running backs on this list, had. Sanders was the Lions only threat for years, and teams still could not stop him. The very fact that Sanders could have broken the rushing record, before his shocking early retirement, proves that his rushing ability was something special. Sanders’ elusiveness, and slippery style were unique, and remain the closest thing to using a cheat code that we have seen in the NFL.
2) Jim Brown – Brown was the sixth overall selection in the 1957 draft, and made every team that decided to pass on him regret it. Brown racked up 12,312 rushing yards, and 106 rushing touchdowns. Brown played nine total seasons with the Browns, and never missed a game, an almost impossible feat. The only handicap that stopped Brown from being number one on this list was the fact that the NFL played fewer games when Brown played. Brown’s first four seasons were only 12 games long, with his final five being only 14. If Brown played in a 16 game format for his nine years, his numbers would be much higher, which only showcases his amazing ability with a football in his hands. At age 29 Brown walked away from the game, much like Sanders did, producing tons of speculation of how high Brown’s totals would have been if he had played more.
3) Emmitt Smith – Emmitt Smith is the all-time leading rusher in NFL history, with 18,355 yards. He also holds the record for most rushing touchdowns, with 164. So how could he not be number one? Simple, his supporting cast was just as phenomenal as he was. For the majority of Smith’s career he played behind a stacked offensive line, star quarterback Troy Aikman, and star wide receiver Michael Irvin. This does not diminish how skilled a runner Emmitt Smith was, but it does inflate his stats just a bit, at least enough to be knocked down to three on this list.
4) Walter Payton – “Sweetness”, as Payton was lovingly referred to, was the record holding for rushing yards, with 16,726, before Smith broke it. Payton also added 110 touchdowns, a Most Valuable Player Award, and Super Bowl ring in 1985. The list of accomplishments, and accolades of Payton can be stacked against anyone who has played in the NFL. Close to matching Jim Brown’s toughness, Payton only missed one game over his 13-year career.
5) Ladainian Tomlinson – When it comes to discussions, and debates about the best running backs of all-time, Tomlinson seems to be the forgotten man. Over his 11-year career Tomlinson amassed 13,684 yards, and 145 touchdowns, second on the leaderboard, behind Smith. Tomlinson’s most notable achievement came when heset the single season rushing touchdown record, with 28, during the 2006 season. Tomlinson has earned his spot on this list, and deserves more recognition than he receives.
6) Adrian Peterson– Adrian Peterson broke into the league in 2007, and has only become the best running back in the league, pure and simple. Thus far Peterson has totaled 11,675 rushing yards, and 97 rushing touchdowns. After tearing his ACL and MCL late in the 2011 season it appeared Peterson’s best days were behind him. Then, Peterson came up nine yards short of breaking the single season rushing record, and has since reclaimed his mantle of the game’s best running back. As the holder of the single game rushing record, 296 yards, and with 2-3 good years left presumably, Peterson will end his career with stats that match the NFL’s all time greats.
7) Eric Dickerson – Dickerson is a hard player to forget for multiple reasons. The first being his single season rushing record still stands today, at an astonishing 2,105 yards. The second being his 13,259 total rushing yards, and 90 total touchdowns. The third being that Dickerson finished his playing career being the second leading rusher of all time, behind only Walter Payton.
8) OJ Simpson – 11,236 yards, 61 touchdowns – OJ Simpson’s pinnacle season came in 1973. Simpson rushed for 2,003 yards, at 6 yards per carry, averaging 143 rushing yards per game. This was over a 14 game season, when applied to a 16 game season, Simpson would have easily broken the single season rushing record. The former Heisman winner was a dominant runner throughout his career, and proved to be the best running back in the 70s.
9) Curtis Martin – Curtis Martin is another name that is generally left off of lists, and not in the discussion for the greatest of all-time. Martin showed off his skills with both the Patriots, and the Jets, before hanging up his cleats following the 2005 season. Martin finished his 11-year career with 14,101 yards, and 90 touchdowns. These stats certainly place Martin in the same conversation as the best of the best, and win him a spot on this list.
10) Jerome Bettis – Bettis is sixth on the all time rushing list with 13,662 yards, but is often forgotten. Bettis is also eleventh on the all-time rushing touchdown list, with 91. Bettis finished his storied career after winning the 2006 Super Bowl with the Steelers. Jerome “The Bus” Bettis has undoubtedly earned his spot on the list of top ten running backs of all-time.
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