This is the first in a ten-part series which breaks down in detail the top 10 running backs in NFL history.
Each person has their own definition of what makes one RB better than another. Personally, I care more about what someone did in their prime years as opposed to aggregate totals over an entire career.
I think more highly of a guy that was spectacular for four to five years and then was mediocre for the rest of his career as opposed to a guy who had one or two great years and a bunch of good ones. I place even more emphasis on the best year within that prime window.
Some stats matter more than others as well. Yards per attempt is probably the greatest statistic to measure greatness. On the flip side, career rushing yards is an incredibly overrated statistic. It does not show how great you were. It simply shows you were healthy and productive enough to stick around for a long time.
Big individual seasons (1,500+ rushing yards), super long runs and yards per game are great measurement tools. I am not going to re-hash these first few paragraphs in each article of the series, but I will link each article to one another.
On to the tenth best NFL RB of all time: Earl Campbell from his Houston Oiler days.
Campbell was drafted first overall out of the University of Texas by the Oilers and soon made his presence felt. His first four years encompassed his prime window. He had another good season his sixth year in the NFL, but soon went downhill afterwards.
Campbell made the Hall of Fame in 1991, made five Pro Bowls and was named to three All-Pro first teams.
He had two seasons where he rushed for 1,500+ yards including his best season, where he ran for 1,934 yards, which currently ranks as the seventh-highest rushing yard total in a single season. The topper was that he missed one game that season, or else he would have likely reached the 2,000 rushing yards in a season mark. He also had a 1,697-yard rushing season that ranks 30th all-time.
During that season, Campbell averaged a career best 128.9 rushing yards a game, which ranks as the seventh-highest single-season total ever. For his career, he averaged 81.8 rushing yards, which ranks 14th all-time.
His career year of 1980 also saw him tally 5.2 yards per attempt. For his career he averaged a solid 4.3 yards per attempt.
Campbell's highest rushing TD total for a season was 19, which is the 12th-highest single-season total ever. For his career he ranks 23rd all-time in rushing TDs.
Campbell's career rushing yard total of 9,407 only places him 30th on the all-time list. However, the dominance he displayed over his first three years in the league vaults him into the top 10. He never averaged less than 1,450 rushing yards, 13 rushing TDs, 4.6 YPA and 96.7 YPG during those three years. He also had his career long run of 81 yards during that time frame.
Campbell's career started to go downhill when his body began to deteriorate after his physical running style started to take a toll. A RB can beat you one of three ways—they can run through you with power, past you with speed or around you with moves. Campbell was the prototypical power back. That double-edged sword made him great, but it also shortened his career.
For me, Campbell's early years of power and dominance make up for his "shortcomings." I rank him as the 10th-best RB in NFL history.