Top 10 NFL Running Backs of All Time Series: No. 3 Jim Brown‏

Leo FlorkowskiAnalyst IIIJune 16, 2012

17 Sep 2000:  A close-up of celebrity Jim Brown watching the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Cleveland Brown Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Browns defeated the Steelers 23-20.Mandatory Credit: Harry How  /Allsport
Harry How/Getty Images

This is the eighth part in a 10-part series that breaks down in detail the top 10 running backs in NFL history.

For No. 4 in the series, click here. For No. 10 in the series, click here.

At this point, we have arrived at the Holy Trinity of RBs. These next three RBs are without a doubt the three best RBs in the history of the NFL. You can debate the order in which they should be ranked. However, any list that does not have these next three RBs listed as the top three in some order should be disqualified immediately, as the writer has no idea what he or she is talking about.

The third-best RB in the history of the NFL is Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns.

I am sure a bunch of old-timers are choking on their tapioca pudding after reading that last sentence. To old-timers, it is heresy to say that any RB other than Jim Brown is the greatest of all time.

Let me throw some disclaimers out here before I delve into the statistics.

If we were talking about the RB that had the biggest genetic advantage in comparison to his contemporaries, Jim Brown would be considered the best RB of all time.

If we ignored evolution and my time-machine premise from the introductory article in this series and only considered raw statistics, Jim Brown would be considered the best RB of all time.

The problem for Brown is that I cannot ignore evolution. He would not put up numbers as good as he did if he were transported in a time machine to the present day NFL. Defenders are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before. When Jim Brown played, he was the size of many of the guys trying to tackle him. That would not be the case today.


Brown was drafted sixth overall out of Syracuse by the Cleveland Browns. He was the best RB in the NFL for all nine of his seasons before retiring prematurely to make movies.

After making nine Pro Bowls and being named to eight All-Pro first teams, Brown made the Hall of Fame in 1971.

He had three seasons where he rushed for 1,500-plus yards. His best season, where he ran for 1,863 yards, currently ranks as the 11th-highest rushing yard total in a single season in NFL history. The topper was that he accomplished that feat back when they only played 14 games in a season. Had he played in the 16-game season era, he surely would have rushed for 2,000-plus yards that season and possibly another one. 

Brown also had a 1,544-yard rushing season that ranks 62nd all time (accomplished in a 14-game season) and a 1,527-yard rushing season that ranks 66th all time (accomplished in a 12-game season). Had they played 16-game seasons back then, he would likely have rushed for 1,500-plus yards seven different seasons.

During Brown's best rushing-total season, he averaged a career-best 133.1 rushing yards a game, which ranks as the second-highest single-season total ever. He also owns the ninth-, 27th-, 29th- and 50th-best rushing-yards-per-game seasons of all time. For his career, he averaged 104.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks first all time. He is the only RB in the history of the NFL to average over 100 rushing yards a game for his entire career.

His career year of 1963 also saw him tally 6.4 yards per attempt. For his career, he averaged an absurd 5.2 yards per attempt. That ranks fifth all time for RBs regardless of attempts and first all time for RBs with a minimum of 900 attempts.

BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 7:  Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer Jim Brown speaks with the media on the sidelines during the Browns' game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 7, 2004 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Browns 27
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images


Brown's highest rushing touchdown total for a season was 17, which he accomplished in both a 12- and 14-game season. That ranks as the 23rd-highest single-season total ever. For his career, he ranks fifth all time for rushing touchdowns.

With a career-rushing-yard total of 12,312, Brown ranks ninth on the all-time list. However, when you consider he played in an era of 12- and 14-game seasons and retired while he was still in his prime, his rank on the all-time list is much lower than it could be under different circumstances.

His career-long run was 80 yards. His single best game total of 237 rushing yards ranks 16th all time. He also has a 232-rushing-yard game that ranks 18th all time, and a 223-rushing-yard game that ranks 23rd all time.

Facts about Jim Brown are similar to those you find on Chuck Norris.

Jim Brown made the Pro Bowl in all nine of the seasons in which he played.

Jim Brown was named to the All-Pro first team in eight of the nine seasons in which he played.

Jim Brown led the NFL in rushing in eight of the nine seasons in which he played.

Jim Brown had 126 total touchdowns in only 118 career games. That is more than one touchdown per game, which ranks as the greatest ratio in the history of the NFL.

Jim Brown's 104.3 rushing-yards-per-game average for his career ranks first all time in the history of the NFL.


Jim Brown's 5.2 yards per attempt for his career ranks first all time in the history of the NFL for RBs with a minimum of 900 attempts.

Jim Brown never missed a single game in his entire career.

Jim Brown had it all. He could run over you with power, past you with speed or around you with moves. I rank him as the third-best RB in NFL history.