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Emmitt Smith Is Not One of the Top 10 Running Backs in NFL History

IRVING, TX - DECEMBER 8:  Running back Emmitt Smith #22 of the Dallas Cowboys runs with the ball during a game against the San Francisco 49ers on December 8, 2002 at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas.  The 49ers beat the Cowboys 31-27.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Leo FlorkowskiAnalyst IIIJune 19, 2012

I recently completed a series of the top 10 running backs in NFL history (I will post the links in the comments section below), and I am now pointing out something that most people already know—Emmitt Smith is not one of the 10 best running backs in NFL history.

Here is why.

Emmitt Smith had a career-long run of 75 yards. Of the RBs on my countdown, that only beats Marshall Faulk.

Emmitt Smith's best rushing season saw him rush for 1,773 yards. Of the RBs on my countdown, that only beats Faulk, Bo Jackson and Adrian Peterson.

Notably, Faulk did much more damage catching the ball, Bo only played partial seasons and Peterson's best season only trails Emmitt Smith's by a measly 13 yards AND his playing career is not over with.

Emmitt Smith only had three seasons where he rushed for 1,500-plus yards. Of the RBs on my countdown, that only beats Faulk, Bo, Peterson and Earl Campbell. Once again, Faulk did so much more damage catching the ball, Bo only played partial seasons, Peterson's career is not over and Campbell's prime was cut short by injury.

Emmitt Smith's best YPG for a single season was 110.8. Of the RBs on my countdown, that only beats Faulk, Bo and Peterson. Again, Faulk did so much more damage catching the ball, Bo only played partial seasons and Peterson's best season was short by a measly .8 yards AND his career is not over with yet.

Emmitt Smith's YPG for his career is 81.2. Of the RBs on my countdown, that only beats Faulk, Bo and Tomlinson. You know the drill with Faulk and Bo. Tomlinson only finished a paltry .7 YPG behind for his career.

Emmitt Smith's best YPA for a single season was 5.3. Of the RBs on my countdown, that only beats Earl Campbell.

These are all the best measures for determining greatness for RBs. If you were following, Emmitt Smith did not beat Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson or O.J. Simpson in any of those categories. That is half of the list right there.

He only beat Tomlinson in a single category by a miniscule amount. It goes without saying that is not enough to rank him ahead of Tomlinson.

He only beat Campbell in two of those categories. That clearly is not enough to vault him ahead of Campbell, either.

That leaves three RBs to take a look at: Faulk, Bo and Peterson.


As previously explained, Faulk destroyed Emmitt Smith as a dual threat catching the ball out of the backfield.

Also previously explained, Bo only played partial seasons. Furthermore he split carries in those partial seasons with future HOF RB Marcus Allen. Bo was not going to put up better per-season stats since he only played part of the season. He was not going to put up better per-game numbers because he split carries with Allen.

However, his career YPA and best single-season YPA blows Emmitt Smith out of the water. He also kills him in the long runs category.

Peterson does not have the cumulative season records yet, but he should have that with time. As of now, he destroys Emmitt Smith by comparison when you look at career YPG, career YPA, peak season YPA and he holds the single-game rushing record as well.

The most damning stat against Emmitt Smith is his career YPA of 4.2. That is worse than every RB on my countdown. Unfortunately for him, that is the best category to determine greatness for a RB.

To make matters even worse, Emmitt Smith played with arguably the best offensive line in the history of the NFL, including a HOF QB (Troy Aikman) and a HOF WR (Michael Irvin). Teams could not focus in on stopping Emmitt Smith because Aikman-to-Irving would torch them.

Even if they tried, that all-time best O-Line would make it next to impossible to accomplish. Smith also played with numerous top defenses that continued to return the ball to the offense to rack up stats.

Simply put, his numbers were inflated by the situation he was in.


The No. 1 argument you always hear from Emmitt Smith supporters for inclusion on Top 10 RB lists is that he has more rushing yards than any other player in NFL history.

My response to that is two words long: so what. Having the career rushing yards record just means you were healthy and productive for a very long time. It has nothing to do with all-time greatness.

A perfect analogy works with baseball: Pete Rose has more hits than any player in MLB history. However, you will never hear anyone say that he is the best hitter in MLB history or even one of the ten best hitters in MLB history. Rose racked up all those hits by remaining healthy and productive for a long time.

The same is true with Emmitt Smith and the career rushing yards record.

Please know this: Emmitt Smith totally deserved to make the Hall of Fame. He would make an NFL Top 25 RB of All-Time list if I made it. He just was not good enough to crack this list.

Where can I comment?

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