The 25 Most Elusive Running Backs of All-Time
Elusive (adj.): tending to elude; tending to avoid grasp or pursuit.
The definition of elusive may lead you to think about certain NFL running backs such as Barry Sanders or Marshall Faulk.
There are usually only three ways to evade a defender, and that is by blocking by them with pure speed, barreling through them with your shoulder, or juking them out and leaving the defender wondering what happened.
Here's an homage to the backs who made a living doing the latter.
(Sources: Sports Illustrated, NFL Network, Wikipedia,ESPN)
25. Reggie Bush
This may cause an outcry, and that's why I put him last.
While the debate over whether or not he is a bust still rages on, there is one thing that isn't debatable: the guy can flat out dance.
We saw what he could do on the field at USC when he would run backwards, forwards, from one sideline to the other and then speed off toward the end zone.
He still has the ability to make plays that way, but he just hasn't really done it yet.
Could we see the old Reggie at some point? Maybe.
When we do, look out.
24. Maurice Jones-Drew
Nothing may be more aggravating than having some short guy breaking your ankles and running circles around you, and that's just what Maurice Jones-Drew does to defenders.
The 5'7" back has already rushed for 46 touchdowns on 4.9 yards per carry in four seasons.
Jones-Drew used his elusiveness to score two touchdowns against Tennessee from at least 75 yards out, which tied Barry Sander's record.
23. Chris Johnson
Another (possibly) controversial pick here.
There are two main reasons why he's toward the back of the line:
1. He's only played two seasons.
2. The guy is so freakishly fast that perhaps that's the reason why he evades people. No jukes, no cuts, no stutter steps. Just pure speed to beat defenders.
After getting those two factors out there, the guy still finds ways to create big runs and keep out of a defender's grasp, which makes him one of the up-and-coming elusive backs in the league.
22. Shaun Alexander
Alexander had the ability to elude defenders via smooth moves or a shoulder charge, which is what allowed him to average over four yards per carry in his first six seasons in the NFL.
Other notable achievements in Alexander's career included the MVP award in 2005 and setting the then-record of 28 touchdowns in a single season.
21. Adrian Peterson
Just like Chris Johnson, AP is still fairly new in the league.
However, unlike Johnson, he relies more heavily on moves and agility than just flat-out speed to get around defenders.
Peterson proved early on that he would be a force to be reckoned with after averaging 5.6 yards per carry in his rookie season and being named the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Perhaps Peterson's ability to keep out of defenders' arms is thanks to his relentless energy during his runs, which is why he has the nickname "A.D." (All Day).
20. Willis McGahee
Through his seven years in the NFL and during his time at the U, McGahee has earned the reputation of being a shifty, speedy back that can hit the hole fast and then get around defenders.
His path to being one of the most elusive backs in the NFL began back in his college days, when he averaged 6.2 yards per carry for the Hurricanes.
After four seasons in Baltimore, McGahee is now part of a two-back system, alongside another elusive back in Ray Rice.
19. Tiki Barber
Barber, who was once only considered for third-down duties, proved to be be one of the more elite backs during his career.
During his years in New York, Barber tallied 38 100-yard games and five 200-yard games, and in 2005, he became one of only three players to have three 200-yard rushing games in a single season.
18. Warrick Dunn
Dunn's running ability made an immediate impact in the league when he won the Rookie of the Year award in 1997. He went to the Pro Bowl twice during his first outing with the Bucs before signing with Atlanta.
Dunn went to Hawaii again in 2005 after leading the Falcons in rushing yards. After two more years in Atlanta, Dunn went back to Tampa and continued to evade defenders and rack up yards before eventually being released after the acquisition of Michael Turner.
17. Priest Holmes
Holmes may have been successful for a few seasons, but he is still remembered as one of the more elusive and productive backs during the early part of the new millennium.
From 2001 to 2003, Holmes was selected to the Pro Bowl all three years, named All-Pro three times and won the Offensive Player of The Year Award in 2002.
However, after the 2004 season, a string of injuries caused him to be sidelined until 2007, which was when he finally called it quits.
16. Curtis Martin
Zach Thomas was quoted in the December 2000 issue of Sports Illustrated saying, "He's the best cutback runner in the game. He'll get you flowing one way and then put that wicked cut on you, and he's already flowing downhill."
Movements like that are what made Curtis Martin the elusive runner that he was.
Another player quoted in the same article said "I'd rather face Eddie George than Curtis, because Curtis is so elusive. Yet he's also tough enough to take your best hit and keep going, and he reads his blockers better than anyone."
15. Clinton Portis
While the 2009 season may have been a disappointment, Clinton Portis' status in the upper echelon of elusive backs goes back to the earlier years of his career.
In his first two NFL seasons in Denver, Portis rushed for over 1,500 yards each year and averaged over 5.5 yards per carry over that span (an NFL record).
Denver's zone blocking scheme was perfectly suited for Portis, since the scheme requires the running back to make cuts and find the right hole.
When Portis was traded to Washington, he struggled at first in a system that favored power running. That changed in the 2005 season when coach Joe Gibbs implemented more run plays to the outside that let Portis unleash his speed and cutting ability.
14. Terrell Davis
"T.D." had an incredibly impressive career, especially given that he only played for seven years.
In those seven years, Davis used his cutback moves to slash his way to three Pro Bowl selections, three All-Pro team selections, two Super Bowl victories, the 1998 MVP award, two Offensive Player of The Year Awards and became only the third (as of 1998) player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
13. Brian Westbrook
Whether he is running down field after catching a pass or taking a hand off, Brian Westbrook was one runner that could leave defenders grasping for air as he left them in the dust.
Westbrook has averaged 4.6 yards per carry throughout his career in Philadelphia and has made two trips to the Pro Bowl.
He was also named All-Pro in 2007 after having a career-high 1,333 rushing yards and 2,104 total yards from scrimmage.
12. LaDainian Tomlinson
With L.T. now in New York and his role with the team up in the air, his elusiveness and domination on the field can all be epitomized by the 2006 season.
L.T. cut, juked and danced his way to 1,815 yards rushing with an average of 5.2 yards per carry. He earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, won the MVP and scored 28 touchdowns.
11. Tony Dorsett
Tony Dorsett proved that big things can definitely come in small packages.
Dorsett (5'10", 188 lbs) made up for his lack of size with an abundance of speed and agility that allowed him to cut and change directions without losing any forward force and find even the smallest of holes.
10. Willie Galimore
Willie Galimore, who played for the Bears from 1957-1963, had both the speed and agility required to find daylight and head for pay-dirt.
Joe Walton, a former Redskins tight end, said Galimore "could cut on a dime and then accelerate," and a football historian said he had a sixth sense that could sense defenders both behind and in front of him.
Galimore also once said that anybody could run where the blockers are, but it takes a great runner to find their own holes.
If that doesn't spell out elusiveness, I don't know what does.
9. Dickie Post
In his short-but-sweet career in the NFL, Dickie Post won the Rookie of The Year award and was recognized as one of the most exciting players in football.
One of the ways that got Post recognized as such an elusive back was his ability to run into traffic, switch gears and then burst away freely.
However, the rough and tough NFL of the late 60s took its toll on Post, who only played five seasons in the league.
8. Walter Payton
Payton may not have been a bruiser, or as shifty as Sanders or Sayers, but he earned the most yards in NFL history by doing one thing: not getting tackled.
7. Red Grange
This one goes back a little farther into the league's history.
Red Grange, the "Galloping Ghost," drew national attention to football after his sensational career at the University of Illinois.
During his pro career, Grange used his shiftiness to evade opposing players and that was something that the power-running focused league hadn't seen before.
Some say that Grange was to football as Babe Ruth was to baseball.
6. Bobby Mitchell
Mitchell's open-field running and agility was what made him the complement to Jim Taylor, and the combo worked out nicely for both backs.
Part of Mitchell's ability to elude defenders was thanks to his hurdling ability, which he perfected as a college track athlete.
When Mitchell was traded to Washington, his running ability suited him well at flanker, which is where he was designated to play for the Redskins.
5. Joe Washington
Another undersized back, Washington used his quickness to change directions and make cuts that defenders couldn't keep up with.
Washington used every last ounce of his agility in 1978 on Monday Night Football when he shook a defender to throw a 54-yard option pass for a touchdown, juked out a defensive back to catch a 23-yard pass for a touchdown and then took a kickoff return 90 yards past defenders for a touchdown.
4. Hugh McElhenny
With nicknames such as "The King" and "Hurryin' Hugh," Hugh McElhenny made a name for himself from 1952-1964 by running backwards and sideways before going in the right direction.
Doing so would confuse the defense, create holes and give him more room to work with on his way to the end zone.
3. Marshall Faulk
Even though his talents were split between running and receiving, Marshall Faulk undoubtedly had the ability to ward off defenders and not get brought down on his way down the field.
Faulk set what was the NFL record for total yards from scrimmage with 2,429 yards and ran for 1,381 yards (5.5 per carry) in 1999.
That season also resulted in Faulk being only the second person to record 1,000 yards receiving and rushing in a season.
Faulk won the MVP in 2000 after rushing for nearly 1,400 yards in 14 games and 26 total touchdowns.
2. Gale Sayers
Gale Sayers had an immediate impact on the Chicago Bears after averaging 5.2 yards per carry, setting the NFL record for touchdowns by a rookie (22) and being named the Rookie of The Year.
Like Faulk, Sayers was another dual-threat back who could run routes out of the backfield.
During his brief, but remarkable, career in the league, Sayers was selected to the Pro Bowl four times and was named All-Pro five times.
1. Barry Sanders
It isn't too surprising to find Barry listed at number one if you look at his key attributes: speed, agility and a low center gravity that will keep him upright.
These qualities resulted in Sanders leading the NFL in rushing four times, rushing for over 1,500 yards five times (NFL record), rushing for 150 or more yards 25 times (another NFL record) and 15 career touchdown runs of 50 yards or more.
Another record Sanders owns is the record for most carries for negative yardage.
Anytime a back can hold the record for negative yardage AND nearly breaking the record for most yards (at the time), you know he must be doing something right.