The sport of football is a beautiful thing. The quarterback airing out the ball to a striding receiver down field—no, wait a minute, football is at its best when the running back is smashing into linebackers and working his way to the end zone.
Football is at its best when the running back is smashing into burley linebackers, when he's dancing and juking his way to pay dirt—that's when.
A running back in football is like an artist. The running back receives the ball, and it's almost freelancing from there. He has to hit the correct hole, and it's up to him how he gets there—whether he uses graceful spins, electric jukes, or just bulldozes his way over defenders.
The NFL has a rich history, and that history is filled with graceful, violent and tremendous running backs.
It's so hard to determine who are the best running backs in NFL history, but I am going to attempt that.
Here are the 50 greatest running backs in NFL history.
James Brooks played in the NFL for 13 seasons and earned four Pro Bowl selections over his career.
Brooks played for the Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While playing for those teams, Brooks accumulated 7,962 yards, which is good enough for 43rd most all time and averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per carry.
Charlie Garner was one of the few great all-purpose running backs in NFL history.
Over his 11-year career, Garner ran for 7,097 yards on the ground and gained 3,711 yards through the air.
Not too many running backs were dual-threat players, but Garner was as he earned himself one Pro Bowl selection in 2000.
Adrian Peterson may not have the career numbers to back him up as the 48th best running back of all time, but he holds some amazing records.
Peterson holds the rookie record for most 200-yard games in a season, and he holds the record for most rushing yards in a game (296).
Peterson is well on his way in having a Hall of Fame worthy career.
Garrison Hearst played for the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos over his 10-year career.
During those 10 years, Hearst managed to record 7,966 rushing yards, which is good enough for 42nd overall in the NFL record books.
Hearst was also honored as the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award twice in his career.
Like Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson is well on his way to having a Hall of Fame worthy career.
Johnson is arguably the fastest running back in NFL history as he posted a 4.24 40-yard dash time at the 2008 NFL combine.
Over his short career, Johnson holds the record of most yards from scrimmage in a season with 2,509.
Freeman McNeil played an impressive and outstanding 12-year career in the NFL as New York Jet.
Over his 12-year career, McNeil was good enough to become the NFL's 40th leading rusher with 8,074 yards.
While playing for the Jets, McNeil earned three Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro honors.
Over Stephen Davis' 11-year career, he ran for a stellar total of 8,052 yards.
Davis played for the Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers and finished his career as a St. Louis Ram.
One impressive note about Davis is that he averaged 100-plus yards in a game in two out of his 11 seasons.
Gerald Riggs is No. 37 on the all-time rushing list with 8,188 yards.
Over his 10-year career, Riggs played for only two teams: Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Redskins. Riggs was most effective in 1985 as a member of the Falcons as he rushed for an incredible 1,719 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry—Riggs was a workhorse.
Entering the 2011 season, Steven Jackson is just 52 yards short of 8,000 career rushing yards.
Jackson, who's still active, is one of the NFL's top running backs and will continue to climb the all-time rushing chart in the next few seasons.
As it stands right now, the two-time All-Pro is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and has scored an impressive total of 47 touchdowns.
Roger Craig, former running back of the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Raiders and Minnesota Vikings won three Super Bowls with the 49ers.
Over his 11-year career, Craig accumulated 8,189 yards and caught an incredible total of 566 passes.
Herschel Walker, who is 35th on the all-time rushing list with 8,225 yards, played for an amazing 13 seasons as an NFL running back.
During his 13-year career, Walker was named to two Pro Bowls and averaged 4.2 yards per carry.
Ahman Green, who is a member of the Montreal Alouettes in Canada, is one of the NFL's top running backs.
Over his 12-year career, he ran for 9,205 yards for the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and the Houston Texans.
His best rushing season was 2003 where he ran for 1,883 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry.
Earnest Byner ran for 8,261 yards over his long, yet impressive, 14-year career.
Byrner played for three teams: Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens.
1990 was Byner's best season as he ran for 1,219 yards and scored six touchdowns. Byner was definitely a workhorse that season.
Ricky Williams, who is still active in the NFL, is quickly rising on the NFL's all-time rushing list. As of right now, he sits at 9,565 yards which is good enough for 28th overall.
Williams has played 10 seasons in the NFL, and 2002, his first year as a Miami Dolphin was his best one. In '02, Williams accumulated 1,853 yards and scored 16 touchdowns while averaging an incredible 115.8 yards per game.
Denver Bronco's Terrell Davis had a very short NFL career, but it was really impressive.
Davis manged to pull himself to 46th on the all-time rushing list in just seven seasons in the NFL.
Davis is one of the few running backs to run for 2,000 yards in a season as he tallied up 2,008 yards in 1998.
When you think of old-school football, running back Jim Taylor should appear in your mind.
Taylor had a remarkable 10-year career and is No. 33 on the all-time rushing list with 8,597 yards.
Running back Priest Holmes, who retired in 2007, will likely someday be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
Over his 10-year career, Holmes ran for 8,172 yards and scored a whooping 86 touchdowns. In 2002, Holmes scored 21 touchdowns and then followed it up with 27 touchdowns in 2003.
Lenny Moore only ran for 5,174 yards over his 12-year career, but he will go down as one of the best receiving running backs in the history of the sport.
Moore caught 363 balls in his career and tallied up 6,039 receiving yards—that's more than he has rushing.
Joe Perry, one of the old-time football players played an improbable 16 seasons in the NFL.
During this 16 seasons, Perry ran for 9,723 yards and ran for 1,000 yards only twice in his career. However, Perry was efficient as he ran for an average of five yards per carry.
Hall of Fame running back Larry Csonka is one of the sport's most aggressive and hard-nosed players of all-time.
Over his 11-year career, Csonka ran for 8,081 yards, which is good enough for 39th on the all-time rushing list. Csonka also scored an impressive 64 touchdowns.
Clinton Portis, who is still active with the Washington Redskins currently sits at 26th on the NFL all-time rushing list with 9,923 yards.
Portis will likely run for at least 10,000 by the end of his career and will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame one day.
Surprisingly, Terry Allen was only named to the Pro Bowl once in his 10-year career.
Over those 10 years, Allen accumulated 8,614 yards and scored 73 touchdowns. On top of that, Allen caught 204 balls which was good enough for 1,601 yards.
The No. 28 best running back of all time currently sits at 29th overall on the NFL's all-time rushing list at 9,453 yards over his nine-year career—impressive for such a short-lived career.
Shaun Alexander who recently retired in 2008 played most of his years as a Seattle Seahawk. While in Seattle, Alexander was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 2005 when he rushed for 1,880 yards while scoring 27 touchdowns and leading his team to the Super Bowl.
Thomas Jones is probably one of the most underrated running backs in NFL history.
For those who may not know, Jones currently sits at 25th overall on the NFL's all-time rushing list at 10,113 yards. And, what's even more impressive, Jones is a very good receiving back out of the backfield—he's racked up 1,980 yards through the air.
Jones is still active, and he will continue to climb the NFL's all-time rushing list.
The two-time Pro Bowler, Ottis Anderson, spent eight years in St. Louis and seven years as a New York Giant.
Anderson has accumulated 10,273 yards over his long 15-year career. His best season came in 1979, his rookie year, where he ran for 1,605 yards.
Tiki Barber was a member of the New York Giants for 10 years where he ran for a total of 10,449 yards, which is 22nd best all time.
Barber was only a three-time Pro Bowl but was one of the best running backs in the 2000s.
Running back Eddie George was one of the key members who helped the transition from the Houston Oilers moving to Tennessee and becoming the Titans.
George played nine seasons in the NFL, eight with Oilers/Titans and one with the Dallas Cowboys. George retired with 10,441 career rushing yards as he was a part of the one-two-punch of Steve McNair and George.
Warrick Dunn is arguably the Tampa Bay Buccaneers best running back in their existence.
Dunn spent six seasons with the Bucs and six seasons with division rival the Atlanta Falcons. Dunn retired with 10,967 yards on the ground, which ranks as 19th best on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
To New England Patriots fans, Corey Dillon is the franchise's best running back.
Dillon was a key member in the team's 2004 Super Bowl title as he ran for a franchise best 1,635 yards. Dillon retired in 2006 with 11,241 which is makes him the 17th player with the most rushing yards in NFL history.
Fred Taylor has only been named to one Pro Bowl as he's ran for 1,000 yards seven times in his NFL career.
Taylor will go down as the Jacksonville Jaguars' best running back in franchise history. As of right now, Taylor sits at 15th best on the NFL all-time rushing list with 11,695 yards.
John Riggins had a lengthy career, playing nine seasons with the Washington Redskins and five with the New York Jets.
Riggins currently sits at 16th best on the NFL's all-time rushing list with 11,352 yards. During his 14 years in the league, Riggins scored an impressive 104 touchdowns on the ground.
The five-time Pro Bowler Ricky Watters accumulated 10,643 yards during his 10-year career.
Watters spent time with the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles. His best season came in 1996 when he rushed for 1,411 yards as an Eagle while scoring 13 touchdowns on the ground.
While only playing nine seasons in the NFL, Jamal Lewis sits at 21st all time in NFL history with 10,607 total yards on the ground.
Lewis' best season came as a Baltimore Raven in 2003 when he ran for an incredible 2,066 yards.
Edgerrin James was one of the most dominant running backs in the 2000s.
James played 11 years in the NFL, seven of them with the Indianapolis Colts. His best season was in 2000 when he ran for 1,709 yards and scored 13 touchdowns on the ground. James was one of the key members in the development of quarterback Peyton Manning.
While playing only in nine seasons in the league, Earl Campbell ran for 1,000 yards five times in his career.
Campbell retired with a total of 9,407 yards, but he scored an amazing 74 touchdowns and averaged 4.3 yards per carry.
Jerome Bettis—better known as the Bus.
The Bus accumulated 13,662 violent yards on the ground as he was a member of one Super Bowl title with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bettis went against all odds, with his such large frame and slow running ability—he simply ran over who ever was in front of him.
Marshall Faulk ran for 12,279 yards over his career and caught 767 balls for an incredible total of 6,875 yards.
Faulk spent seven years as a St. Louis Ram and five seasons as a Indianapolis Colt. His best season came in 2001 when he ran for 1,382 yards, however the Rams lost the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots that season.
Sixteen seasons in the NFL at the most dangerous position is quite an accomplishment.
Marcus Allen recorded 12,243 yards on the ground through his very length career in football. Allen spent 11 seasons with the Oakland Raiders and five with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Allen's best season came in 1985 when he racked up 1,759 yards on the ground and scored 11 touchdowns.
Franco Harris is the sport's best fullback of all time.
Harris was one of the most violent runners to ever play the game as he ran for 12,120 yards and scored an impressive 91 touchdowns.
While playing 12 seasons as a Pittsburgh Steeler, Harris won the Super Bowl four times.
Thurman Thomas currently sits at 14th best with 12,074 yards on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
During his career, Thomas played 12 seasons as a Buffalo Bill and one as a Miami Dolphin.
Thomas' best season came in 1992 as he ran for 1,487 yards and scored nine touchdowns.
O.J. Simpson was one of the most exciting running backs to watch in the history of football.
Simpson was a six-time Pro Bowler as a Buffalo Bill and ran for a career 11,236 yards on the ground. His best season came in when he ran for 2,003 yards—one of a few backs to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark.
Tony Dorsett, who is a Super Bowl Champion with the Dallas Cowboys ran for a total of 12,739 yards in his 12-year career.
Dorsett was a very explosive back as he averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 1977 as he ran for 12 touchdowns that season.
LaDainian Tomlinson, or the new generation L.T., was this decade's best running back.
As a current member of the New York Jets and former member of the San Diego Chargers, Tomlinson has accumulated 13,404 yards on the ground—which is fifth best in NFL history. Tomlinson will continue to climb as he's still a productive running back.
The 1977 Hall of Fame inductee ran for 4,956 yards during his very short-lived seven-year career.
Gale Sayers, who retired at the age of 28, averaged a whooping 5.0 yards-per carry—just imagine if he kept on playing.
Curtis Martin, who hung up the cleats in 2005, currently sits as fourth best on the NFL's all-time rushing list with 14,101 yards.
Martin spent time with the New England Patriots and New York Jets during his 11-year career. Martin's best season came in 2004 when he ran for 1,697 yards while averaging a stellar 4.6 yards per carry.
Eric Dickerson, who was a six-time Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame inductee in the class of 1999 ran for a career 13,259 yards.
Dickerson became one of the few NFL running backs to gain 2,000-plus yards in a season when he racked up 2,105 in 1984. In '84, Dickerson averaged 131.6 yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry.
Emmitt Smith, some may feel that he should be No. 1 of this list.
Smith is the NFL's all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards, however, he did that in 15 years in the NFL–nevertheless, that is still one of the NFL's greatest accomplishments.
Smith was a member of the 2010 Hall of Fame inductee class.
When you think of one of the first great running backs in the history of football–Jim Brown better come to mind.
Brown is the ninth leading rusher on the NFL's all-time list with 12,312 yards.
During his nine-year career, Brown set multiple records in such an early stage of the sport. Brown ran for a career best 1,863 yards in 1963 when he scored 12 touchdowns on the ground and averaged a tremendous 6.4 yards per carry—that is unheard of.
Walter Payton made running the football look like dancing–"They call me sweetness, and I like to dance, runnin' the ball is like makin' romance."
Payton currently sits as the NFL's second most all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards.
During his very long 13-year career, Payton won one Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears in 1985 when he ran for 1,551 yards and scored nine touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
And, the best running back of all time is...Barry Sanders.
Sanders entered the league in 1989 as a stocky running back out of Oklahoma State. His rookie season, Sanders flashed onto the stage while running for 1,470 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns for the Detroit Lions.
From Sanders' rookie season, he developed into the NFL's best running back.
While playing for the Lions, Sanders was practically their only offensive weapon and their best player.
Sanders ran for 1,500-plus yards five times in his 10-year career—and he always made the 1,000-yard mark in 10 of those seasons.
Sanders ran behind, what most believe to be, a very poor offensive line. Some plays, Sanders would lose five yards, but then he'd get back up and gain 20 yards just like that.
Many critics believe that Sanders was too flashy, and that he always tried to break the "big one." But, the way I look at it is if you're the best player on your team, shouldn't you always look at is that you're going to have to carry that team? Also, in my years around football, last time I checked, you were supposed to try to score a touchdown on every play—and that's what Sanders did.
As he retired in 1998, he scored an improbable 99 touchdowns and averaged an even more impressive 5.0 yards per carry.
Sanders currently sits as the NFL's third leading rusher with 15,269 yards. But, he is the sport's best running back of all time.