Top Ten All Time NFL Running Backs

John C. Sease, Jr.Correspondent INovember 29, 2008

Thanksgiving has many traditions that families have come to enjoy.

Sitting around a dinner table and stuffing our faces is the main attraction.  However, another tradition that has become a normal part of the holiday is watching football.

Every year, my family gathers for the food festival and also to watch the annual Thanksgiving Day football games.  During the football telecasts, there will inevitably be something that sparks a conversation involving an “all-time greatest list” of athletes from various sports.  This year was no exception!

While watching the ineptness of the Detroit Lions offense, the conversation segued to Barry Sanders; which inevitably segued to the top 10 all-time running backs in the NFL.  Needless to say, the conversation was heated and quite subjective.

In order to make my list, a candidate only needed to have played in the NFL for a minimum of 5 years.  I chose 5 years simply because the lifespan of an NFL running back is extremely low due to potential injury.

My list is as follows:

10.  Marshall Faulk

Faulk will be remembered as one of the greatest combination backs in the history of the NFL due to his running and pass catching ability.

9.  Tony Dorsett

Dorsett was one of the greatest “small backs” ever to the play the game.  His speed and vision made him a constant threat whenever he touched the ball.

8.  Emmitt Smith

Everyone knows that Smith is the all time leading rusher in the NFL.  Although his stats are gaudy, he was the benefactor of one of the biggest and best offense lines in the history of the game.  If you add to the mix a hall of fame quarterback (Aikman) and a hall of fame wide receiver (Irvin) to take pressure away from Smith, then all of a sudden his stats become less impressive.

7.  Eric Dickerson

Speed and power…enough said!  Had he played his entire career with the Rams and their massive offensive line, then “HE” would be the all time leading rusher in the NFL.

6.  Barry Sanders

Barry Sanders was capable of making any defender look stupid while attempting to make a tackle in the open field.  If you missed Sanders perform, then you indeed missed a marvel.

5.  Earl Campbell

It is a shame that injuries forced Earl Campbell from the game entirely too early.  He was a 250lb wrecking ball with blazing speed.  Earl would run through an opponent as easily as he would run by an opponent.

4.  O.J. Simpson

Forget about the O.J. you are familiar with as it relates to recent headlines and the Nicole Simpson case.  The O.J. of whom I am speaking was a masterful runner that could squeeze between the tiniest seam and outrun every defender to the end zone with relative ease.  O.J Simpson was merely a “cheetah” in football cleats!

3.  Gayle Sayers

Much like Earl Campbell, it is a shame that injuries forced Gayle Sayers from the game entirely too early.  Sayers was truly the first gazelle to ever play in the NFL.  His speed was magnificent, his stride was “Gazelle-like,” and once he saw daylight it was an automatic touchdown for the Bears.

2.  Walter Payton

Sweetness played so many years on terrible teams in Chicago and still managed to have a superb career.  His speed was average, however, his power, determination, work ethic, and desire were unmatched by any running back both past or present!

1.   Jim Brown

What could you possibly say negative about a running back with power, speed, tenacity, intelligence, and physical superiority greater than anyone that played against him during his tenure in the NFL?  Not much!  To top it off, he prematurely quit the game on his terms and still walked away as the all-time leading rusher during that time.


On a final note, to those of you who believe that LaDainian Tomlinson should be on the list; get over it!

He hasn't earned the right to be considered with the greats as of yet.

Currently, I would place him in the same category as Jerome Bettis, Curtis Martin, and the other backs that would rate similarly.