The 10 Greatest Running Backs of All Time

Jeremy KaufmanSenior Analyst IMarch 19, 2008

Here are, in my educated opinion, the 10 greatest running backs in the history of football. Let me know what you think...

1. Jim Brown

Rushing Yards: 12,312

Rushing AVG: 5.2

Rushing TD: 106

Receiving Yards: 2,499

Receiving TD: 20

Passing TD: 3

With all-around numbers that were unheard of for his time, as well as an unbelievable rushing average of 5.2 yards to carry, all within a greatly shortened career, Jim Brown is undoubtedly the greatest running back of all time.

2. Walter Payton

Rushing Yards: 16,726

Rushing AVG: 4.4

Rushing TD: 110

Receiving Yards: 4,538

Receiving TD: 15

Walter Payton was one of the better all-around backs to ever play the game. With great success rushing the ball as well as catching it, Payton easily deserves the No. 2 spot on my list.

3. Barry Sanders

Rushing Yards: 15,269

Rushing AVG: 5.0

Rushing TD: 99

Receiving Yards: 2,921

Receiving TD: 10

Arguably the most athletically talented back of all time, watching Barry Sanders run was a thing of beauty. Even in spite of playing for a horrific team through the majority of his career, Sanders still managed to assemble some very impressive numbers.

Some may speculate that, on a better team, Sanders could have become the greatest football player of all time.

4. Emmitt Smith

Rushing Yards: 18,355

Rushing AVG: 4.2

Rushing TD: 164

Receiving Yards: 3,224

Receiving TD:11

Emmitt Smith is a symbol of durability and consistency at a position that has lacked just that over the years. Even with a relatively small frame at 5'9" and 216 pounds, Smith pounded his way to a record-breaking number of yards. He may not have been the flashiest player ever, but he was a workhorse unlike any the game has ever seen.

5. LaDainian Tomlinson

Rushing Yards: 10,650

Rushing AVG: 4.5

Rushing TD: 115

Receiving Yards: 3,375

Receiving TD: 14

Passing TD: 7

Arguably my most controversial pick on my list, I have selected Tomlinson even though he is still in the prime of his career.

Even with years left in the tank, Tomlinson has already surpassed the majority of backs in the history of the game in both rushing and receiving statistics, and has even shown the unusual ability to throw touchdown passes at a prolific rate.

Barring injury or any bad fortune in the near future, Tomlinson may go down as the best running back in the history of football.

6. Marshall Faulk

Rushing Yards: 12,279

Rushing AVG: 4.3

Rushing TD: 100

Receiving Yards: 6,875

Receiving TD: 36

Faulk was arguably the most versatile back of all time. With great speed, power, and receiving ability comparable to an all-pro wide out, Faulk was a danger every time he touched the ball. For this reason, he deserves a place on the list.

7. O.J. Simpson

Rushing Yards: 11,236

Rushing AVG: 4.7

Rushing TD: 61

Receiving Yards: 2,142

Receiving TD: 14

Maybe the most despicable athlete of all time, I still till this day can’t help but see a cold-blooded murderer when I see O.J. Simpson. However, the fact remains that he was an extraordinary talent, and unfortunately, I had to ignore my biases and put him on this list.

8. Jerome Bettis

Rushing Yards: 13,662

Rushing AVG: 3.9

Rushing TD: 91

Receiving Yards: 1,449

Receiving TD: 3

Jerome Bettis is arguably the greatest pure power back of all time. With his 255-pound frame, Bettis pounded his way to a plethora of yardage and touchdowns, thereby earning him a spot on my list.

9. Marcus Allen

Rushing Yards: 12,243

Rushing AVG: 4.1

Rushing TD: 123

Receiving Yards: 5,411

Receiving TD: 21

A very well-rounded back, Marcus Allen played the game at a high level for a very long time. With that said, I believe that he clearly deserves the No. 9 spot on my list.

10. Eric Dickerson

Rushing Yards: 13,259

Rushing AVG: 4.4

Rushing TD: 90

Receiving Yards: 2,137

Receiving TD: 6

Another very, very good running back. While there were many backs in contention for my final spot, I felt that his versatility and long term production made him the most viable candidate for the No. 10 spot on my list.


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