The Best RB in Each NFL Team's History

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IJune 29, 2013

The Best RB in Each NFL Team's History

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    A few months ago, we looked at the best quarterback in each NFL team's history. Today, we will examine the best running back each franchise ever had.

    The player with the most yards on any given team is not automatically the best runner in that franchise's history. Dominance, longevity and contributions to a team's success are all important factors in determining the best running back.

    Also keep in mind that we are not looking at a player's entire career in making these judgments, just what he did in the uniform of the team in question. So while Emmitt Smith, over the course of his career, was better than any other running back in the Arizona Cardinals' history, he didn't accomplish much with the Cards, so he is not a candidate for the best running back in that franchise's history.

    Feel free to comment on any of these picks, but if you feel differently, please indicate why you believe your candidate is a better choice.

Buffalo Bills: Thurman Thomas

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    It was a tough, two-horse race for the all-time best running back in the history of the Buffalo Bills, but Thurman Thomas edged out O.J. Simpson to capture the honor.

    Thomas had more yards rushing, although Simpson had a better average. In the end, there were two factors that gave Thomas the edge: He was a much better receiver than Simpson, and his teams had a lot more success than O.J.'s did.

    Thomas helped the Bills reach four straight Super Bowls. Simpson's teams played in one playoff game (1974 vs. Pittsburgh), and they lost it.

    Thomas played for the Bills from 1988 until 1999 and gained 11,938 yards rushing for the Bills, more than any player in the club's history. He also caught 456 passes in a Buffalo uniform for more than 4,300 yards.

    The former Oklahoma State star had eight consecutive seasons with more than 1,000 yards rushing for the Bills and was selected to five straight Pro Bowls. Thomas led the AFC in rushing three times. He is the only player in NFL history to lead the league in total yards from scrimmage four consecutive seasons.

    Thomas was also a big part of the Bills' playoff success in the early 1990s. He scored 21 touchdowns in the postseason including scoring at least one in nine straight playoff games.

    Thomas had an outstanding game in Super XXV against the New York Giants. He gained 135 yards on the ground, added 55 yards receiving on five catches and scored a touchdown.

    Had his team won the game, Thomas would have been the leading candidate to win the MVP, but the Bills fell 20-19 when they missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt on the game's final play.

    Thomas retired after the 2000 season. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

    Other candidates to win the title as the Bills' best running back include O.J. Simpson and Joe Cribbs.

Miami Dolphins: Larry Csonka

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    Big Larry Csonka remains the best running back in the history of the Miami Dolphins. He gained 6,737 yards in a Dolphins uniform, more than any other player in the history of the club.

    Csonka was a tough runner who rarely fumbled and was almost impossible to bring down one-on-one.

    A first-round draft choice out of Syracuse in 1968, Csonka played for the Dolphins from 1968-1974 and again in 1979.

    He had three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 1971-1973. The Dolphins reached the Super Bowl all three of those years and won two of them.

    In 1972, Csonka led Miami with a career-best 1,117 yards. The team finished the season with a perfect 14-0 regular-season record and went on to win the Super Bowl over the Washington Redskins, 14-7. That year, Csonka and Mercury Morris became the first duo on the same team to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

    Csonka was the MVP of Super Bowl VIII when he gained 145 yards against the Minnesota Vikings, a new Super Bowl record.

    After a brief stint with the Memphis Southmen of the WFL and a less-than-stellar few years with the New York Giants, Csonka returned to Miami in 1979 and was named the league's Comeback Player of the Year after gaining 837 yards and scoring 12 rushing touchdowns.

    Csonka retired after that season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

    Other finalists for the Dolphins' best running back include Ricky Williams, Mercury Morris and Tony Nathan.

New England Patriots: Sam Cunningham

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    Sam "Bam" Cunningham is the New England Patriots all-time leading rusher.

    The Patriots drafted Cunningham in the first round (11th overall) in the 1973 NFL draft. The bruising back from USC played for the Pats from 1973 until 1982.

    His best season came in 1977 when he rushed for 1,015 yards in 14 games. He also caught a career-high 42 passes that year.

    The following season, he was selected to the Pro Bowl.

    Cunningham was a solid inside runner. He was a big part of the Patriots 1976 team which stunned the football world by going 11-3 before losing a tough and controversial playoff game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders.

    Cunningham was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2010 and was named to the Pats' 50th anniversary team in 2009.

    Other candidates for the Pats' all-time leading rusher include Tony Collins, Jim Nance and Curtis Martin.

New York Jets: Curtis Martin

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    There have not been many runners in NFL history who were more consistent than Curtis Martin. Martin played eight seasons for the New York Jets and gained more than 1,000 yards in seven of them.

    He gained more yards (10,302) and scored more rushing touchdowns (58) than anyone else in Jets' history.

    Martin signed with the Jets as a free agent in 1998. His best season in New York was 2004 when he gained a career-best 1,697 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on the ground. He won the league rushing title that season, edging Seattle's Sean Alexander for the honor.

    The former University of Pittsburgh star was selected to three Pro Bowls while with the Jets and gained 182 yards in a playoff win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1998.

    A knee injury ended his career early and disrupted his personal streak of 10 straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

    He finished his NFL career with 14,101 rushing yards, the fourth-highest total in league history at the time of his retirement.

    Martin was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

    Other candidates for the Jets all-time runner include Freeman McNeil, Emerson Boozer and Matt Snell.

Baltimore Ravens: Jamal Lewis

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    The Baltimore Ravens have only been around since 1996, but the franchise already has several great running backs. The best of the lot remains Jamal Lewis who played for the team between 2000 and 2006 and is the Ravens' all-time leading rusher with 7,801 yards.

    Lewis earned the starting job as a rookie and helped the Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV that season against the Giants. The former University of Tennessee star gained 103 yards and scored a touchdown in the game which the Ravens won, 34-7.

    In 2003, Lewis had one of the greatest seasons by a running back in NFL history. He carried the ball 387 times for 2,066 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. That means he ran for an impressive 5.3 yards per carry.

    On September 14, 2003, Lewis set a new NFL single-game record by rushing for 295 yards in a game against the Cleveland Browns.

    Lewis spent six seasons with Baltimore and ran for more than 1,000 yards in five of them. He had two more 1,000-yard seasons in three seasons with the Browns before retiring after the 2009 season.

    Other contenders for the Ravens best running back include Ray Rice, Priest Holmes and Willis McGahee.

Cincinnati Bengals: Corey Dillon

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    The Cincinnati Bengals have had several impressive runners play for them since they came into existence back in 1968, although few of them have had longevity with the franchise.

    The best Bengals running back of all time is University of Washington star Corey Dillon who was Cincinnati's second-round selection in the 1997 NFL draft.

    Dillon got off to a strong start as a pro. He ran for a league-rookie record 246 yards in a game against Tennessee and finished the season with 1,129 rushing yards.

    Dillon was very consistent during his seven years in Cincinnati, topping 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons.

    On October 22, 2000, Dillon had the best game of his career, rushing for an NFL single-game record with 278 yards in a game against Denver. The previous record was 275 by Walter Payton back in 1977.

    Dillon was selected to the Pro Bowl three straight years with the Bengals after the 1999, 2000 and 2001 seasons.

    His best individual season with Cincinnati was 2000 when he ran for more than 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns.

    Injuries slowed Dillon in 2003, and the following season, he was traded to New England where he spent the remaining three seasons of his career.

    Other contenders for the Bengals' top running back include halfback James Brooks and bruising fullback Pete Johnson.

Cleveland Browns: Jim Brown

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    The Cleveland Browns have had several great running backs in their illustrious history, but none compare to the legendary Jim Brown, the man considered by many to be the greatest football player in NFL history.

    From the time the Browns selected the former Syracuse University star in the first round of the 1956 NFL draft, Brown showed his unique talent and desire. He was fast enough to beat defenders to the edge and powerful enough to run over them when he wanted to.

    Brown played nine NFL seasons and led the league in rushing in eight of them. Five times, he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns.

    Brown was selected to the Pro Bowl in all nine seasons he played in the NFL and was first-team All-Pro in eight of those seasons.

    In 1963, Brown had the best statistical season of his pro career. The Long Island native gained a new NFL record 1,863 yards on 291 attempts, a remarkable 6.4 yards average per carry.

    Brown also led Cleveland to the 1964 NFL Championship and got them back to the title game the following season.

    Brown walked away from professional football after the 1965 season at the age of 29 to pursue an acting career. He retired as the NFL's all-time leading rusher with 12,312 yards. He also had more touchdowns than any player in NFL history with 126 (106 rushing and 20 receiving). Brown's career average was 5.2 yards per carry.

    Other prominent running backs in Browns' history include Leroy Kelly, Mike Pruitt, Greg Pruitt and Marion Motley.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Franco Harris

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    The arrival of Franco Harris coincided exactly with the start of the first era of success in Pittsburgh Steelers' history.

    Harris was Pittsburgh's first-round pick in the 1972 NFL Draft out of Penn State. In his rookie year, he gained more than 1,000 yards and the Steelers reached the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

    The Fort Dix, New Jersey, native went on to rush for more than 1,000 yards eight times during his NFL career and was named to nine Pro Bowls.

    In the 1972 playoffs, Harris made one of the most famous touchdowns in NFL history. With Pittsburgh trailing in the final seconds against the Raiders, Harris grabbed a deflected pass off his shoelaces and raced for the winning score on a play forever remembered as "The Immaculate Reception." It was also the first postseason victory in Steelers' history.

    The Steelers went on to become the NFL's team of the '70s, winning four Super Bowls in a six-year-period during the decade. He was one of the most popular Steelers of all-time and his fans became known as "Franco's Italian Army."

    Harris set a new Super Bowl record by rushing for 158 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl IX against Minnesota.

    He played 12 seasons in Pittsburgh and is their all-time leading rusher with 11,950 yards. Franco finished his career with the Seattle Seahawks and retired as the second leading rusher in NFL history.

    Harris was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

    Other great running backs in Steelers' history include Jerome Bettis, John Henry Johnson and Willie Parker.

Houston Texans: Arian Foster

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    The Houston Texans franchise entered the league in 2002, so it doesn't have a long history. Still, the Texans have had some very good running backs in their brief existence.

    The best rusher in Texans' history is Arian Foster. The former University of Tennessee star has played four seasons with Houston and topped 1,000 yards in three of them.

    In 2010, Foster led the NFL with 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns.  He has also gone over the 1,000-yard mark in each of the last two seasons. He has been invited to play in each of the last three Pro Bowls.

    Foster has also had a lot of success in the playoffs. He became the first player in NFL history to gain more than 100 yards rushing in each of his first career postseason games.

    Other contenders for the Texans' top running back include Domanick Williams and Steve Slaton.

Indianapolis/Baltimore Colts: Edgerrin James

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    The Indianapolis Colts have had a lot of great running backs throughout their history in both Baltimore and Indianapolis, but the best of this elite group is Edgerrin James. The former University of Miami star gained nearly 4,000 yards more than any other Colts player.

    James played seven seasons for Indy from 1999 until 2006. He gained more than 1,000 yards in a season five times with the Colts and scored 10 or more rushing touchdowns four times. Three times, he accumulated more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage.

    In his first two seasons in the league, James led the league in rushing. His best season came in 2000 when James set a Colts' franchise record with 1,709 yards in season.

    James suffered a torn ACL early in his third season, but bounced back to gain more than 1,000 yards in five more seasons in his career. After leaving Indianapolis after the 2005, he finished his career with the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.

    Other great Colts runners include Lenny Moore, Lydell Mitchell, Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Fred Taylor

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    There is little dispute about the best running back in Jacksonville Jaguars' history: Fred Taylor is 4,000 yards ahead of all competitors.

    Taylor burst onto the scene in 1998 after being selected by the Jags in the first round of the draft. He ran for 1,223 yards and scored 14 rushing touchdowns as a rookie, quickly establishing himself as a fan favorite.

    He would go on to have seven seasons of 1,000 yards or more with Jacksonville before he left the club after the 2008 season.

    Taylor's most productive season came in 2003 when he gained a career-high 1,572 yards on the ground and caught 48 passes for another 370 yards receiving.

    All totaled, Taylor gained more than 11,000 yards rushing in a Jaguars' uniform before finishing his career with the New England Patriots.

    Other finalists for the Jaguars all-time best running back include Maurice Jones-Drew and James Stewart.

Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers: Earl Campbell

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    Yes, Eddie George gained more yards in an Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans uniform, but no player was more dominant for this franchise than the great Earl Campbell.

    Campbell won the Heisman Trophy at the University of Texas and then became the best running back in the NFL in his rookie year. "The Tyler Rose" led the league in rushing in each of his first three seasons in the NFL, including a career-high 1,934 yards in 1980. Campbell gained more than 200 yards in a game four times in that unforgettable season.

    Campbell was also the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in each of his first three seasons in the league.

    In his first two seasons in the league, Campbell helped the Oilers reach the AFC Championship Game, although they fell both times to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Campbell was a tough runner to bring down. He had large thighs, and since he weighed more than 230 pounds and had a low center of gravity, he was able to run over many opponents. This often made for embarrassing highlights for defenders who just helplessly bounced off Campbell on so many occasions. 

    Campbell had five seasons with more than 1,000 yards for the Oilers before finishing his career with the New Orleans Saints.

    He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991.

    Other candidates for the Titans/Oilers best running back included Eddie George, Chris Johnson and Lorenzo White.

Denver Broncos: Terrell Davis

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    Even though his career was cut short by injuries, Terrell Davis edged out Hall of Famer Floyd Little to capture the Broncos' best all-time running back.

    Davis had only four dominant seasons in his NFL career, but during that period, he was arguably the best running back in the game. He also led the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles.

    The former Georgia Bulldog star was the key to the Broncos' win in Super Bowl XXXII. Despite missing the second quarter due to migraine headaches, Davis rushed for 157 yards and scored three touchdowns in the Broncos' upset win over the Green Bay Packers. He was named the game's most valuable player.

    Davis' best season was 1998 when he ran for 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns. He was named the league's MVP that season and helped carry Denver to another Super Bowl win.

    After that, however, Davis' career was derailed by injuries. He injured his right knee in Week 4 of 1999. He played only five games in 2000 and eight contests in 2001. He was forced to retire during the 2002 preseason as his knees just couldn't take the pounding associated with playing in the NFL anymore.

    Davis may never make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, although he finished his NFL career with 7,607 yards and 60 rushing touchdowns. But he does stand as the best running back in Broncos' history who could have been one of the all-time greats had he remained healthy.

    Other finalists for the best runner in Broncos' history include Floyd Little, Sammy Winder and Otis Armstrong.

Kansas City Chiefs: Priest Holmes

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    The Kansas City Chiefs have had many great running backs in their 50-plus-year history, but none has been better than Priest Holmes.

    Holmes suited up for Kansas City between 2001 and 2007 and is the Chiefs' all-time leading rusher with 6,070 yards.

    Holmes was a dual threat, an elusive runner and effective receiver who kept the chains moving behind a very talented Kansas City offensive line.

    In his first two seasons with the Chiefs, Holmes led the league in total yards from scrimmage. He also led the league in rushing yards in 2001 with 1,555 yards, becoming the first undrafted player to win the league's rushing title.

    The former Texas Longhorns star also led the league in rushing touchdowns in 2002 and 2003, running for a then-league record 27 touchdowns in 2003.

    Injuries cut short his season in 2004 after just eight games. Holmes already had 892 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns at that point.

    Unfortunately, Holmes never completely recovered. He played only seven games in 2005, missed all of the 2006 season and only appeared in four games in 2007 before retiring midseason.

    Other candidates for the best runner in Chiefs' history include Christian Okoye, Larry Johnson, Ed Podolak and Abner Hayes.

Oakland Raiders: Marcus Allen

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    While he may now be known almost as much for his feuds with owner Al Davis, there is little doubt about the fact that Marcus Allen is the best running back in the history of the Raiders franchise.

    Allen burst onto the NFL scene after winning the Heisman Trophy at USC in 1981. He was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year during the strike-shortened 1982 season after he gained 697 yards in just nine games.

    Allen was a great runner and a receiver. His best statistical seasons came in 1983, 1984 and 1985 when he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and caught more than 60 passes.

    His best performance came in Super Bowl XVIII when he ran for 191 yards and two touchdowns in the Oakland Raiders' win over the Redskins. The 191 yards was a new Super Bowl record and included a 74-yard dash that was the longest touchdown run in Super Bowl history at that time.

    Eventually, Allen's disagreements with Davis led to his departure from the Raiders in 1993. He went on to play for the division rival Chiefs and regularly became a thorn in his former club's side.

    Allen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003. He finished his career with 12,243 rushing yards, including 8,545 in a Raiders uniform.

    Other candidates for the Raiders top all-time running back include Clem Daniels and Marv Hubbard.

San Diego Chargers: LaDainian Tomlinson

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    There is no doubt that LaDainian Tomlinson is the greatest runner in the history of the San Diego Chargers.

    Tomlinson spent nine seasons with the Chargers and ran for more than 1,000 yards in eight of them. "LT" ran for 12,490 yards with San Diego, more than double his nearest competitor.

    The former TCU star was selected to five Pro Bowls and twice led the NFL in rushing. Tomlinson's best season came in 2006 when he ran for a career-best 1,815 yards and an NFL-record 28 rushing touchdowns (and 31 touchdowns overall). Tomlinson was named the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year, that season by the Associated Press.

    Tomlinson spent his final two NFL seasons with the New York Jets. At the time of his retirement, he fifth all-time in league history in rushing yards and second all-time in rushing touchdowns.

    Other finalists for the Chargers' all-time running back include Paul Lowe, Marion Butts, Chuck Muncie and Natrone Means.

Dallas Cowboys: Emmitt Smith

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    Scouts said Emmitt Smith lacked breakaway speed so he slipped to Dallas who grabbed him with the 19th selection in the first round of the 1990 NFL draft. It turned out to be one of the best picks the Dallas Cowboys ever made.

    Smith played in Dallas for 13 seasons, winning league rushing titles and recording 11 1,000-yard seasons. He was selected to eight Pro Bowls and was named All Pro six times. Today, Smith remains the NFL's all-time leading rusher.

    Smith became the force that made the Cowboys offense perform during the 1990s. Dallas won three championships in four years, leading the Cowboys to victories in Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII and XXX. He was named the MVP of Super Bowl XXVIII  when he ran for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

    The former University of Florida star had his most memorable moment in the 1993 season finale at Giants Stadium with the division title on the line. Smith separated his shoulder during the game but returned to lead the Cowboys to an overtime victory.

    He finished the game with 168 rushing yards on 32 carries while adding 61 yards and a touchdown on 10 receptions. Dallas won the game, 16-13, and went on to win the Super Bowl again that year.

    Smith finished his career with 18,355 yards rushing, breaking Walter Payton's all-time record—17,162 of those yards came in a Cowboys' uniform. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

    Other candidates for the best running back in Cowboys' history include Tony Dorsett, Don Perkins and Calvin Hill.

New York Giants: Tiki Barber

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    Although the way he left New York made him less than popular with Giants' fans, Tiki Barber is the best running back in the history of the franchise.

    Barber retired after the 2006 season at the age of 31 to start a broadcasting career. He gained 1,662 yards in his final season with the Giants and had more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the third straight season that year.

    As a broadcaster, Barber was critical of several former teammates and coach Tom Coughlin which drew the ire of many Giants fans.

    Still, Barber ran for more than 10,000 yards with the Giants, was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and helped the Giants reach Super Bowl XXXV.

    Barber's best season came in 2005 when he rushed for a career-high 1,860 yards and caught 54 passes for another 530 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns.

    In 2011, Barber attempted an NFL comeback, but no team was interested in his services and he, once again, retired.

    Runners-up for the Giants' all-time running back include Joe Morris, Rodney Hampton, Alex Webster, Frank Gifford and Ron Johnson.

Philadelphia Eagles: Steve Van Buren

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    While Wilbert Montgomery gained slightly more yards, no runner has meant more to the Philadelphia Eagles franchise than Steve Van Buren.

    Van Buren led the NFL in rushing four times during his time with Philadelphia and twice went over 1,000 yards in a season when the league schedule was only 12 games long.

    More importantly, Van Buren led the Eagles to back-to-back league titles in 1948 and 1949. The 1949, Van Buren rushed for 196 yards in a game played in blizzard-like conditions.

    Van Buren was a seven-time all-pro in an eight-year career. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965.

    Runners up for the Eagles' all-time running back include Wilbert Montgomery, Brian Westbrook and Duce Staley.

Washington Redskins: John Riggins

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    John Riggins is not just the Redskins all-time leading rusher, he's one of the most unique personalities to ever play for the franchise.

    During his tenure with the Jets, Riggins once sported an Afro and then a Mohawk.

    He once famously told Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to "Loosen up, Sandy, baby," during a formal event in Washington.

    The former University of Kansas star didn't have a fancy running style. He just got behind "The Hogs," Washington's big offensive line, and dared opponents to bring him down. It wasn't an easy thing for defenses to do.

    Riggins was the key to the Redskins' run to Super Bowl XVII. He ran for 610 yards in Washington's four postseason games, including 166 yards on 38 carries in the Super Bowl against the Dolphins. His 43-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1 clinched the victory for the Redskins, and Riggins was named the Super Bowl MVP for his performance.

    In 1983, Riggins ran for a career-best 1,347 yards and a league-leading 24 touchdowns. Washington had a record-setting offense that season and returned to the Super Bowl only to fall to Marcus Allen and the Raiders 38-9.

    "The Diesel" finished his NFL career with 11,352 yards with 7,472 coming with the Redskins.

    He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

    Other contenders for the top runner in Redskins' history include Clinton Portis and Larry Brown.  

Chicago Bears: Walter Payton

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    The Chicago Bears have had many great running backs in their long and illustrious history, but none come close to matching the sustained excellence of Walter Payton.

    "Sweetness" retired after the 1987 season as the NFL's all-time leading rusher, surpassing the great Jim Brown's record.

    Payton ran for more than 1,000 yards in a season 10 times during his NFL career, including a career-best 1,852 in 1977. During that year, he also set a new NFL record by rushing for 275 yards in a game against the Minnesota Vikings.

    Early in his career, Payton was often the only dangerous offensive threat on some poor Bears teams, but he still managed to excel.

    Payton worked hard and was able to run around or over defenders, depending on what the situation called for.

    Later in Payton's career, the Bears put together some very talented teams, and they finally won a Super Bowl after the 1985 season.

    By the time he retired, Payton gained 16,726 yards, all of them coming in a Bears uniform.

    Payton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. He died of cancer in 1999 at the age of 45.

    Other prominent Bears runners include Gale Sayers, Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Rick Casares and Neal Anderson.

Detroit Lions: Barry Sanders

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    Barry Sanders stood only 5'8" and weighed barely 200 pounds, but he was one of the most elusive and dangerous running backs in NFL history and the best runner in the history of the Detroit Lions.

    Sanders could stop on a dime and change directions, often leaving defenders grasping at air after he passed them by.

    The former Oklahoma State star won four NFL rushing titles and was co-MVP of the league (along with Brett Favre) in 1997.

    Sanders played 10 seasons in the NFL, all with the Lions. He never failed to top 1,000 yards in a season and had a career-best 2,053 yards in 1997. He averaged an incredible 6.1 yards per carry that season and ran for 11 touchdowns.

    After the 1998 season, Sanders surprised almost everybody by retiring from football at the age of 30. He finished his career with 15,269 yards, almost triple of the next highest Lions player.

    Other contenders for the Lions' best running back include Billy Sims, Dexter Bussey and Nick Pietrosante.

Green Bay Packers: Jim Taylor

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    While he is no longer the Packers' all-time leading rusher, Jim Taylor is the greatest running back in the storied history of the franchise.

    Taylor played in Green Bay from 1956-1966, helping the Pack win four NFL championships and the first Super Bowl.

    The former LSU star was a tough, physical rusher who would rather run over opponents and dish out punishment to defenders than try to elude them.

    Taylor had five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Packers back when teams played only 12 or 14 games in a season. He combined with Bart Starr and Paul Hornung to give the Packers three Hall of Fame players in their backfield in the 1960s.

    His best season came in 1962 when he became the only person to beat out the great Jim Brown for the NFL rushing title. Taylor rushed for 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns in 14 games.

    Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976.

    Other contenders for the Packers' all-time greatest running back include Ahman Green, John Brockington and Tony Canadeo.

Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson

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    Adrian Peterson has played only six seasons in Minnesota, but he is already the Minnesota Vikings all-time leading rusher and the best running back in the franchise's history.

    Peterson got his career off to a great start in 2007, rushing for more than 1,300 yards and being named the NFL's Rookie of the Year.

    On November 4, 2007, Peterson set an NFL record with 296 yards rushing in a single game against the San Diego Chargers. Peterson also scored three touchdowns in this game.

    Peterson has led the league in rushing twice already in his career. In 2012, "All Day" came within nine yards of tying the single-season rushing record with 2,097 yards. The total is even more remarkable when you realize he missed the end of the previous season with a torn ACL and MCL and played the final few games of the season with a sport's hernia injury.

    His performance almost single-handedly led the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012, and the former Oklahoma Sooners star was named the league's MVP for his performance.

    Peterson is 28 and should have several more productive seasons left in his NFL career.

    Other contenders for the Vikings' best running back include Chuck Foreman, Robert Smith and Bill Brown. 

Atlanta Falcons: William Andrews

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    The Atlanta Falcons were the toughest call to make when it came to naming the franchise's all-time greatest running back. The top five leading rushers were separated by less than 1,300 yards. In the end, William Andrews narrowly ended up winning the spot.

    Andrews played six seasons for the Falcons. He was named to four Pro Bowls and rushed for more than 1,000 yards in four seasons. In 1981, Andrews led the league in yards from scrimmage with 2,036. He rushed for 1,301 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 81 passes for 735 more yards and two more touchdowns.

    In fact, it was Andrews' skills as a pass-catcher that separated him from the other contenders for Falcons' all-time rusher.

    Andrews suffered a horrible knee injury during the 1984 preseason and missed the next two seasons. He made a comeback in 1986, but was clearly not the same runner and retired at the end of the season.

    Andrews finished his career with 5,986 rushing yards and 277 catches for another 2,647 receiving yards.

    Had he not wrecked his knee, there is no telling what kind of career numbers he might have put up.

    He narrowly edged out four other contenders for the Falcons' spot including Gerald Riggs, Michael Turner, Warrick Dunn and Jamal Anderson.

Carolina Panthers: DeAngelo Williams

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    DeAngelo Williams is the all-time leading rusher in the brief history of the Carolina Panthers and is the best running back in franchise history.

    The Panthers selected Williams in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft with the 27th overall pick. The former University Memphis star was a solid contributor as a backup for two seasons before winning the starting job outright in 2008.

    Williams had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2008 and 2009 and averaged more than five yards per carry in both seasons.

    His best year came in 2008 when he ran for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns and helped the Panthers reach the playoffs. Williams was named to the Pro Bowl following the 2009 season.

    Thus far, Williams has rushed for 5,784 yards in a Panthers' uniform, nearly 2,000 yards more than the next highest player.

    Runners-up for the Panthers' top running back include Jonathan Stewart and DeShaun Foster.

New Orleans Saints: Deuce McAllister

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    Ole' Miss alum Deuce McAllister is the best running back in the history of the New Orleans Saints.

    The Saints selected McAllister in the first round of the 2001 NFL draft. In his second season, McAllister established himself as the starter and had the first of three straight 1,000-yard seasons. He was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

    In 2005, McAllister tore the ACL in his right knee and missed the final 11 games of the season. McAllister managed to return the following season and again topped the 1,000-yard mark.

    The Saints released McAllister in 2009 to clear up cap space, but they re-signed their all-time leading rusher in the playoffs. While he didn't play in the game, he was on the Saints' roster when they won Super Bowl XLIV, and he was given a Super Bowl ring.

    McAllister finished his career with 6,096 rushing yards—the most in the history of the franchise.

    Other contenders for the all-time leading rusher in Saints' history include George Rogers, Dalton Hilliard and Chuck Muncie.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: James Wilder

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    Former workhorse back James Wilder remains the all-time best running back in Buccaneers history. Wilder played for Tampa Bay from 1981-1989 and has rushed for 5,957 yards in a Bucs' uniform, more than any other player in franchise history.

    Wilder had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons for Tampa Bay. His first came in 1984 when he led the league with 407 carries which set a new NFL record. The former Missouri star was selected to his only Pro Bowl that season after gaining a career-best 1,544 yards and catching 85 passes for another 685 yards. He ran for 13 touchdowns that season.

    In Week 5 against Green Bay, Wilder set a new NFL record by carrying the football 43 times. He gained 172 yards and scored a touchdown in a 30-27 Tampa Bay win.

    In 1985, Wilder followed that up with a 1,300-yard season and added 10 touchdowns.

    Other contenders for the greatest running back in Buccaneers' history include Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn.

Arizona/St. Louis/Chicago Cardinals: O.J. Anderson

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    The Cardinals are the oldest franchise in the NFL, starting in the NFL in 1920 in Chicago and making a stop in St. Louis before heading west to their present home in Arizona.

    The best running back in franchise history is Ottis Anderson. He rushed for 7,999 yards in a Cardinals uniform from 1979-1986 before finishing his career with the New York Giants.

    Anderson burst onto the NFL scene, gaining more than 1,000 yards in each of his first five full NFL seasons. Only the strike-shortened 1982 campaign disrupted his streak.

    In his very first NFL game, Anderson picked up 193 yards in just 21 carries against the Dallas Cowboys. He finished the season with 1,605 yards and was named the NFL's Rookie of the Year.

    Anderson was also selected to back-to-back Pro Bowls after the 1979 and 1980 seasons.

    The Cardinals traded Anderson to the Giants during the 1986 season where he won a pair of Super Bowls and had one last 1,000-yard season in 1989.

    Other great running backs in Cardinals' history include Stump Mitchell, Charlie Trippi and Terry Metcalf.

St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams: Eric Dickerson

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    The Rams have called Cleveland, Los Angeles and St. Louis home and have had several great running backs in their history. While Steven Jackson has more yards, no runner in Rams history was more dominant than Eric Dickerson.

    Dickerson was selected by the Rams with the second overall pick in the 1983 NFL draft. He spent four-plus seasons in Los Angeles and topped the 1,000-yard mark in each season.

    As a rookie, the former SMU star set new league records by gaining 1,808 yards in 390 attempts and 18 rushing touchdowns. He led the league in rushing and was voted rookie of the year.

    In 1984, Dickerson set an NFL record that still stands when he rushed for 2,105 and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. For the second straight year, Dickerson led the league in yards from scrimmage, and he was selected to the Pro Bowl. Dickerson was remarkably consistent that season, topping 100 yards in 12 games and twice gaining more than 200.

    In 1985, Dickerson held out and missed the first two games of the season. He still managed to rush for 1,234 yards in an "off" season.

    1986 was Dickerson's final full year in a Rams' uniform. He returned to the Pro Bowl and gained 1,821 yards, the third time in four seasons he led the NFL in rushing.

    The Rams traded Dickerson to the Indianapolis Colts midway through the 1987 season after yet another contract dispute.

    Dickerson continued to thrive with the Colts and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

    Other great runners in Rams' history include Steven Jackson, Marshall Faulk and Lawrence McCutcheon.

San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore

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    Frank Gore is the San Francisco 49ers all-time leading rusher and the best running back the franchise ever had. While he may be past his prime, Gore is not done adding to his career totals.

    The 49ers drafted Gore in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft out of the University of Miami. He became a starter the following year and had the first of six 1,000-yard seasons with San Francisco.

    Gore's best season came in 2006 when he rushed for 1,695 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also selected to his first of four Pro Bowls.

    In addition to leading the 49ers franchise in career rushing yards, he is first in club history with 51 rushing touchdowns.

    Other great runners in 49ers' history include Joe Perry, Roger Craig and Hugh McElhenny.

Seattle Seahawks: Shaun Alexander

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    Shaun Alexander had eight productive seasons with the Seattle Seahawks after the club drafted him in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft.

    The former University of Alabama star had five straight 1,000-yard seasons and is the franchise's all-time leading rusher.

    His best season came in 2005 when he rushed for 1,880 and set a new NFL record with 28 total touchdowns, 27 of them on the ground. He led the league that season in carries, yards and touchdowns.

    Alexander broke his leg the following season which limited him to 10 games and just 896 yards. A fractured wrist slowed him down the following season.

    Nobody has more rushing yards in a Seahawks' uniform than Alexander who has 9,429. He also was selected to three Pro Bowls while with Seattle.

    Other great runners in Seahawks' history include Curt Warner and Chris Warren.