Jerome Bettis' Top 5 Running Backs in NFL History

Laura FalconAnalyst IDecember 29, 2010

Jerome Bettis' Top 5 Running Backs in NFL History

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    Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XL between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan on February 5, 2006. (Photo by Allen Kee/Getty Images)
    Allen Kee/Getty Images

    Former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bettis is one of the greatest running backs of all time.

    He is also a staple figure in Pittsburgh sports.

    This is why Bettis, along with former Steelers fullback and hero Franco Harris (though he has not confirmed as of now) and NHL Legend Mario Lemieux will hold a ceremonial puck drop at the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic. Following the puck drop, Bettis will head over to the Hard Rock Cafe in Station Square where Pepsi MAX will hold a viewing party for the Winter Classic.

    With the Winter Classic festivities just around the corner, I was given the opportunity to conduct an interview with Bettis and I asked him who he would consider the top five running backs in NFL history.

    Does he make his own list?

    Here are Bettis' top five running backs of all time. Please note these are no particular order, I am presenting them to you in the order he told me.

    Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins.    Follow her on Twitter or email her at with any comments or questions.

Jim Brown

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    Courtesy of Jim Brown Biography
    Courtesy of Jim Brown Biography

    The Cleveland Browns' all-time leading rusher, Jim Brown was not an easy man to tackle.

    The proof is in his average of 5.2 yards per carry.

    Browns' NFL career, spent entirely in Cleveland, was chock full of unbelievable feats. He was a nine-time Pro-Bowler, selected in every season he played in the NFL. Within the Pro Bowl, he was selected MVP three times.

    Also a three-time NFL MVP, Brown demonstrated what it meant to be valuable by holding records still intact to this day, included a four touchdowns—at least—in six games record.

    The best part is he did this before hitting his third decade.

    Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971.

Barry Sanders

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    25 Oct 1998:  Running back Barry Sanders #20 of the Detroit Lions in action during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. The Vikings defeated the Lions 34-13. Mandatory Credit: Tom Pidgeon  /Allsport
    Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

    Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders was electrifying on the field, bringing energy to his home crowd of Detroit every time he touched the football. However, his humility ruled his success, easily making him a huge fan favorite.

    In his first professional carry, he carried for 18 yards. His fourth carry resulted in a touchdown. Needless to say, he finished his first season in the NFL second in rushing, good enough to earn him the title of Rookie of the Year.

    Sanders was a 10-time Pro-Bowler, totally against the odds as he stood at 5'8" and just over 200 pounds.

    In his 1997 MVP season, an award he shared with Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, Sanders ran a record 100 yards in 14 consecutive games, reaching the 200-yard plateau twice in doing so.

    Sanders never won a Super Bowl, but the way he touched the city of Detroit was enough to make him a top guy in their books.

Emmitt Smith

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    TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 2:  Runningback Emmitt Smith #22 of the Arizona Cardinals carries the ball under pressure from Dexter Jackson #28 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Sun Devil Stadium on January 2, 2005 in Tempe, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Buccane
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Any mention of Barry Sanders will usually include Emmitt Smith, as they both played similar styles.

    Recently inducted in the Hall of Fame, and the first in his draft class to do so, Emmitt Smith wasn't the most physically intimidating running back, yet his leg strength and finesse made him incredibly difficult to stop.

    With that in mind, Smith continues to lead the NFL in career rushing with 18,355 yards. He also leads all running backs with 164 rushing touchdowns.

    The records continue into the playoffs as well, with 19 rushing touchdowns, nine consecutive games with a rushing touchdown and seven consecutive 100-yard rushing games.

    He won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, winning the MVP in Super Bowl XXVIII. In all of the Cowboys' Super Bowl wins, he is the only Cowboys running back to do so in franchise history.

Tony Dorsett

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    ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 4:  Running back Tony Dorsett #33 of the Dallas Cowboys gets tackled by defensive back Johnnie Johnson #20 of the Los Angeles Rams during a 1985 NFC Divisional Playoff game at Anaheim Stadium on January 4, 1996 in Anaheim, California
    George Rose/Getty Images

    Tony Dorsett probably looks the most human among those in this list.

    Dorsett was another winner of the Rookie of the Year award when he rushed for 1,007 yards and 12 touchdowns. In fact, he was the first player to win the college football championship and then follow it up with a Super Bowl win.

    It would be his most epic season, but Dorsett continued his career with solid numbers.

    In his 12-year career, he recorded 12,733 yards and 77 touchdowns. He also holds the record for the longest touchdown run from the scrimmage in NFL history at 99 yards.

    In 1994, he was elected to both the Pro and College Football Hall of Fame. That same year, he was added to the Texas Stadium Ring of Honor.

Jerome Bettis

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    Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball during Super Bowl XL between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan on February 5, 2006. (Photo by Allen Kee/Getty Images)
    Allen Kee/Getty Images

    "I'm gonna have to put myself in there," Jerome Bettis said with a laugh when he gave me his last pick.

    Call it cocky, but it's well-earned.

    The Bus had a shaky start, but quickly solidified himself as not only a star running back, but a fan favorite to the Pittsburgh Steelers nation.

    Upon his entrance into the Steelers, he became the Comeback Player of the Year and never looked back.

    His first six seasons resulted in over 1,000 rushing yards; three of those seasons hit 1,300 rushing yards. Another important asset of Bettis' game was his low fumbling percentage and the fact that he, along with the others on his list, was very difficult to tackle.

    In 2006, he won his first and only Super Bowl in his hometown of Detroit. His retirement followed.

    Bettis ended his career with 13,662 rushing yards and 94 touchdowns.

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