Power Ranking the Top 100 Running Backs in NFL History

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterJuly 11, 2011

Power Ranking the Top 100 Running Backs in NFL History

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    The best ever.

    That's a bold statement, but it has to be made.

    We have looked at the best players in the NFL today and the best quarterback/wide receiver combinations of all time, which leads us to looking at the best running backs in NFL history.

    Granted, at 28 years old, I've seen only a good number of the last 25 years, so I do apologize if guys who played before 1985 were not given the credit they deserve. A good amount of research was put into this, and I did spend time speaking with older football fans about their opinion of the "older" group of runners.

    What did we factor in?

    Production, impact on the game, impact on the respective team and iconic runs or plays.

100. Travis Henry

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    Years active: 2001-2007

    Career yards (rank): 6,086 (71)

    Bottom line: Travis Henry's career was very similar to that of Deuce McAllister, but Henry failed to make the same impact as a receiver that Deuce would make in New Orleans, nor did he manage to stay on the field enough to see his numbers stay as high as they could have.

    Henry, when he played the majority of games, had dominating talent. Keeping him on the field was another issue. Based purely on talent, Henry has to be mentioned.

99. Antowain Smith

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    Years active: 1997-2005

    Career yards (rank): 6,881 (52)

    Bottom line: A 1,000-yard rusher for two teams, Buffalo and New England, Antowain Smith was a Super Bowl winner and all-purpose back for the Patriots during their run in the early 2000s.

    Smith will not be remembered in the annals of NFL history as a great all-time back, but on a top 100 list, he did enough in his nine-year career to break into our list.

98. Chuck Muncie

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    Years active: 1976-1984

    Career yards (rank): 6,702 (57)

    Bottom line: Playing on Charger teams that lived and died with the passing game of Don Coryell, Chuck Muncie became a dependable runner and receiver out of the backfield in San Diego—opening the door for future dual-threat running backs like Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig down the road.

    Muncie topped 1,000 yards rushing just twice in his career, but his impact on the running back position in what would evolve into the West Coast offense is damn important.

97. Rick Casares

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    Years active: 1955-1966

    Career yards (rank): 5,797 (81)

    Bottom line: During the 1956 season, Rick Casares led the NFL in rushing with 1,126 yards and 12 touchdowns...while playing fullback for the Chicago Bears.

    Casares would play both fullback and running back during his time in the NFL, doing double duty as a blocker and a runner for the Bears before settling in as a lead blocker at the end of his career.

    When he retired, Casares was the Bears' all-time leading rusher.

96. Barry Foster

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    Years active: 1990-1994

    Career yards (rank): 3,943 (186)

    Bottom line: For one season, Barry Foster was greatness.

    During the 1992 season, Foster led the NFL with 390 rushing attempts and put up a game-changing 1,690 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.

    While Foster would have success in the two following seasons, his NFL career would end at 26 years old.

95. Wendell Tyler

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    Years active: 1977-1986

    Career yards (rank): 6,378 (62)

    Bottom line: A dynamic runner and return man, Wendell Tyler produced 1,000-yard seasons in Los Angeles as a Ram and then in San Francisco for the 49ers.

    His career all-purpose yards are an impressive 8,764.

94. Pete Johnson

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    Years active: 1977-1984

    Career yards (rank): 5,626 (86)

    Bottom line: As a fullback and running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, Pete Johnson posted over 1,000 yards in 1981 and never saw his yards dip below 585 during his time in Cincinnati.

    While never dominant, Johnson was versatile enough to show teams that a dual-threat fullback was a possibility.

93. Duce Staley

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    Years active: 1997-2006

    Career yards (rank): 5,785 (82)

    Bottom line: A true dual threat as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield, Duce Staley posted three 1,000-yard seasons during his productive NFL career and would become a poster boy for versatile runner/receivers that became the "must-have" back in the NFL during the early 2000s.

92. Rudi Johnson

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    Years active: 2001-2008

    Career yards (rank): 5,979 (75)

    Bottom line: A consistent 1,300-yard rusher for three seasons in Cincinnati from 2004-2006, Johnson would see his time in the NFL limited after losing favor in Cincinnati during the 2007 season.

    For three seasons, Johnson was a legitimate NFL star on bad teams in Cincinnati.

91. Calvin Hill

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    Years active: 1969-1981

    Career yards (rank): 6,083 (72)

    Bottom line: Not only was Calvin Hill a Pro Bowler and All-Pro as a rookie, he also became a dynamic runner and return man with over 6,000 career rushing yards during his days in Dallas, Washington and Cleveland.

    Four times during his career, Hill was in the NFL's top 10 rushers, and in 1971 he was third in total touchdowns.

    He also gave us Grant Hill, which is pretty impressive.

90. James Stewart

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    Years active: 1995-2002

    Career yards (rank): 5,841 (79)

    Bottom line: Had James Stewart played his entire career as a starter, or even if his career had spanned a normal amount of time, he would find himself much higher on the all-time rushing list.

    Stewart was a breath of fresh air in Jacksonville, filling in for the injured Fred Taylor early and often. Upon signing with Detroit, Stewart became a 1,000-yard rusher twice before his career ended at 31 years old.

    Stewart makes our list not only for the production on the field, but for the promise and potential of what he could have been if given the chance.

89. Larry Brown

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    Years active: 1969-1976

    Career yards (rank): 5,875 (77)

    Bottom line: Give Larry Brown today's NFL and he would lead the league in rushing with open-field moves and powerful running style.

    At just 195 pounds, Brown became one of the NFL's best runners during the early 1970s—and could have been an all-time great had his career lasted more than eight years in Washington.

88. Chuck Foreman

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    Years active: 1973-1980

    Career yards (rank): 5,950 (76)

    Bottom line: Chuck Foreman's three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons during the mid '70s helped propel the Vikings from a good team to a Super Bowl contender.

    Foreman was also a good receiver, leading the NFL in receptions with 73 catches during his All-Pro 1975 season.

    Foreman, like others on our list, was great with the ball in his hands.

87. Willis McGahee

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    Years active: 2004-Current

    Career yards (rank): 6,167 (67)

    Bottom line: Willis McGahee, during his seven-year NFL career, has never been the best running back in the league, but he's been in the top five a few times.

    His 6,000 career rushing yards put him in the conversation as a top-100 back, although he is on the downside of his career and may not add many more yards before retirement calls.

86. William Andrews

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    Years active: 1979-1983, 1986

    Career yards (rank): 5,986 (74)

    Bottom line: A dual threat as a running back/fullback and as a receiver, William Andrews is one of the most underrated running backs of the 1980s.

    Considering that most of Andrews' yards came in a five-year window in which he totaled over 5,700 yards, it's remarkable to think what he could have done given a healthy 10- or 12-year career.

    Andrews truly dominated as a runner and receiver, posting 81 catches and 1,300 yards rushing during the 1981 season.

85. Jamal Anderson

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    Years active: 1994-2001

    Career yards (rank): 5,336 (96)

    Bottom line: To rank Jamal Anderson against the best running backs of all time, you cannot look at his overall career numbers, which are respectable, but instead look at what he did when healthy during the three-year span from 1996-1998.

    In '98, Anderson led the NFL with an insane 410 carries and 1,846 yards rushing, including another 300 through the air.

    Had Anderson not torn his ACL, we could be talking about a top-25 running back.

84. Jim Nance

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    Years active: 1965-1973

    Career yards (rank): 5,401 (93)

    Bottom line: As a fullback first and foremost, Jim Nance led the NFL in rushing twice and in attempts three times during his NFL career.

    During a two-year stretch from 1966-1967, Nance was unstoppable, posting 2,600 yards while starting just 14 games.

    Imagine Nance in today's NFL.

83. James Wilder

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    Years active: 1981-1990

    Career yards (rank): 6,008 (73)

    Bottom line: Playing on some of the worst NFL teams in history, James Wilder managed to run the ball exceptionally well despite everyone on defense knowing where the ball was going.

    Wilder posted just two 1,000-yard seasons during his time as a fullback and running back in Tampa, but his 1984 and 1985 seasons stand out among the best of any runner during that time period.

    Had he been given more carries or played on better teams, there is no telling what Wilder could have accomplished.

82. Ken Willard

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    Years active: 1965-1974

    Career yards (rank): 6,105 (69)

    Bottom line: Technically a fullback for the 49ers, Ken Willard is a model of consistency as a ball carrier and a receiver out of the backfield.

    For his career, he never went under 500 yards rushing in a season as a starter, even though he never posted more than 236 carries in any one season.

81. Joe Morris

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    Years active: 1982-1991

    Career yards (rank): 5,585 (88)

    Bottom line: A part-time back for all but three seasons of his career, Joe Morris left a huge mark on the New York Giants.

    From 1985-1988, Morris was unstoppable when healthy. He led the NFL with 21 touchdowns in '85 while posting 1,300 yards rushing. He followed that up with 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns in '86.

80. Mark van Eeghen

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    Years active: 1974-1983

    Career yards (rank): 6,651 (58)

    Bottom line: Mark van Eeghen never dominated the NFL with a 1,500-yard season or led the league in any marquee categories—he was just a consistent badass with the football.

    From 1976 through 1980, van Eeghen put up over 5,000 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns for the Raiders.

    What's surprising is that van Eeghen never made the Pro Bowl.

79. Lawrence McCutcheon

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    Years active: 1972-1981

    Career yards (rank): 6,578 (59)

    Bottom line: McCutcheon's NFL career started out hot, with five seasons of at least 900 yards rushing during his time as a starter for the Rams.

    Injury would eventually slow McCutcheon down in 1978, striking down the Pro Bowl running back in his prime.

78. Lydell Mitchell

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    Years active: 1972-1980

    Career yards (rank): 6,534 (60)

    Bottom line: A three-time Pro Bowl player for the Baltimore Colts, Lydell Mitchell was shockingly consistent during a six-year period from 1973 through 1978.

    Eventually Mitchell would slow down upon joining the San Diego Chargers, but he did enough during his time in Baltimore to earn a spot on our top 100 list.

77. Bill Brown

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    Years active: 1961-1974

    Career yards (rank): 5,828 (80)

    Bottom line: Bill Brown was a power running back during the days of two-back sets and fullbacks, a time long forgotten in today's NFL.

    Brown was a consistent pile-moving bruiser in Minnesota, leading the NFL in rushing attempts once while posting 52 career touchdowns.

76. Don Perkins

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    Years active: 1977-1986

    Career yards (rank): 6,378 (62)

    Bottom line: A six-time Pro Bowler in the late 1970s, Don Perkins was a versatile fullback/running back for the Dallas Cowboys during their glory days.

    Perkins' consistency: He posted at least 600 yards rushing every season in his career, and his dominance at two positions gets him mentioned on our list.

75. Michael Turner

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    Years active: 2004-Current

    Career yards (rank): 5,198 (101)

    Bottom line: Michael Turner may not be in the NFL's top 100 rushers by yardage, but he's well on his way to cracking the top 50 before his NFL career comes to an end.

    Turner spent the first four years of his career backing up LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego. Once he signed with the Falcons as a free agent in 2008, Turner immediately established himself as one of the best in the game.

    The only hurdle in Turner's future will be staying healthy. Otherwise, expect multiple 1,300-yard seasons from him.

74. Charlie Garner

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    Years active: 1994-2004

    Career yards (rank): 7,097 (50)

    Bottom line: Charlie Garner was never great, but over the course of his career, he did manage to impress for both the 49ers and the Eagles. Instead of looking for five or six solid seasons, which many other backs had, focusing on Garner's two years with the 49ers in 1999 and 2000, when he made the Pro Bowl and excelled as a run/catch back, you find a very good runner.

73. Deuce McAllister

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    Years active: 2001-2008

    Career yards (rank): 6,096 (70)

    Bottom line: You cannot look at the bottom line to see the impact that Deuce McAllister had on the NFL.

    Instead, look at his 2003 season—during which he had 1,600 yards rushing and added another 69 receptions and 516 yards receiving. McAllister was a power back with moves and hands, something the NFL had not seen much of in the last 20 years.

    Deuce paved the way for big backs who could also double as speed backs.

72. George Rogers

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    Years active: 1981-1987

    Career yards (rank): 7,176 (49)

    Bottom line: What might George Rogers have been if he had played more than seven seasons in the NFL?

    Rogers had four seasons of over 1,000 yards and led the NFL in rushing with 1,674 yards and 13 touchdowns in his Pro Bowl rookie season—during which he averaged over 104 yards rushing per game.

71. James Brooks

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    Years active: 1981-1992

    Career yards (rank): 7,962 (43)

    Bottom line: James Brooks may not have assaulted the record books like many other rushers on this list—he is ranked No. 43 all-time—but he could have been much higher if not sharing carries with the infamous Ickey Woods during his prime in Cincinnati.

    Brooks was used throughout his career as a lead back, but he always had a complementary back in there too, which cut down his career numbers.

70. Chris Warren

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    Years active: 1990-2000

    Career yards (rank): 7,969 (45)

    Bottom line: The Seahawks of the 1990s were not good. At all. But Chris Warren was.

    A three-time Pro Bowler as a running back, Warren was an underrated return man early in his career before becoming a four-time 1,000-yard runner for the 'Hawks between 1992-1994.

    Warren's carries and time in Seattle became limited once Ricky Watters arrived in town, putting an end to a great career.

69. Freeman McNeil

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    Years active: 1981-1992

    Career yards (rank): 8,074 (40)

    Bottom line: Freeman McNeil made a name for himself during the strike-shortened 1982 season, leading the NFL with 786 yards and an impressive 5.2 yards per carry during the nine-game season.

    McNeil would earn All-Pro honors that season and would twice top 1,000 yards during his 11-year NFL career.

    Longevity, consistency and impact push McNeil to No. 69 on our list.

68. Neal Anderson

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    Years active: 1986-1993

    Career yards (rank): 6,166 (68)

    Bottom line: Being the guy who has to replace Walter Payton in Chicago would be no easy task for anyone, but Neal Anderson filled in admirably for Sweetness.

    A slow starter early on as a fullback, Anderson emerged once the Bears moved him to halfback, posting three straight 1,000-yard seasons.

67. Mike Pruitt

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    Years active: 1976-1986

    Career yards (rank): 7,378 (47)

    Bottom line: A power runner for the Browns in the early 1980s, Mike Pruitt had a quietly impressive career in the Dawg Pound.

    Four times he went over 1,000 yards rushing at a time when not many running backs were eclipsing the millennium mark.

    The No. 7 pick overall in the 1976 NFL draft, Pruitt was a two-time Pro Bowler and is a top-50 all-time leading rusher.

66. Curt Warner

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    Years active: 1983-1990

    Career yards (rank): 6,844 (53)

    Bottom line: It's telling that in just six seasons as a starter, Curt Warner ranks No. 53 all-time on the NFL's rushing list.

    Warner was brilliant from the start in Seattle, posting almost 1,500 yards his rookie season. Injury derailed Warner in '84 and then again to end his career in 1990.

    Given a full eight years of health, Warner might be a top-30 runner on this list.

65. Rodney Hampton

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    Years active: 1990-1997

    Career yards (rank): 6,897 (51)

    Bottom line: Rodney Hampton was among my favorite players to watch in the 1990s. He had a powerful, upright running style and legs that bounced defenders off left and right.

    He was also a winner with five straight 1,000-yard seasons and two Pro Bowl invites.

    Look back at the New York Giants from 1991 to 1995 and you will see No. 27 powering the G-Men.

64. Terry Allen

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    Years active: 1991-2001

    Career yards (rank): 8,614 (32)

    Bottom line: Can you believe that Terry Allen is ranked No. 32 all-time in rushing? I couldn't either.

    Allen was a good running back—I can remember him well from the old Redskin-49er battles in the early '90s—but did he really put up numbers that good?

    Allen had a four-year stretch of 1,000-yard seasons and closed out his career with solid 700- and 800-yard seasons.

    Consistency has its place on our list, and for that Terry Allen is ranked No. 65.

63. Maurice Jones-Drew

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    Years active: 2006-Current

    Career yards (rank): 5,248 (98)

    Bottom line: At just 25 years old, Maurice Jones-Drew is already one of the best running backs in the NFL today—and in NFL history.

    The small back is a capable runner inside and outside, with the numbers to prove it.

    Jones-Drew will continue to shoot up this list over time.

62. Frank Gore

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    Years active: 2005-Current

    Career yards (rank): 6,414 (61)

    Bottom line: The only thing keeping Frank Gore from leading the NFL in rushing has been injury. When healthy, few running backs can compare to the tool kit of skills that Gore brings to the football field.

    If he can find a way to remain healthy over the next three or four seasons, Gore could really move up the list.

61. Stephen Davis

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    Years active: 1996-2006

    Career yards (rank): 8,052 (41)

    Bottom line: Most remember Stephen Davis as the punishing running back of the Washington Redskins, for whom he racked up three straight seasons over 1,300 yards and led the NFL with 17 touchdowns and 100 yards per game during the 1999 season.

    Davis made three Pro Bowls in his career, one with the Panthers in 2003, when he posted 1,400 yards rushing coming off injury.

    Few running backs can compete with the numbers posted by Davis from 1999 to 2003.

60. Larry Johnson

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    Years active: 2003-Current

    Career yards (rank): 6,221 (65)

    Bottom line: Guys like Larry Johnson are tough to rank. Very tough, in fact.

    Johnson posted one of the NFL's greatest all-time seasons in 2005 and again in 2006, when he amassed over 1,700 yards in back-to-back seasons, but that's really all he has done.

    If judged on impact and talent, Johnson is a top-60 back. If judged on consistency, he wouldn't crack the list at all.

59. Wilbert Montgomery

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    Years active: 1977-1985

    Career yards (rank): 6,789 (56)

    Bottom line: As opposed to guys like Larry Johnson, players with sustained consistency over a seven-year period are easy to rank.

    Wilbert Montgomery comes in at No. 59 based on his production, consistency and potential as a running back and kick returner for the Eagles.

58. Robert Smith

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    Years active: 1993-2000

    Career yards (rank): 6,818 (54)

    Bottom line: Oh, what might have been.

    Robert Smith retired abruptly in 2000 after posting his best year yet, with 1,500 yards and seven touchdowns in a Pro Bowl season—his fourth straight 1,000-yard year.

    Smith hung up his cleats while he was still healthy at just 28 years old. For four seasons at the end of the 20th century, he was amazing.

57. Gerald Riggs

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    Years active: 1982-1991

    Career yards (rank): 8,188 (37)

    Bottom line: Some may be surprised to see Riggs ranked so low on the list, but it's justified.

    Riggs was brilliant for three seasons in Atlanta, but after that he became a good complementary back to end his career.

    However, put Riggs' 1985 season up against some of the best single seasons of all time and he can hold his own.

56. Earnest Byner

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    Years active: 1984-1997

    Career yards (rank): 8,261 (34)

    Bottom line: Longevity in a violent game like the NFL has its merits, and so does Earnest Byner in the annals of football history.

    Yes, he will always be remembered for "the fumble" versus John Elway's Broncos, but Byner was a legitimate 1,000-yard back and was able to play 14 seasons in the NFL at a high level.

55. Ahman Green

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    Years active: 1998-2009

    Career yards (rank): 9,205 (31)

    Bottom line: Ahman Green's success spanned 10 seasons in the NFL, leaving him with over 9,000 career rushing yards and 74 total touchdowns.

    Green was a perfect fit in Green Bay with Brett Favre, running for over 1,000 yards in six seasons and making four straight Pro Bowls.

54. Clinton Portis

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    Years active: 2002-Current

    Career yards (rank): 9,923 (26)

    Bottom line: It is hard to believe that at 29 years old, Clinton Portis is on the cusp of breaking into the top 25 rushers in NFL history, but he is.

    Portis has been a better back than recent history would remind people. He began his career with four straight 1,000-yard seasons in Denver and Washington before an injury-shortened 2006 sidelined him.

    Portis returned in '07 and knocked out two more 1,000-yard seasons before the wheels fell off in Washington, and injuries have shortened his last two seasons.

    Portis has been ridden hard by coaches, but he has something left in the tank to get him over 10,000 yards—or more.

53. Garrison Hearst

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    Years active: 1993-2004

    Career yards (rank): 7,966 (42)

    Bottom line: Just watch the run above if you need further proof of Garrison Hearst's impact on the NFL.

    Hearst, who ran for just 1,500 yards in three seasons with the Cardinals, turned things around in San Francisco—running for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons and never seeing his rushing total fall below 750 yards in any season there.

    In San Francisco, Hearst went from potential draft bust to a Pro Bowl player.

52. Herschel Walker

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    Years active: 1986-1997

    Career yards (rank): 8,225 (35)

    Bottom line: Unfairly remembered as the player traded from Dallas to the Vikings for a plethora of future draft picks, Herschel Walker had a damn good NFL career on his own.

    Despite only running for over 1,000 yards twice in his career, Walker's consistency led him to being a career 8,000-yard rusher and ranked No. 35 all-time.

51. Tiki Barber

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    Years active: 1997-2006, Current

    Career yards (rank): 10,449 (22)

    Bottom line: The No. 22 rusher on the NFL's all-time lists fails to crack our top 50 players. Why?

    Barber had five amazing seasons to end his career, posting consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Despite this, Barber made just three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team.

    Barber was also known for fumbling until the final two years of his career, something that really hindered his ability.

    Could Barber be higher? Perhaps, but the hatred from his teammates coupled with his fumbling issues keep him lower on our list.

50. Thomas Jones

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    Years active: 2000-Current

    Career yards (rank): 10,113 (25)

    Bottom line: Written off early in his career as a draft bust, Thomas Jones rebounded well once he left Arizona to become a consistent 1,000-yard rusher. In fact, he did it five times in a row and was just 152 yards from making it seven in a row.

    Jones is not set to be remembered as a great in the history of NFL running backs, but in terms of consistency and productivity, it is hard to argue against him.

49. Charley Trippi

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    Years active: 1947-1955

    Career yards (rank): 3,506 (228)

    Bottom line: A quarterback/running back/defensive back for the Chicago Cardinals in the 1940s and '50s, Charley Trippi's impact on the game led to his being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968.

    As a runner and passer, Trippi was twice a Pro Bowler and was an All-Pro in '48. He also twice led the NFL in all-purpose yards.

    He is the only player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with 1,000 yards receiving, 1,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.

48. Ricky Williams

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    Years active: 1999-Current

    Career yards (rank): 9,565 (28)

    Bottom line: Ricky Williams might be the craziest son of a gun to ever play in the NFL, but he's also a top-50 runner.

    Williams' 2002 season is in the books as one of the best of all time, with 1,800 yards rushing for 16 touchdowns and an insane 115 yards per game average.

    Williams has surpassed 1,000 yards five times in his career and should break the 10,000-yard mark this year.

47. Corey Dillon

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    Years active: 1997-2006

    Career yards (rank): 11,241 (17)

    Bottom line: Is Corey Dillon a Hall of Fame running back?

    That's a question that will come up this year now that Dillon is eligible for the Hall of Fame. With over 11,000 career rushing yards and seven career 1,000-yard seasons, Dillon has a strong résumé.

    It should also be noted that Dillon racked up six straight 1,000-yard seasons on the woeful Bengals before heading to New England to win a Super Bowl with Tom Brady.

46. Ottis Anderson

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    Years active: 1979-1992

    Career yards (rank): 10,273 (24)

    Bottom line: As a Super Bowl winner in New York and an All-Pro in St. Louis, Ottis Anderson's brilliant career spanned three decades, in which his level of play rarely fell off.

    Anderson, had it not been for injuries and shared carries, may have had more than his 10,200 career rushing yards. When starting he ran for over 1,000 yards six times.

45. Frank Gifford

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    Years active: 1952-1964

    Career yards (rank): 3,609 (214)

    Bottom line: When looked at on a list of the best running backs all time, Frank Gifford's statistics may not stand up against more productive runners, but his impact on the game and Hall of Fame credentials are good enough for us.

    Gifford never led the NFL in any category during his career, but his all-around game was recognized as excellent. He would make eight Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams.

44. Brian Westbrook

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    Years active: 2002-Current

    Career yards (rank): 6,335 (63)

    Bottom line: Brian Westbrook may not add many more yards to his all-time tally over the next few seasons, but he doesn't have to.

    Westbrook will go down in history as one of the best dual-threat running backs of the 2000s. His ability as a runner, receiver and return man led the Eagles to four NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance.

43. Leroy Kelly

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    Years active: 1964-1973

    Career yards (rank): 7,274 (48)

    Bottom line: Leroy Kelly was the successor to Jim Brown after his sudden retirement in Cleveland—and he did pretty well filling in for the all-time great.

    Kelly posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons and made six straight Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams during his Hall of Fame career in Cleveland.

42. Joe Perry

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    Years active: 1948-1963

    Career yards (rank): 9,723 (27)

    Bottom line: As a part-time fullback, part-time halfback, Joe Perry became one of the most successful running backs in NFL history.

    Three times, he led the NFL in rushing, also leading the league in touchdowns, yards per play and yards per game during his career.

    Perry retired as the NFL career rushing leader, surpassing the old record of 5,860 yards held by Steve Van Buren.

41. Steven Jackson

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    Years active: 2004-Current

    Career yards (rank): 7,948 (44)

    Bottom line: At 27 years old, Steven Jackson is assaulting the NFL record books.

    Early this season, probably within Week 1, Jackson will break 8,000 career yards. He'll be within 10,000 next year—which would put him in the top 25 all-time.

    Jackson has at least three great seasons left.

40. Ollie Matson

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    Years active: 1952-1966

    Career yards (rank): 5,173 (105)

    Bottom line: A Hall of Famer who excelled as a runner, receiver and return man for the Chicago Cardinals, Ollie Matson is among the greats in NFL history.

    Matson was more than a footballer; he was also an Olympic sprinter. During 14 years in the NFL, Matson made eight Pro Bowls, amassing 12,799 career all-purpose yards—good for second only to Jim Brown at the time of his retirement in 1966.

39. Larry Csonka

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    Years active: 1968-1979

    Career yards (rank): 8,081 (39)

    Bottom line: As part of the '72 Miami Dolphins, who went undefeated in winning the Super Bowl, Larry Csonka is etched in football immortality. As a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a top-50 all-time rusher, he's making a case for the power running back Mount Rushmore.

37. Warrick Dunn

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    Years active: 1997-2008

    Career yards (rank): 10,967 (19)

    Bottom line: Warrick Dunn was able to stand up against NFL defenses for 12 seasons despite being smaller than most starting running backs of his day.

    Dunn totaled over 1,000 yards per season five times and was a dangerous receiver out of the backfield in Tampa Bay and Atlanta.

    He was a Pro Bowler just three times but amassed over 15,000 yards from scrimmage in his career.

38. Shaun Alexander

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    Years active: 2000-2008

    Career yards (rank): 9,453 (29)

    Bottom line: An All-Pro with five straight 1,100-yard seasons, Shaun Alexander was one of the NFL's best running backs during his span of great seasons from 2001 through 2005.

    Alexander led the NFL in rushing attempts, yards, touchdowns and average yards per game during an amazing 2005 season.

36. Hugh McElhenny

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    Years active: 1952-1964

    Career yards (rank): 5,281 (97)

    Bottom line: Hall of Famer, All-Pro and a beast with the football in his hand, McElhenny gained 11,375 all-purpose yards in his 13-year career.

    A six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, McElhenny was named to the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team.

35. Eddie George

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    Years active: 1996-2004

    Career yards (rank): 10,441 (23)

    Bottom line: Few running backs in NFL history were more fun to watch running the football than Eddie George in his prime.

    George may not make the Hall of Fame—his candidacy doesn't seem to be picking up much steam—but his impact on the game as a power back and as a workhorse for the Titans during their heyday is enough for us.

    George totaled seven 1,000-yard seasons, including five in a row, but saw his career stall at age 31 after logging over 2,800 carries.

34. Ricky Watters

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    Years active: 1992-2001

    Career yards (rank): 10,643 (20)

    Bottom line: If someone asked you who the No. 20 runner on the all-time rushing list is, would you think of Ricky Watters?

    I didn't, but in researching this article, I was reminded of Watters' brilliance for the 49ers, Eagles and Seahawks in the '90s.

    In 10 NFL seasons, Watters posted over 1,000 yards seven times and almost made it eight with 950 yards in 1993.

    Watters also made five straight Pro Bowls from his rookie season in '92 through 1996.

33. Steve Van Buren

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    Years active: 1944-1951

    Career yards (rank): 5,860 (78)

    Bottom line: A Hall of Famer, Steve Van Buren was a dangerous runner, receiver and passer during the early days of the NFL.

    The fact that his numbers stand up against runners from the last 60 years tells a story about just how great Van Buren was for seven seasons in Philadelphia.

    Van Buren was able to record impressive statistics and league titles despite playing during a period of great success in NFL history.

32. Fred Taylor

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    Years active: 1998-Current

    Career yards (rank): 11,695 (15)

    Bottom line: Fragile Fred Taylor transformed himself from an oft-injured player with great potential into a legitimate Pro Bowler on winning teams.

    It's impressive enough that Taylor is No. 15 all time on the all-time rushing list—more impressive that he was putting up solid numbers well into his 30s.

    Taylor has seven 1,000-yard seasons and over 14,000 all-purpose yards.

31. Priest Holmes

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    Years active: 1997-2007

    Career yards (rank): 8,172 (38)

    Bottom line: Priest Holmes' rushing totals may not impress you, even though he spent four of his 10 seasons backing up Jamal Lewis in Baltimore.

    Look instead at his all-purpose yards, which total more than 11,000 yards. He also scored 94 touchdowns in those 10 seasons, an impressive number no matter who the player.

    Holmes' impact on the game was also monumental, as he helped usher in a wave of dual-threat running backs who were equally dangerous as receivers.

30. Roger Craig

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    Years active: 1983-1993

    Career yards (rank): 8,189 (36)

    Bottom line: You cannot argue with Roger Craig's impact and production.

    Though he may only rank No. 36 all-time in rushing, he's one of only two running backs to ever lead the NFL in receptions (along with Chuck Foreman).

    Craig has to date not been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but it seems his candidacy is heating up, as his importance to the game is becoming more evident over time.

29. Jamal Lewis

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    Years active: 2000-2009

    Career yards (rank): 10,607 (21)

    Bottom line: Jamal Lewis ranks in the top 25 all-time, had one amazing season in 2003 with 2,066 yards and posted over 1,000 yards seven times in his illustrious NFL career.

    Lewis will be remembered for his power running style with a mix of breakaway speed—and the fact that he has the second-highest single-season rushing total of all time.

    Despite his amazing success he was voted to just one Pro Bowl and All-Pro team during his career.

28. Edgerrin James

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    Years active: 1999-2009

    Career yards (rank): 12,246 (11)

    Bottom line: No. 11 all-time on the career rushing list, Edgerrin James left an incredible mark on the NFL during his 11 seasons in the NFL.

    James led the NFL in rushing in both of his first two seasons in the league, helping propel the Colts to the playoffs with Peyton Manning under center.

    James would rip off five straight 1,000-yard seasons with Indianapolis and Arizona while establishing himself as one of the best runners in the NFL during the early 2000s.

27. John Riggins

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    Years active: 1971-1985

    Career yards (rank): 11,352 (16)

    Bottom line: It's notable that John Riggins, after 25 years away from the NFL, still ranks in the top 20 all-time rushers.

    Riggins was known during his playing days as a bit of an oddball, but he was also one hell of a running back with a punishing style and tireless motor.

    Riggins led the NFL in rushing twice, posting 24 rushing touchdowns in 1983.

26. Chris Johnson

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    Years active: 2008-Current

    Career yards (rank): 4,598 (139)

    Bottom line: In just three NFL seasons, Chris Johnson has left a huge mark on the NFL, enough that we are comfortable putting him in our top 30 based on what he's done thus far, not even considering what he may do in the future.

    Johnson's blend of speed, agility and upper-body strength are the perfect makeup for an NFL running back, and his 2,000 yards in 2009 are good for fifth all-time in a single season.

    While Johnson may do enough in the rest of his career to move up this list, with three straight 1,000-yard seasons to start his career, Johnson is worthy of mention.

25. Floyd Little

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    Years active: 1967-1975

    Career yards (rank): 6,323 (64)

    Bottom line: Floyd Little's impact as a punt returner, kick returner, running back and receiver for the Denver Broncos is legendary.

    Little's 6,000 career rushing yards may not seem like much compared to today's rushers, but when he retired, Little was the No. 7 leading rusher all-time.

24. Adrian Peterson

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    Years active: 2007-Current

    Career yards (rank): 5,782 (83)

    Bottom line: It has taken Adrian Peterson four years to become one of the most talented running backs in NFL history, and he's on track to be one of the most productive as well.

    Peterson has posted over 1,200 yards in each of his first four seasons and at least 10 touchdowns to boot. He has led the NFL in rushing yards, touchdowns and yards per game. He also fixed a fumbling issue that was powerful enough to derail his amazing skills.

    With is average of 1,400 yards per season, Peterson needs just nine more seasons at his average to become the NFL's all-time leading rusher.

    At only 25 years old, it is possible.

23. Bo Jackson

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    Years active: 1987-1990

    Career yards (rank): 2,782 (NR)

    Bottom line: Bo Jackson did not put up the numbers of other players on this list, above or below him, but few could compete with Jackson in terms of power, speed and ability.

    Jackson's NFL career was tragically cut short by a hip injury, but not before he left his mark on the NFL and set a Monday Night Football record with 229 yards rushing against the Seattle Seahawks.

    And he did all of this while backing up Marcus Allen.

22. Terrell Davis

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    Years active: 1995-2001

    Career yards (rank): 7,607 (46)

    Bottom line: Terrell Davis is among the most talented running backs to ever play, but we will never know just how great he could have been, as injury cut his career short.

    Davis was able to contribute a 2,000-yard season and two Super Bowl rings to his credentials before a knee injury cut his career down in 1999.

    Before that time, Davis had posted four straight 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career and looked like a future Hall of Famer.

    He still might be.

21. Thurman Thomas

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    Years active: 1988-2000

    Career yards (rank): 12,074 (14)

    Bottom line: Thurman Thomas was Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson and Edgerrin James before it was hip to be a dual-purpose running back.

    It was Thomas who Bill Belichick was determined to stop as the New York Giants' defensive coordinator in Super Bowl XXV.

    Thomas retired as the all-time Buffalo Bills rushing leader with 11,938 yards and holds the team record for yards from scrimmage with 16,279 over 12 years.

20. Jerome Bettis

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    Years active: 1993-2005

    Career yards (rank): 13,404 (five)

    Bottom line: How many of you knew that Jerome Bettis ranks No. 5 all time on the NFL rushing list?

    Bettis was able to amass amazing numbers by consistently placing great numbers, such as rushing for more than 1,000 yards eight times.

    Before his final season in Pittsburgh, Bettis had never rushed for less than 600 yards in any season.

    While his numbers seem to indicate that Bettis will make the Hall of Fame, he is by no means a lock at this point.

19. Paul Hornung

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    Years active: 1957-1966

    Career yards (rank): 3,711 (204)

    Bottom line: Paul Hornung may be remembered best for being suspended for an entire season due to gambling offenses, but his play on the field is memorable enough.

    Hornung is among three players in history to have ever won the Heisman Trophy, been the first pick overall in the draft and been elected to both the Pro Football and College Football Halls of Fame—which is to say he was pretty good.

    Hornung holds the record for most games with 30-plus points (two), the most games with 25-plus points (three) and the most games with 13 points in a season (seven games in 1960). He is also the oldest player ever to score five touchdowns in a single game (29 years, 354 days).

18. Marion Motley

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    Years active: 1946-1955

    Career yards (rank): 4,720 (127)

    Bottom line: Before the NFL existed, there was the AAFC—and Marion Motley was its god.

    Motley and the Browns won every championship in the four-year existence of the AAFC, losing just four games.

    When the Browns joined the NFL in 1950, Motley dominated there too.

    Motley was the second black man voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and was voted by The Sporting News the 32nd-best player in NFL history.

17. O.J. Simpson

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    Years active: 1969-1979

    Career yards (rank): 11,236 (18)

    Bottom line: Personal opinions and off-field issues aside, O.J. Simpson was a great running back.

    He was the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards, back in 1973, doing so in just 14 games.

    Simpson led the NFL in rushing four times during his career and retired with over 13,000 all-purpose yards.

    The Hall of Famer could be higher on our list if, you know, he didn't kill his wife.

16. Curtis Martin

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    Years active: 1995-2005

    Career yards (rank): 14,101 (four)

    Bottom line: Curtis Martin may be the most underappreciated running back of the last 25 years.

    He finished his career No. 4 all-time in rushing yards, with over 14,000 yards and 90 touchdowns—but he hasn't made the Hall of Fame yet.

    Martin started his career with 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons, a staggering fact when compared to fellow running backs.

15. Lenny Moore

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    Years active: 1956-1967

    Career yards (rank): 5,174 (104)

    Bottom line: Lenny Moore's impact on the game as a legendary receiver and running back is, well, legendary.

    Moore was voted No. 71 all-time on The Sporting News' Top 100 Greatest Football Players list. He is currently the only player to ever record more than 40 rushing and receiving touchdowns in his career.

    The Hall of Famer left a huge mark on the game, and for that he's honored in our top 15.

14. Bronko Nagurski

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    Years active: 1930-1937, 1943

    Career yards (rank): 2,778 (NR)

    Bottom line: At 6'2" and 235 pounds, Bronko Nagurski would be a big running back in the NFL today—imagine how imposing he would have been 80 years ago.

    Nagurski was a feared running back and linebacker for the Chicago Bears, leading them to two Championships.

    What Nagurski did on paper is not as impressive today, but few players in the history of the NFL left as big a mark or changed the game more.

13-Tied. Doak Walker

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    Years active: 1950-1955

    Career yards (rank): 1,520 (NR)

    Bottom line: In just five seasons of play, Doak Walker changed the NFL with his ability as a runner/receiver.

    Before Walker, running backs simply barreled to the line of scrimmage. After him, backs began being used as receivers and were expected to contribute as such.

    Walker led the Detroit Lions to two NFL championships and was voted an All-Pro four times during his Hall of Fame career.

13-Tied. Jim Taylor

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    Years active: 1958-1967

    Career yards (rank): 8,597 (33)

    Bottom line: In a time when running the ball was how teams won, Jim Taylor was the best.

    Taylor made the sweep play famous in Green Bay under Vince Lombardi and would be the first player in NFL history with five straight 1,000-yard seasons behind the success of the play.

    For his career, Taylor netted over 10,000 total yards.

12. Eric Dickerson

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    Years active: 1977-1988

    Career yards (rank): 13,259 (seven)

    Bottom line: Eric Dickerson's 2,105 yards during the 1984 season still rank as the most ever in a single NFL season. His 13,000 career rushing yards have kept him in the top 10 all-time 23 years after his retirement.

    Dickerson gained a bad rap for his propensity to run out of bounds instead of taking a hit, but in today's NFL, that may be the smarter move. Dickerson was able to extend his career with the extra pads and quick moves to the safety of the sidelines.

    A Hall of Famer, Dickerson amassed eight seasons of at least 1,000 yards rushing and led the NFL in yards four times. His 131.6 yards per game in 1984 are good for fourth all-time.

11. Marcus Allen

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    Years active: 1982-1997

    Career yards (rank): 12,243 (12)

    Bottom line: Marcus Allen is not remembered for his longevity, consistency and breakaway ability, but he should be.

    When Allen retired, he held the NFL record for rushing touchdowns (123) and was the first player to ever record more than 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 yards receiving.

    An amazing goal-line back, Allen began his career as a fullback in Los Angeles before becoming a featured back.

    Allen led the NFL in rushing just once, but over the course of his 16 years in the NFL, he would accumulate over 17,000 all-purpose yards.

10. LaDainian Tomlinson

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    Years active: 2001-Current

    Career yards (rank): 13,404 (six)

    Bottom line: Tomlinson is at 13,404 yards and counting—and at 31 years old he doesn't seem to be slowing down at the rate of most 30-year-old-plus runners.

    Tomlinson's career began with excellence, as he excelled both as a running back and as a receiver. "LT" holds the NFL record with 31 touchdowns in a single season and has over 17,000 all-purpose yards with 159 total touchdowns.

    Just 4,951 yards behind Emmitt Smith for the all-time lead, Tomlinson could realistically approach the mark with five or six more consistent years.

9. Franco Harris

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    Years active: 1972-1984

    Career yards (rank): 12,120 (13)

    Bottom line: Franco Harris would win four Super Bowls, make nine straight Pro Bowls and break Jim Brown's record (at the time) of eight 1,000-yard seasons.

    Harris is currently ranked No. 10 all time with 91 touchdowns, but he also has 90 career fumbles—which is why he's only No. 9 on our list.

    Harris ranked No. 83 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.

8. Marshall Faulk

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    Years active: 1994-2005

    Career yards (rank): 12,279 (10)

    Bottom line: In the post-Barry Sanders NFL of the late 1990s, it was Marshall Faulk who would emerge as the most dangerous running back in the NFL.

    With his amazing ability to run and catch, Faulk would become an All-Pro in Indianapolis and a Super Bowl winner in St. Louis while posting over 19,000 all-purpose yards in his Hall of Fame career.

    Faulk was a touchdown and yards machine, generating more than 1,500 yards eight times in his career.

7. Tony Dorsett

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    Years active: 1977-1988

    Career yards (rank): 12,739 (eight)

    Bottom line: Should Tony Dorsett, not Emmitt Smith, be recognized as the greatest running back in Dallas Cowboy history?

    The Hall of Famer had eight 1,000-yard seasons in Dallas, setting a franchise record with a 99-yard run in 1982...with just 10 men on the field.

    Dorsett was consistent, hard-running and just better than the competition.

6. Emmitt Smith

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    Years active: 1990-2004

    Career yards (rank): 18,355 (one)

    Bottom line: Go ahead, Cowboy fans, let's hear it.

    Emmitt Smith may rank as the No. 1 running back all-time in terms of rushing yards, but he can't touch the talented running backs ahead of him on this list.

    Smith was, until 1998 at least, the second-best running back in the NFL—behind Barry Sanders. Once Sanders retired in '98, Smith could arguably be considered the best until the 2002 season, when he started to slow down.

    Smith was brilliant in his own right, posting 11 straight 1,000-yard seasons and leading the NFL in rushing four times.

    Smith had over 21,000 total yards from scrimmage in his NFL career.

5. Earl Campbell

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    Years active: 1978-1985

    Career yards (rank): 9,407 (30)

    Bottom line: Throw out the numbers and just watch Earl Campbell, and you cannot help but think, "This man is an animal!"

    Campbell was simply bigger, stronger and faster than any defender during his time in the NFL. During his eight years in the league he posted over 1,000 yards five times and led the league in rushing three times—coming just shy of 2,000 yards rushing in 1980.

    Campbell was more than pure power—his 81-yard run in 1978 led the league.

    What cannot be seen in statistics is the grace and explosive power with which Campbell ran.

4. Gale Sayers

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    Years active: 1965-1971

    Career yards (rank): 4,956 (118)

    Bottom line: Gale Sayers set the NFL on fire during his rookie season of 1965, including scoring six touchdowns against the 49ers—a record that still stands today.

    Sayers' explosive, speedy style of play made him the most dangerous man in the NFL as a runner, receiver and return man.

    Had injuries not plagued him, there is no telling what records Sayers would have set. As it is, he holds the record for most touchdowns in a rookie season (22), most touchdowns in a game (six) and highest career kickoff average (30.56).

3. Jim Brown

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    Years active: 1957-1965

    Career yards (rank): 12,312 (nine)

    Bottom line: Each year that a running back tops Jim Brown's 12,000 yards, I get a little sadder. Brown, the first player to rush for more than 12,000 yards in a career, keeps falling down the all-time rushing list.

    One list Brown will never fall far down is that of the greatest NFL players of all time.

    Brown is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.

    What must be remembered, over and over again, is that Brown rushed for his 12,000 yards in just nine seasons, failing to hit 1,000 yards every season of his career by just 58 yards in 1957 and four yards in 1962.

2. Walter Payton

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    Years active: 1975-1987

    Career yards (rank): 16,726 (two)

    Bottom line: Not only one of the greatest football players of all time, Walter Payton is also one of the greatest men to ever put on a helmet and shoulder pads.

    He would total 1,000 yards or more 10 times in his Hall of Fame career, retiring with a 4,000-yard lead on former career rushing leader Jim Brown.

    When he retired, Sweetness held the record for yards in a career and the single-game rushing record (275 yards).

    Payton would miss just one game in his 13-year NFL career.

1. Barry Sanders

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    Years active: 1989-1998

    Career yards (rank): 15,269 (three)

    Bottom line: Simply, the greatest of all time.

    Barry Sanders is the only player in NFL history to total over 1,000 yards rushing in every season; in fact, he did it 10 times straight. He also broke the famed 2,000-yard single-season mark in 1997, one year before calling it quits at age 30.

    Sanders, part by mystery and part by productivity and style, will forever be remembered as one of the greatest football players ever.


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