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30 Greatest Running Backs Ever – Ranked



In a time where passing has become the focus in the NFL, it’s easy to forget about the glory days when a hard-nosed rushing attack was the preferred offense. With games won in the trenches, running backs carried the ball with speed, efficacy, and power, and superstars were born.
Though every generation has their own group of Hall of Famers, the golden era of running backs undoubtedly ran from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, and produced all-time records that will surely never be beaten. From Gayle Sayers To LaDanian Tomlinson, here’s our list of the 25 greatest running backs ever.

30. Corey Dillon

Corey Dillon was a workhorse for both the Bengals and the Patriots, but he was maybe the best running back the Pats had ever had. In 2004 when they won the Super Bowl, Dillon’s 1,635 yards was a franchise record, and his 11,241 career yards are the 20th most all time.

29. Fred Taylor

Seven 1,000-yard rushing seasons are no joke, so it’s a shame Fred Taylor has still not received his deserved Hall of Fame bid. His 11,695 yards are 17th all-time, and he’s no doubt the most productive running back the Jacksonville Jaguars have had in franchise history.

28. Ricky Watters

Ricky Watters was a 5-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion as a member of the 49ers, who finished his 10-year career with 10,643 total rushing yards. He racked up 78 total TDs on the ground, but he was also extremely effective catching the ball out of the backfield, accumulating over 4,200 yards and 13 more scores through the air.

27. Jamal Lewis

Jamal Lewis is a Raven legend, and his record-setting 2003 season is still the third best in NFL history. That year, he rushed for 2,066 yards and even had a single 295-yard game, which were second and first all-time until Adrian Peterson broke them both. Even though he only played 9 seasons, he finished with 10,607 yards, good enough for 25th all-time behind Ricky Waters.

26. Edgerrin James

One of the most underrated running backs ever was Edgerrin James. He’s not only the Colts’ all-time leader in rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns, but he’s also a four-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, as well as a Hall of Fame inductee, thanks to his 12,246 career yards which rank him 13th in history. He was also pivotal in the development of Peyton Manning’s early career.

25. Joe Perry

The icon Joe Perry pioneered the way for halfbacks to come, as he had two rushing titles to his name, and even took home the MVP award one season. His dominance for the 49ers landed him in the Hall of Fame, and he was named an All-Pro three times. He finished his career with 8,378 yards and 53 TDs.

24. Ollie Matson

No matter where Ollie Matson played, he was dominant. The 7-time All-Pro was once traded for 9 (!) players in 1958, and when he retired, his 12,799 all-purpose yards were second only to Jim Brown. While he had 40 rushing touchdowns, he also recorded another 23 through the air.

23. Jim Taylor

Jim Taylor optimizes the legacy of the Green Bay Packers, as he was a 4-time NFL champion before winning one Super Bowl when they merged. The former MVP also won one rushing title, and led the league in rushing TDs twice. His 83 career TDs and 8,597 yards cemented his Hall of Fame career.

22. Larry Csonka

Apart from being a part of the perfect ‘72 Dolphins, Csonka also won the Super Bowl MVP that season. And for only playing 7 seasons, he made the most of it, racking up 8,081 yards on the ground and notching 64 career TDs. Csonka also got 5 Pro Bowl invites in addition to his inevitable Hall induction.

21. Marcus Allen

Marcus Allen was more than just an NFL MVP – he was a force to be reckoned with. The two-time rushing leader also led the league in TDs one season, and his 12,243 rushing yards and 144 touchdowns for the Raiders and Chiefs was enough to guarantee his Hall of Fame status.

20. Marion Motley

Motley might not be a name you’re familiar with if you’re not a NFL history buff, but as a full-back and one of the first African American football players, he changed the game forever. Even though he also doubled as a linebacker, Marion Motley’s 5.7 yard per carry average is still an NFL record. Growing up in Canton, he played for the original Browns after returning from war for the late Paul Brown, and enjoyed one championship. Joe Perry even called him “the greatest all-around football player there ever was.”

19. Terrell Davis

Terrell Davis was the right-hand man to John Elway, and together they made defenses pay. Davis became a two-time champion, won himself a Super Bowl MVP and a regular one, and finished as a three-time All-Pro. His 7,607 yards and 60 career TDs gave him one rushing title and two scoring ones.

18. John Riggins

Riggins was essential to Washington’s Super Bowl victory during his tenure, where he won MVP. He led the league in rushing touchdowns twice, and had 11,352 career yards in addition to his 104 TDs. The bruiser and his iconic neck brace were a no-brainer for admission to Canton.

17. Jerome Bettis

“The Bus” more than lived up to his name, and many were happy to see the crowd favorite win his deserved Super Bowl in 2006. The Steeler great was voted to 6 Pro Bowls, finished his career with 13,662 yards, and scored 91 touchdowns to round out a stellar rushing legacy.

16. Thurman Thomas

Thurman Thomas may have never won a Super Bowl, but his career numbers and ferociousness on the field made him one to fear. In just 12 seasons, Thomas rushed for 12,074 yards and scored 88 times, with a single MVP to his name. There was no workhorse quite like him in his era.

15. John Henry Johnson

Part of San Francisco’s “million dollar backfield,” John Henry was another full-back who probably would have even more impressive stats had he not started out in the Canadian league. The two-time champ bounced between teams in his 12 years, but he finished with 6,803 and 48 touchdowns. He’s the oldest player to rush for 200 yards in a game and 1,000 in a season at the age of 34.

14. Adrian Peterson

When Adrian Peterson stepped in the NFL, it was like a blast from the past. He cut like Sanders, smashed like Payton, and scored like Brown. His single-game rushing record of 296 still stands, and his three-time rushing titles and MVP all but guarantee his Hall induction. He’s nearing 15,000 yards, has 118 TDs, and guess what? He’s still playing. He’ll likely move up on this list.

13. Cutis Martin

Many people forget about Curtis Martin, but you’d be foolish to overlook the 5-time Pro-Bowler. He led the league in rushing in 2004, and he notched 14,101 yards over the span of his career. He also had 90 rushing TDs, and another 10 receiving, giving him an even 100. His speed and agility highlighted a new skill set for RBs going forward.

12. Marshall Faulk

While Faulk played for “the greatest show on turf,” he could’ve argued that title for himself. After lighting up defenses for the Colts, #28 excelled for the Rams and won MVP the year after they won the Super Bowl in ‘99. Faulk was also an amazing receiver out of the backfield, where his 767 receptions and 36 receiving touchdowns went nicely with his 12,280 rushing yards and 100 rushing TDs.

11. Emmit Smith

Cowboys fans will be upset to see Smith left out of the top 10, but his numbers don’t diminish his position one bit. He was a three-time Super Bowl champion, winning the MVP once and still leads the NFL in career rushing yards at 18,355 and TDs at 164. He earned himself 4 rushing and scoring titles apiece, and was elected to the Pro Bowl a whopping 8 times. Not too shabby.

10. O.J. Simpson

There’s a lot to say about “The Juice,” but it’s undeniable that he wreaked havoc on defenses. He’s the only player to rush for 2,000+ yards in a 14-game season, and he still holds the record for average rushing yards per game at 143.1. Despite his downfall, he sure had talent on the field.

9. Tony Dorsett

Tony Dorsett’s 99-yard rushing TD will always be tied to his namesake, but his decade with the Cowboys had plenty of other accolades. A one-time Super Bowl champ, he was also voted to 4 Pro Bowls and rushed for 12,739 yards and 77 TDs in his career. Safe to say, he was a sure-fire inductee in Canton.

8. Earl Campbell

Earl Campbell is one of the most familiar Houston Oiler faces in history, having led the league in rushing three times and scoring twice. Campbell also had an MVP to his name, along with five trips to the Pro Bowl. He finished his illustrious career with 9,407 yards and 74 career TDs.

7. Barry Sanders

No one else quite lit up the field like Barry Sanders. His footwork was immaculate, and his ability to carve defenses up made him a league favorite. In just 10 seasons, he racked up 15,269 yards and 99 rushing TDs. Oh, and he was voted to the Pro Bowl every single season. He’s considered the best player to have never played in a Super Bowl, which is a shame.

6. Eric Dickerson

Dickerson was a 6-time Pro Bowler himself, and his league-leading rushing attack took hold of defenses four separate seasons. But most notably, his 2,105 yards in a single season still stand as the gold standard. All in all, he notched 13,259 in his career, coupled with 90 touchdowns to his name.

LaDanian Tomlinson

L.T. was something of an anomaly for his size, but oh did he make defenses pay. He led the league in rushing twice, and scored more TDs than any running back in three different campaigns. His 28 rushing TDs in a season is an NFL record, and 145 in his career is just astonishing. Tomlinson ran for 13,684 yards in his career, and was named All-Pro three times.

4. Bo Jackson

Bo Jackson deserves this spot solely because he was an all-pro running back while also having an all-pro career in the MLB. If it weren’t for injuries, Jackson would’ve likely put up astronomical stats based on his talent alone. Lest, in his four seasons, he rushed for 2,782 yards and 16 TDs.

3. Gale Sayers

Gale Sayers truly showed what a talented running back was capable of in the ‘60s, leading the league in rushing twice all while playing in one of football’s hardest divisions at the time. He rushed for 4,956 yards total, tallying 39 TDs and four Pro Bowl selections in just 7 seasons, two of which he spent injured.

2. Walter Payton

Payton deserves utmost respect for having the “Man of the Year” award named for him alone. The one-time MVP and Super Bowl champ, Payton redefined the RB position at a time when running the ball was tough. He notched 16,726 career yards, 110 touchdowns, and even caught 15 more. At the time, these were staggering numbers and no one had ever seen anything like it. Walter Payton was also a 7-time All-Pro and 9-time Pro Bowler.

1. Jim Brown

You can’t say enough about Jim Brown, and he absolutely deserves the #1 spot. Not only was he a 3-time MVP, but he also had a Super Bowl ring and led the league in rushing an astounding 8 times, while taking home the scoring title 5 times as well. No one was more productive over the course of their career, and to have 12,312 career rushing yards and 106 TDs plus 20 more receiving in the ‘50s and ‘60s was beyond comprehension at the time.