The NFL gained popularity on the great running backs that became stars. This article will form a list of the top 10 NFL running backs of all-time. This list is composed of dominant prime years, longevity, and skills watched through film.
10. Marshall Faulk
Marshall Faulk might be the best dual threat running back of all time being one of only three running backs to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. One of the greatest primes ever for a running back, Faulk won three consecutive Offensive Players of the Year awards from 1999-2001.
Faulk added a MVP in 2000, at the time, breaking Emmitt Smith’s record for most touchdowns in a season with 26. Faulk is also fifth all-time in scrimmage yards with 19,154, and twice led the league in scrimmage yards in 1998 and 1999.
Faulk also has the second most scrimmage yards in a season of all time with 2,429. Faulk also looked the part on film, with some of the best jukes of all time. He possessed a lethal spin move, the agility of a scared cat, and blazing speed to finish breakaway runs.
Faulk also was one of the best route runners from the running back position, often being asked to play the slot for the greatest show on turf. Faulk was the best offensive player on one of the greatest offenses of all-time winning Super Bowl XXXIV.
Faulk has the 7th most touchdowns in the history of the NFL and is the only running back ever to have 12,000 rushing yards and 6,000 receiving yards.
9. Eric Dickerson
Eric Dickerson had the greatest start to a career of any running back of all time. Leading the league in rushing in 1983 with 1,808 yards breaking the rookie record. The following year he would break the NFL record, that still stands, for rushing yards in a season with 2,105.
Dickerson was named first team all pro in both 1983 and 1984, and would add three more from 1986-1988 leading the league in rushing two more times. His four rushing titles are tied for second all time only trailing Jim Brown.
Dickerson was graceful when he ran, criticized for his upright running style he still possessed surprising power and blazing speed. Excellent vision and agility allowed him to find the open gap and make the first man miss before out running everyone.
Dickerson ranks 9th all time in rushing yards with 13,259. He won offensive player of the year in 1986 and offensive rookie of the year in 1983. Dickerson was a five time first team All-Pro.
Eric Dickerson became the faster running back ever to 10,000 career rushing yards by doing so in only 91 games.
8. O.J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson was elected first team All-Pro five consecutive times from 1972-1976. He finished top five in Offensive Player of the Year voting all five years, and won the award in 1973. From 1972-75 he also finished top 5 in MVP voting and won the award in 1973 as well.
1973 is arguably the greatest season a running back has ever had. Simpson was the first running back to rush for over 2,000 yards and he did it in a 14 game season averaging 143.1 yards per game which is the best ever in a single season, every other running back that rushed for 2,000 in a season did so in a 16 game season.
Simpson led the league in rushing yards four times which is tied for the second most times, he led the league in rushing touchdowns twice, and led the league in yards from scrimmage three times.
Simpson arguably had the greatest prime of any running back ever which is why he ranks above Faulk and Dickerson who might be more talented. A style of running that looked unconventional with long strides and short choppy steps Simpson just had a way of making defenders miss.
Simpson also ranks above Dickerson and Faulk due to how bad the team around him was. Simpson was easily the only threat the Buffalo Bills had and he still managed to achieve everything stated above.
7. Adrian Peterson
Eight months after a torn ACL and MCL Adrian Peterson would have one of the greatest rushing seasons of all time. Rushing for the second most yards in a season with 2,097 and leading the Vikings to the playoffs when they should have been picking in the top five of the draft.
Peterson has the fifth most rushing yards of all time with 14,918 and is fourth all time in rushing touchdowns with 120. He is also 10th all time in total touchdowns with 126. Peterson was elected first team All-Pro four times and won NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 2012 for his dominating season.
The style of running that Peterson had might be the best all round skill set for any running back ever. Take out blocking schemes, down and distances, and simply hand the ball to someone and tell them not to get tackled, Peterson would be the first choice for many people.
Of the 10 running backs on this list Peterson is the fastest, his speed was blazing at times being known as an angel breaker. He also possessed bone crushing power, just ask Willie Gay (link below), Peterson refused to run out of bounce and made defenders earn the right to say they tackled him.
Peterson also had some of the hardest, quickest, and most effective jump cuts ever, and combined with the agility of a cheetah it made people question at times if he was made in a lab because no one has ever had those combination of skills.
6. Gale Sayers
Gale Sayers ranks this high because of how dominating his prime was and the fact his tape stands out more than anyone else mentioned so far. The smoothest and most graceful running back to ever play the game had his career just short due to a knee injury after seven seasons.
Sayers was selected first team All-Pro five times in his seven year career, all of which were consecutive starting his rookie year in 1965-1969. Also, he only played in two games each of his last two seasons, so in every year he played the whole year he was the best running back in the league.
Sayers finished top five in MVP voting in each of those five years, as well as setting the then NFL record with 20 touchdowns in a season. Sayers also has the record for the most touchdowns in a game with six.
Another factor to why Sayers ranks above numbers 10-7 is that he is one of the top five greatest return specialists ever. Sayers led the league in All-Purpose yards for the first three years of his career.
Sayers said all he needed was 18 inches of daylight and the film proves that. His agility, speed, and balance combination is unmatched by any other running back to ever play the game. Sayers looked like water running through a sieve in every highlight in his career.
He was nicknamed the Kansas Comet because if you blinked you might miss him as a defender, or as a fan. It is worth noting that with modern medicine practices he could have made a better recovery and accumulated the career statistics the other running backs on this list have, which is also why he isn’t being punished for lack of longevity.