Top five NFL running backs in history: Fan’s opinion

NFL running backs

Combining speed, power and agility, running backs have consistently been some of the finest NFL athletes throughout the league's history. As a New Orleans Saints fan, we have had some fine running backs such as Chuck Muncie, George Rogers and Deuce McAllister(notes). But the Saints have never had any of the legendary running backs of the NFL. Take a look back at the top five running backs in NFL history.

5. Eric Dickerson: Los Angeles Rams, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Raiders, Atlanta Falcons

In just his second NFL season, running back Eric Dickerson broke the single season rushing record with 2,105 yards. 27 years later, Dickerson's record still stands. Blessed with superior speed and power, Dickerson was a nightmare for defenses to try to contain. In his NFL career, Dickerson was a Pro Bowl running back six times and first team All-Pro five times. Eric Dickerson ranks seventh among NFL running backs with 13,259 career rushing yards.

4. Walter Payton: Chicago Bears

When Walter Payton retired, he was the career leader in NFL rushing yardage with 16,726 yards. "Sweetness" was a graceful running back and was a five time first team All-Pro. The greatest injustice that ever occurred in Walter Payton's NFL career was that William Perry scored a TD in Super Bowl XX and Payton did not. The nine time Pro Bowl running back passed away in 1999 at the age of 45.

3. Emmitt Smith: Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals

Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith formed quite a trio for the Dallas Cowboys. That's why it was so odd to see Smith play running back for the Cardinals at the end of his career. While most running backs struggle when they reach 30, Smith was able to play running back in the NFL for 15 years. His longevity helped him become the NFL's all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards. Smith was an eight time Pro Bowler and four time first team All-Pro.

2. Barry Sanders: Detroit Lions

Barry Sanders is the greatest NFL player I've ever seen. I can't even count how many times I saw the Lions' offensive line allow Sanders to get brutalized. Then in the fourth quarter, he would make a move that defied the laws of physics and get his 100 yards. It's a shame that Sanders retired in his prime and did not shatter the NFL rushing record. With 15,269 rushing yards, Sanders was a Pro Bowl running back each year of his 10-year career.

1. Jim Brown: Cleveland Browns

I never saw Jim Brown play running back in the NFL. But I have heard too many of my elders praise Brown not to place him at the top of the list of the all-time greatest NFL running backs. Although Brown only ranks ninth on the all-time NFL rushing list, he did play in an era when the NFL only had 12, then 14, regular season games. But this stat is telling. Jim Brown is the only running back in NFL history to average over 100 yards rushing per game (104.3).

Honorable Mention NFL running backs

Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, LaDainian Tomlinson(notes)


"Football Leaders & Football Records,"

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Updated Wednesday, May 25, 2011