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10 Best Running Backs of All Time You Should Know

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The best running backs of all time were effective offensive team members. They combined strength, quickness and speed to get past the defensive wall and successfully carry the ball. These are traits that several running backs possessed throughout their careers. Even now, NFL players and fans talk about them. Keep reading to find out more.

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Marcus Allen

10 Best Running Backs of All Time You Should Know
Professional Football Hall of Fame member Marcus Allen. Source: Wikimedia licensed by Public domain 

Marcus Allen is one of the best running backs of all time. He was the first NFL player to make 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards. Allen spent a significant time in his career (1982 and 1992) at the Los Angeles Raiders where he made his name.

After he left, he joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997, where he finished his career. Allen won Super Bowl XVIII with the team and was also successful in college. He won the Heisman Trophy and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) National Championship.

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Earl Campbell

10 Best Running Backs of All Time You Should Know
Former NFL Earl Campbell. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0

Nicknamed Tyler Rose, Earl features in numerous lists of the best running backs of all time. He’s the only NFL player in this position to record 200 yards in four games in the same season. Although he didn’t win the Super Bowl, he won:

  • The NFL MVP in 1979
  • In 1978, Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • In 1978 -1980, Offensive Player of the Year

Campbell spent most of his career at the Houston Oilers (1978 to 1984) and later joined the New Orleans Saints (1984 to 1985). He registered 9,407 rushing yards and 806 receiving yards.

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Tony Dorsett

Tony Dorsett: ‘I’m going to beat this’. Video Credit: CNN

Tony Dorsett had a successful college career. He won the NCAA and the Heisman Trophy. In the 1977 NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys chose him as a first-round second-pick player and represented them until 1977. 

The running back won the Super Bowl XII in his first season and was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. In his career, he made over 12,700 rushing yards and over 3,500 receiving yards

After he left, Dorsett joined the Denver Broncos in 1988, which turned out to be his last season in the league.

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Marshall Faulk

Marshall Faulk talking about his career. Video Credit: Bussin With the Boys

Faulk joins our list of the best running backs of all time. He’s on an illustrious list of players who’ve achieved 10,000 rushing and 5,000 receiving yards. Faulk also holds the record of being the only player with 12,000 rushing and 6,000 receiving yards. 

He played for the Indianapolis Colts (1994 to 1998) and the St. Louis Rams (1999 to 2006). In 1999, when he won Super Bowl (XXVIV) he was also named the Most Valuable Player of the Year. 

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Eric Dickerson

Eric Dickerson discussing his career. Video Credit: The Pivot Podcast

You couldn’t miss out on Eric Dickerson because he wore prescription glasses due to myopia. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the best running backs in the league.

In 1984, he wrote his name in the history book after he made a single-season record of 2,015 rushing yards. In 1983, the Los Angeles Rams drafted him. He played for them until 1987 and moved to the Indianapolis Colts (1987 to 1991).

In his last two seasons, he was at the Los Angeles Raiders (1992) and Atlanta Falcons (1993).

Dickerson was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. The player won the following accolades:

  • 6 Pro Bowls
  • 4 times NFL Rushing Yards Leader

Adrian Peterson

10 Best Running Backs of All Time You Should Know
Adrian Peterson in a game. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-BY-SA-2.0

In his freshman year, Adrian Peterson was the runner-up on the Heisman Trophy list. By the time he left the Oklahoma Sooners, he ranked third in the rushing yards list.

In 2007, the Minnesota Vikings drafted him as a first-round seventh pick and Peterson met the expectation. He wasn’t a Super Bowl winner, but he scooped individual awards:

After leaving the Vikings, he joined:

Barry Sanders

Barry Sanders’ football life. Video Credit: Detroit Lions

1988 is an unforgettable year for Barry Sanders. In 11 games, he made 2,628 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns, which led to him winning the Heisman Trophy and being voted All-American. 

Unfortunately, Sanders, considered one of the best running backs, never won the Super Bowl in his nine years with the Detroit Lions (1989 to 1998), despite playing in 5 playoffs. In his career, he made over 15,200 rushing yards.

Jim Brown

10 Best Running Backs of All Time You Should Know
Jim Brown wearing a helmet. Source: Wikimedia licensed by Public domain

No conversation about the best running backs is complete without mentioning Jim Brown. He spent his entire career at the Cleveland Browns (1957-1965) and led them to the NFL Championship in 1964. 

Brown was the Most Valuable Player thrice and was the touchdown leader five times. He finished his career with 12,312 rushing yards and over 2,400 receiving yards.

Walter Payton

10 Best Running Backs of All Time You Should Know
Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton rushing the ball against the New Orleans Saints. Source: Wikimedia licensed by Public domain

Walter Payton dominated the NFL between 1975 and 1987 when he played for the Chicago Bears. He wasn’t part of a Super Bowl-winning team but scooped accolades. In 1977, he was the: 

Payton totaled 16,726 rushing yards and 4,538 receiving yards.

Emmitt Smith

Emmitt Smith’s football life. Video Credit: Pocky Candy

Smith was thrice a Super Bowl winner with the Dallas Cowboys, a team he played for between 1990 and 2002. Emmitt Smith holds some NFL records:

  • Most career rushing yards – 18,355
  • Most career rushing touchdowns – 164
  • Most career rushing attempts – 4,409

Other honors he received include NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and the Super Bowl MVP.

These are the best running backs of all time. They raised the standard needed to perform in this position and contributed immensely to the success of their teams. Some are in the Hall of Fame. Have you watched any of these players?

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