12 Best Running Backs Of All Time

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12 Best Running Backs Of All Time !! The running backs in football play a crucial role in the offensive backfield. Their primary role during the game is to receive handoffs from the quarterback to rush the ball, block, and act as a receiver.

One of the greatest football events, Super Bowl LVII 2023, set to happen on February 12, 2023, is just around the corner. Will your favorite running back make it to the Super Bowl?

There are many legendary running backs in the NFL. But if you have to rank them, which players will make it onto your top twelve list?

Marcus Allen
Marcus Allen, One of The Best Running Backs of All Time (Source: Sportsnet)

This article ranks the 12 best running backs based on the player’s career ranks and statistics. 

Now, without any delay, let us go through the list. 

12 Best Running Backs Of All Time

We have prepared our top list with the help of trusted internet sources like BleacherReport and AthlonSports.

Player Name NFL Draft Year 
12. Curtis Martin 1995
11. Earl Campbell 1978
10. Eric Dickerson 1983
9. Marcus Allen 1982
8. Jerome Bettis 1993
7. Adrian Peterson 2007
6. Marshall Faulk 1994
5. LaDainian Tomlinson 2001
4. Emmitt Smith 1990
3. Barry Sanders 1989
2. Walter Payton 1975
1. Jim Brown 1957

12. Curtis Martin

The first football running back on our number 12 is Curtis Martin. He is a former American professional player who played 12 seasons in NFL.

Now 49 years old, Martin started playing football in his senior year at high school. He was a natural athlete and caught the attention of the University of Pittsburgh’s football coach Paul Hackett.

Martin was touted highly during the NFL draft for his speed and slashing running style. Later, New England Patriots drafted him in the 1995 NFL draft, and he made his NFL debut with the team.

Curtis Martin
Curtis Martin (Source: Instagram)

During his professional career, Martin had notable wins like NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, five times Pro Bowl, NFL rushing yard leader, Second-team All-Pro twice, etc.

Martin retired from NFL in 2007 with the fifth-highest total rushing yards of 14,101 in NFL history. In 2012, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

11. Earl Campbell

Earl Campbell, better known as “the Tyler Rose,” is number 11 on our list of the best running backs of all time. The 67 year-old is a former American professional running back.

Campbell was the Heisman Trophy winner during his college year. Sporting News and United Press International named him college football player of the year, and the Houston Oilers drafted him as the first overall pick in the 1978 NFL draft.

Soon after his debut, Campbell established himself as one of the best power running backs. He became well known for his aggressive, pushing running style and ability to break tackles.

Earl Campbell
Earl Campbell (Source: Instagram)

After his retirement, Campbell was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991. In addition, he was named to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team in 2019.

10. Eric Dickerson

62 year-old Eric Dickerson is a former football running back who played 11 seasons in NFL. The Los Angeles Rams drafted him second overall in the 1983 NFL draft.

During his professional NFL career, Dickerson played for Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Raiders, and Atlanta Falcons. In 1984, he set the record for NFL’s single-season rushing record with 2,105 yards. The record is still intact to date.

Eric Dickerson
Eric Dickerson (Source: Instagram)

Dickerson has a long list of career highlight wins and awards, including NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Pro Bowl six times, First-team All-Pro five times, etc.

Dickerson is widely regarded as one of the greatest running backs. In 1999, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Similarly, he was also named to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team in 2019.

9. Marcus Allen

On number 9 of the best running backs of all time, we have 62 year-old former football running back Marcus Allen. He is considered one of the greatest goal-line and short-yard runners in NFL history.

The Los Angeles Raiders drafted him 10th overall in the 1982 NFL draft. From 1982 to 1992, Allen spent 11 seasons with the Raiders.

He then left the team and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. He played with the Chief until he retired from his professional career.

Marcus Allen
Marcus Allen (Source: Instagram)

In his NFL career, Allen won numerous awards and titles. Some notable wins include Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP, NFL Most Valuable Player, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, six times Pro Bowl, etc.

He was the first player to gain more than 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards in his career. After the 1997 season, Allen announced his retirement from the sport.

In 2000, he became a College Football Hall of Famer and the Pro Football Hall of Famer in 2003.

8. Jerome Bettis

50 year-old Jerome Bettis is a former football running back and number 8 of the best running backs of all time. Nicknamed “the bus,” he played 13 seasons in the NFL.

He played college football at the University of Notre Dame. However, Bettis did not graduate from college because he left in his senior year to enter the 1993 NFL draft.

Jerome Bettis
Jerome Bettis (Source: Instagram)

In the 1993 NFL draft, the Los Angeles Rams drafted him in the first round as the 10th overall selection. He soon grabbed everyone’s attention with his enormous size and running style.

In the 1996 NFL draft, the Rams traded Bettis to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The trade became one of the more lopsided trades in the sport’s history.

In 2006, he announced his retirement from NFL after helping the Steelers win a Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XL. He became into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

7. Adrian Peterson

Next, we have 37 year-old football running back Adrian Peterson. He is a free agent whom Minnesota Vikings drafted seventh overall in the 2007 NFL draft.

After being drafted by the Vikings, Peterson played for other NFL teams like New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, and Tennessee Titans.

Adrian Peterson with the Vikings
Adrian Peterson with the Vikings (Source: Wikimedia.org)

In his long list of achievements, he is the fifth player in NFL to have more than 3,000 yards through his first two seasons. Likewise, he is also the fifth-fastest player to run for 5,000 yards.

On December 1, 2021, Seattle Seahawks signed Peterson to their practice squad. On December 4, he played against the San Francisco 49ers and became the first player to score a rushing touchdown with six teams in NFL history.

6. Marshall Faulk

Marshall Faulk is a 49 year-old former NFL running back. Widely regarded as one of the greatest running backs of all time, he played 13 seasons in the NFL.

Faulk received an athletic scholarship to attend San Diego State University. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in 1991 and 1993. Then in 1994, he entered the NFL draft.

The Indianapolis Colts selected him in the 2nd overall during the draft, and Faulk signed a seven-year contract worth $17.2 million. However, he only played with the Colts until the 1998 season, after which he was traded to the St. Louis Rams.

Marshall Faulk
Marshall Faulk (Source: Instagram)

During his professional career, Faulk became one of the only three players to reach at least 10,000 rushing yards and the only player to reach 12,000 yards rushing and 6,000 yards receiving.

In 2007, Faulk announced retirement from the sport after reconstructive knee surgery. In 2017, he became the Pro Football Hall of Famer, and in 2017, he became the College Football Hall of Famer.

5. LaDainian Tomlinson

On number 5 of the best running backs of all time, we have 43 year-old former professional football player LaDainian Tomlinson. He played as the NFL’s running back for 11 seasons.

During his college year, Tomlinson became an NCAA twice and a unanimous first-team All-American. After graduation, he entered the 2001 NFL draft, where the San Diego Chargers selected him in the first round as the fifth overall pick.

LaDainian Tomlinson
LaDainian Tomlinson (Source: Instagram)

Tomlinson spent the majority of his NFL career with the Chargers. In the 2010 season, he entered the free-agent market. On March 14, New York Jets signed him on a two-year contract worth $5.2 million.

His notable wins include NFL MVP, Pro Bowl five times, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, NFL rushing yards leader twice, NFL rushing touchdowns leader three times, etc.

In 2014, Tomlinson became the College Football Hall of Famer. Likewise, he became a Pro Football Hall of Famer in 2017. Currently, he works as an analyst on NFL Network.

4. Emmitt Smith

The 53 year-old Emmitt Smith is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and one of the best running backs. He is a former football running back who played 15 seasons in NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the first round of the 1990 NFL draft, and he spent most of his career with the Cowboys.

In 2003, Arizona Cardinals signed Smith as a free agent on a two-year contract. After the end of the contract, he was not re-signed by the Cardinals, and he announced his retirement from sports.

Emmitt Smith
Emmitt Smith (Source: Instagram)

Smith holds the NFL record for career-rushing touchdowns. He is the only running back to win the Super Bowl championship, the NFL Most Valuable Player award, the NFL rushing crown, and the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award in the same season.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for contributing to the sport in 2006. Additionally, Smith became the Pro Football Hall of Famer in 2010.

3. Barry Sanders

We have made it to the top three best running backs. And on our number 3, we have 54 year-old former football player, Barry Sanders.

Sanders is one of the most elusive runners in NFL history. He played football during high school and attended Oklahoma State University, where he played college football.

In his junior college year in 1988, he recorded what is widely considered the greatest individual seasons in college football history. As a result, Sanders won the Heisman Trophy and was unanimously named an All-American.

Barry Sanders being carried off by his teammates
Barry Sanders (Source: Sportscasting.com)

In the 1989 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions drafted him as number three overall. He spent his entire professional career from 1989 to 1998 with the Lion and recorded a long list of achievements.

Sanders is regarded as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. In 2004, he became the Pro Football Hall of Famer. Similarly, in 2019, he was named to the National Football League 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.

2. Walter Payton

Widely regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time, Walter Payton played 13 seasons in NFL.

In the 1975 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears drafted him in the first round as the fourth overall pick. Payton established himself as a prolific rusher and became a record-holder in many categories in his career.

Walter Payton
Walter Payton (Source: Instagram)

Some of his career highlights, win, and awards include Super Bowl champion, NFL Most Valuable Player, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, NFL Man of the Year, nine times Pro Bowl, and five times First-team All-Pro, etc.

Payton had the most receptions by a non-receiver at his retirement, and eight career touchdown passes. In 1993, he became the Pro Football Hall of Famer, and the Bears retired his jersey number.

In his honor, the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and Walter Payton Award has been named after him. This great running back passed away at 46 on November 1, 1999.

1. Jim Brown

The number 1 best running back of all time is 86 year-old Jim Brown. The former football player is considered one of the greatest running backs of all time and one of the greatest players in NFL history.

A unanimous All-America winner during his college year, Brown attended Syracuse University. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant after graduating from college.

Brown was a successful multi-sport athlete who excelled in basketball, track, and lacrosse on top of football. In 1957, he entered the NFL draft, and the Cleveland Browns selected him in the first round as the sixth overall selection.

Jim Brown, 1971
JBrown’sn, 1971 (Source: Instagram)

Brown’s NFL career spanned from 1957 to 1965, which he entirely spent with the Browns. His notable career wins and awards include NFL champion, NFL Most Valuable Player three times, Pro Bowl nine times, First-team All-Pro eight times, etc.

In the history of the NFL, Brown is the only player to average over 100 rushing yards per game in his career. Similarly, his 5.2 yards per rush is third-best among running backs.

In 1971, Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Likewise, he was honored as the most outstanding college football player of all time at the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship.

Conclusion

NFL has indeed seen many great and best running backs over the years. Although there are many deserving players, we could only list twelve. These players’ career statistics and impact on the game have made the best of all time.

So, who do you think deserves the number one position in the NFL-best running back of all time? Feel free to share your thoughts!

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