91 Responses to “Who Is the Best Running Back Ever?”
My favorite is Eric Dickerson, but Barry Sanders did more with less than any player that I’ve seen. He may have lost 1,000 yards over his career because his running style caused him to lose yardage at times. Imagine if he was blessed with the O-Line that Emmitt Smith had.
Big ups to Fred Taylor and Warrick Dunn for reaching 10,000 yards for their careers. Taylor would be higher if he didn’t miss close to 2 seasons due to injuries. Dunn is as resilient as they come.
Payton’s running style was just too “sweet”. That run he made at the 7:05 mark against KC was sick!
Gale Sayers’ career ended too soon.
Barry’s style was majestic, a thing of beauty and a work of art.
ED looked better than the juice running the ball (The Pony Express).
Earl Campbell was just scary. I would not want to tackle that fool!
Having said all of that, it’s hard to say who’s the best because there are 5 different eras to consider. But like I said in a previous post, Walter Payton is the best RB i’ve ever seen. He could do it all: run, catch, block and even pass! For the bulk of his career, his offensive line sucked but he made the most of it. Barry was the best at running the ball and making you miss. Did yall see all those empty shoes on the field during his highlights? :-)
My list looks like this:
1. Walter Payton
2. Barry Sanders
3. Jim Brown
4. Eric Dickerson
5. LaDainian Tomlinson
If LT stays healthy, he could end up being numero uno on my list.
Brown is way before my time, but to me he’s like the original modern era back. Brown came in that whole era of football where blacks were just getting re-integrated into the league, and you talk to any old school football fans, black or white, and they all love Brown. Almost every old school fan will tell you that Brown was their favorite player or best player they ever saw, so all props to Brown.
Payton was also before my time.
I’ll stick with Barry as best that I saw, 86-present.
And as I’ve said before don’t sleep on LaDainian, he’s consistent, avoids injuries and is a TD machine. 2010 (his 10th yr) he should be right at Barry’s numbers.
Can’t see the video at my second job. Got to wait until I go to my real job.
GN and Mizzo I like both your lists. That’s why I am trying to stop saying who is the best and just enjoy the ride, because there are so many subjective reasons for choosing one over the other.
My bad, posted before I saw the LaDainian video up. Missed one of the better runs, no disrespect to Sean Taylor… but 2 yrs ago against the Redskins in OT when he destroyed Sean with a brutal stiffarm on the way to the endzone, man I loved that.
I could watch RB highlight clips all damn day, thanks for posting them.
A couple other non SD people (well, sorta) that have been slept on, Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig. Craig had some nice ass runs back in the day, and first (only?) 1000 and 1000 guy, should get props as the prototype do it all back, not necessarily best ever though. Just felt he should get a little love.
Faulk had a nice career and the 3 yrs that he was either NFL MVP or Offensive player of the year. And the Rams got him for a second round pick… nice steal there.
Long time reader, first time poster. Wanted to chime in.
I admit that I am a home with my first pick. But no one, is better than 1. JIM BROWN. A big back with small back moves and speed, Mr. Brown ran the way Mike Tyson punched, “with bad intentions”. He set the rushing mark that stayed put for 20 years and never missed a game due to injury. AND he was in Dirty Dozen. Sounds like a career to me.
Number 2 is tough. So the tiebreaker would have to be versatility. What did the back bring to the table that kept defensive coordinators awake at night? For my #2, gotta be Walter “Sweetness” Payton. Running and catching were equally as important as picking up the blitz and punishing a linebacker. Just wish Iron Mike would’ve given him the ball in the Super Bowl.
#3 The human highlight film, Barry Sanders. I wonder if Rod Woodson still has nightmares when he got shook so bad in Three Rivers he went down with an ACL. As a Browns fan, still one of my favorite pieces of film. No one did more with less. One shudders to think what Mr. Sanders yardage might’ve been if he had #4 Emmit Smith’s offensive line.
Emmitt Smith was a beast of a cutback runner (pre-Arizona) And had mad heart. He had that Tecmo Bowl™ burst of speed through the hole and that was all she wrote. Never really took any big hits either much like Mr. Sanders but I grade him lower because he had arguably one of the best offensive lines in the history of the league.
#5 As much as I like LaDainian Tomlinson, it goes back to versatility and driving the D-Coordinator apeshit. Before there was LT, there was Marshall, Marshall, Marshall. My #5 is Marshall Faulk, the highlight in the greatest show on turf. He was the straw that stirred that Mike Martz’s drink. Depending on where he lined up, backfield or the slot would cause matchup problems for the D.
Roger Craig just seemed like a role player who was happy in that offense. I wouldn’t wanna be on the receiving end of those knees tho. Never struck me a big time player tho, but that could be my east coast bias. That and I like Ricky Watters better.
I can’t speak on the best. But, I will say that Payton was the first running back I loved as a kid, but Barry was the running back that captured my mind as I got older.
Barry was the truth. Like somebody said in the other post, I watched wack ass Lions games just to see what he would do. That dude made you pay attention because you knew that you were going to be rewarded with something amazing.
I have one question. why did so many of the old school backs hold the ball out away from their bodies in one hand? They would tuck it when contact came, but I was curious about that.
1. Jim Brown. As physical as defenses were in his time, he was still head and shoulders above them all. In any era, still the best.
2, O.J. Simpson. I saw him destroy the 1976 Steeler defense, my pick as the greatest defense of all time, running for 227 yards. Just a natural, fluid runner.
3. Emmitt Smith. The most indispensible member of the Triplets. When he missed the first two games of the 1993 season because of a holdout, the Cowboys went 0-2. One of the best big game backs ever. Blocked just as hard as he ran. Don’t hate him just because the Cowboy organization knew how to build a complete team.
4. Barry Sanders. a must-see player. You couldn’t blink because you never knew what move he would make when he had the ball, even his runs for losses were incredible. That happened too often whenever the Lions made the playoffs, which is why he’s behind Emmitt on my list.
5. Walter Payton. His influence was seen in Smith’s style. I also remember watching him run for 275 yards against Minnesota in the ’70’s. Could run over or around you, depending on what the situation called for. That William Perry scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl instead of Sweetness is the main reason I despise Mike Ditka to this day.
what about OJ Juice Simpson? everyone avoids him like a pariah. OJ was mr versatile too, could ctach and and block as well as any of the other guys, and was one of the most amazing runners I have ever seen…better than all save possiby Payton.
I will not indulge in selecting among these great players save to say that the protype is Jim Brown, an an alltime great human being in my estimation.
After the original JB I will not select or judge among these outstanding athletes but enjoy them all…Simpson, Sanders, faulk, Harris, Dickenrson, Dorsett, Smith, Dunn, Campbell, Payton, Allen.
and I may want to start an even more vexing issue..”the overall best football player of all time”…on which list JB would still be first for me, but the second all important slot would be filled by Kellen Winslow…..
I like CDM’s list, I can’t really disagree with any of those. Since Jim Brown was like the ‘original’ I can’t fault his place at #1 on anyone’s list.
I think by the time all is said and done, we’ll be pushing LaDainian as anywhere from #2-5 on these sort of lists. I can’t hate on Marshall, I always loved him, SD biased as I am (he was robbed by Gino mf’ing Torretta for the heisman).
Terrell Davis…. I hate the Broncos with a passion, plus he only had a good 5 yrs, and the Shanahan system….
The best all time running backs have to be able to last and avoid the injuries. That’s why, even though he is an amazing back, and has had a deceptively productive career, nobody is jocking Fred Taylor. He had too many injuries over the years. This would also be why people are neglecting Gale Sayers, who from all accounts was a badass. Earl Campbell was another that was a beast early on, but took too many hits.
I always liked Eddie George. Those Ravens/Titans games were intense when he and Ray Lewis were in their primes. I still think their collision in the playoffs that one year ruined both of them. Neither was the same afterwards.
Curtis Martin is underappreciated too. That boy just ground it out, never real flashy, but perfect for a guy like Parcells (and dropped to 3rd round due to college ankle issues).
Just realized while searching for video, that LaDainian’s brutal stiff arm was on the other Redskin safety, Ryan Clark… Whatever, still punked his ass.
Man, you can’t do a greatest football player list.
It’d be easier to do a greatest that you’ve seen list. That way you can admit to your biases, because we watch more of our favorite teams, and the players on them make more of an impression. Be more of a ‘favorite’ list I guess.
I have to do work at some time today, I just can’t stop watching the clips. Look like Earl slowed up in one of those and the DB didn’t want none of it and he slowed up as well (about 5:34) That made me laugh.
It is easier to run in space with the ball swinging, rather than held into your side.
Truth as I see it is that more modern backs are doing sprinting type work out, which allows them to be more economical with their forms. It is uman nature to flail when you run. But sprinters learn to change that tendency to minimze wasted energy. If you look at Dorsett, Dickerson, Simpson, Sayers and Bo (android) Jackson you see that economy of motion.
Plus DBs are taught to attack the ball if at all possible, so keeping the ball close to the body enables a quicker “clinch” before a hit.
Again fellas, the more we talk the moe we realize that it’s better to enjoy them all than to choose who is better.
Forget about the greatest…I ain’t touching that one after what I just said.
Yeah, I used to hear some of the old school fans talk about the Brown stiff arms. Either my HS math teacher or my friends dad (can’t remember which) swore he saw him bust somebody’s helmet with his forearm. Could’ve been exaggerating, but it made the point in my mind, that mf’er was bad.
Man, this is going to derail the running back discussion. I was hoping I’d come back tomorrow morning with some input from the evening crowd, and you go and derail with a Clemens article.
Bo was indeed a badass, but I can’t like any Raiders.
But like I said before, there is always a new guy on the block that pops off for a year or two, but the best all time last year in and year out. Bo was great, but between splitting time between sports and the short career, you have to leave him off.
AP might need to learn to avoid contact, or he might be one of those 3-5 yr wonders as well.
The G.O.A.T convo keeps all of sharp because each and every year players, coaches and teams make an assault on the crown. Greatest running back ever? I can only speak on what I’ve witnessed in my short time following sports. I’m 24 so with me being born in 1983, I didn’t become ‘aware’ until I was 10 or 11 around ’93,’94. I don’t want to insult players I didn’t see in thier prime play by rating them beneath players whose greatness I’ve witnessed. That being said I’ll leave Jim Brown, OJ, Eric Dickerson, Gale Sayers, Earl Campbell, Marcus Allen, Walter Payton and Roger Craig off my list. I simply don’t have the necessary info to make an accurate list. That being said here’s the best I ever saw.
Must be mentioned with the greatest ever:
Integral components to championship teams:
My bad folks, didn’t mean to submit. I guess this is part two. Best ever really is a matter of taste. Much like the best boxer ever or best pitcher ever. Do you want a power guy that ran with reckless abandon and pounded out the tough yards or the speed guy who was always a threat to break the big one. I’m somewhat on the fence in that I want a guy that combines both. That being said my top five goes like this.
Football’s tough though because it’s a team game. Trade Emmitt and Thurman Thomas. Does Thurman then become the all time leading rusher and Emmitt an afterthought whose greatness people have to be constantly reminded of?
Also I think you have to consider what each one of these guys did in college as well. Real greatness is witnessed at each career stop.
And to chime in on Barry vs. Emmitt, I think of it like this. Barry Sanders was spectacular to a fault. He lost a ton of yards trying to make the big play. (much like Brett Favre becoming the all time leader in interceptions trying to throw a touchdown on every other play) The thing is he HAD to try to make those plays because his teams were often just that bad. Also Barry never played with a QB like Aikman, a reciever like Irvin, or a tight end like Novacek. These are guys that have to be gameplanned for, guys with gamechanging skills in thier own right.
As for Emmitt, he was the prototype RB. He could run, catch and block. He could break the big run and grind out the tough yards. Also he played big in big games. Give me Emmitt because his greatness is so tangible. The yards, the touchdowns, the rings.
As big a fan of Emmitt as I am, I never fall into the ridiculous trap of judghing players who played a team game, by how many rings they have. Especially in a game so completely dependant on so many others as football.
I think Emmitt was better than Barry not because of the rings, but because of his skill set and how he went about using it, because of his heart and because of his longevity. Rings have nothing to do with anything.
Thurman Thomas is so underappreciated, and I feel like he wouldn’t have even been mentioned if I hadn’t raised his name in the last post.
Barry Sanders had longevity, he was never hurt. He left because of situations with the team not ever being successful, and likely Bobby Ross as well. That season that he rushed for over 2k, he got exactly 2k in the final 14 games of the season…. you don’t see a 2k yard season happen in only 14 games, you see it take into the 15th game or even a 16th game like a couple years back with Jamal Lewis. Barry broke 2k and never came close to breaking the all time rushing mark in a single game. He also is the record holder for most consecutive 100 yard games with 14 in that same year he broke 2k. He has 15,269 yards in 10 season, that’s 1,527 yards on average per year. A 1,500 yard season is considered fantastic even still by today’s standards.
You all have been spoiled by the talk and pomp and circumstance of those early 90s Cowboy teams. You were spoiled by Emmitt putting up over 20 touchdowns in a season… both are hall of famers but to average 1,500 yards a season is flat out ridiculous. He averaged 100 yards more than Emmitt did per season. Barry didn’t play until he couldn’t play anymore, he had at least 2 more (if not 3 more) seasons in his body that had been healthy his entire career except for 1 knee injury. Emmitt played out the string, and then tried to get that fire re-lit when he signed with the Cardinals and flat out embarrassed himself.
I been too busy guys. But how can you not have a list without ickey woods, blair thomas, Rasham Salam (sp?) and Brad Muster.
Man the list you guys made is a straight joke.
On the real…………Thurman Thomas, Neal Anderson, walter payton, LT Roger Craig and Marshall faulk are the baddest all around running backs I have ever seen. Catching, running blocking. He11 Faulk, Thomas and Anderson could probably played WR if they had to. They often times lined up wide in certain offensive packages and they could run every receiving pattern.
Warrick dunn and James Brooks are the baddest RBs I have ever seen who were under 5-10 and under 185 pounds.
Barry Sanders is the greatest pure runner I have ever seen. Erick dickerson seemed like he didn’t even break a seat running.
Christain Okoya………….man that dude was liek a offensive line man with 4.6 speed. Loved watch him play.
Iron head heyward. even though he was a fullback who played at about 300 pounds moved like a RB.
Man Jerome bettis was a monster. Especially when he was young. I had never seen a man that big move like that.
Emmit Smith was a tough dude. He might have played on the most talented team and best offensive line in the last 20 years. But he a consistant player. And played all out ever sunday.
Curtis Martin like emmit the dude was consistant day in day out.
Fred Taylor. Dude had Adrian Peterson type of speed when he came out.
Otis anderson was a bad MF in his day. Even when he was old. Man that wind up upper cut/stiff arm was no joke.
Marcus Allen it was like the dude could smell the end zone.
Las Bo Jackson. He was my generations Jim Brown. If only he didn’t get hurt. I swear if that dude played football full time he would have rushed for 2500 in a season. D@MN why did he have to get hurt. I swear I have never seen a man that big run that fast ever. Supposedly he beat willie gault in a race. They once said that Bo was clocked running a 4.1 forty yard dash.
I swear I have never seen defenses scared of one player the way they were scared of bo. He would enter the game and you could hear players over the TV audio saying look marcus is going out him comes bo. Watch the run watch the run. And he would still get it and break a 80 yard run. Either running throw, over or around players.
The man was black superman.
Anyway…. I still say that Blair Thomas is the greatest of all time or was that Merril Hodge????
The Giants (I hate to admit it) have had some great backs: Joe Morris and Dave Meggett were two great small backs. O.J. Anderson was great as a Cardinal and Giant. Rodney Hampton was no slouch when he was healthy. And of course Tiki. It was the smaller guys that killed my Eagles (Morris, Meggett and Barber).
What about my man Marcus Allen – did anyone mention him, he was money inside the 5 yard line.
I’m kidding. With all due respect to those great players of my youth, I’d have to go with the following list:
Brown, Payton, Simpson, Sanders and Marcus Allen.
I have a bias toward well-rounded backs – and so in many respects, Marcus Allen is my favorite runner on this list. He started out as a fullback at USC. He was an exceptional receiver, blocker, passer and goal line scorer. He could run inside and out. He won big games and performed exceptionally in those big games. He was not a fumbler – and he was the focal point for opposing defenses.
Even with all of his beef with Al Davis and the emergence of Vincent Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen still amassed over 12,000 yards. To get just how good Marcus Allen was – please consider that this man NEVER ran for more than 1000 yards AFTER the AGE of 26. That’s not a typo. He was a very young player when all of that conflict started with the Raiders.
Marcus Allen carried 380 times at the age of 25. He had his career year and ran for more than 1700 yards. He also caught a bunch of passes and set the single season mark for yards from scrimmage which had been in place for ten years since OJ’s 2,000 yard season. Marcus Allen never carried the ball more than 225 times again in a season. We can only imagine what he would have done.
Allen was legendary for wearing very few pads, avoiding big hits, doling out devastating blocks, catching passes with aplomb, running routes with mercurial awareness and soaring with ease over opponents at the goal line.
In his final season with Kansas City, Allen, at age 37 scored 12 touchdowns. Consider that Willie Parker has two this season. He could still run it in at that age. He ability, like that of Marshall Faulk was not about size – but about genius. I respect everyone’s list – but I am seriously having trouble mustering the love for Emmitt when I see and recall these other dudes. I probably need help with that – but it’s just not in there.
The father of the greatest running back I ever saw play still said the best he ever saw was Jim Brown and that was Barry Sanders’ pop who said it. I’ve never seen a whole game JB played because he was well into his 3 The Hard Way days when I was born but every time I get to watch a clip I’m just mesmerized by the things he did with the rock in his hands. The play at the :55 portion of the clip when he accelerated and ran through four defenders without being touched just leaves me astounded every time I see it.
That was a great montage and just reminds me of how physically gifted a guy has to be to be a transcendent player in the NFL. The speed, the power, the vision…damn. I still think Wilt Chamberlain was the best American athlete of the 20th century but Jim Brown is right on his tail because if he’s still considered the GOAT by guys who never saw him play live then that’s all that needs to be said.
RIP Sweetness because we still miss you down here…Never die easy.
Are you nuts? Jim Brown was a Prima Donna? Barry? Payton? LaDainian? You’re insane, I’ve never heard any report on Payton being anything but a consummate pro. Barry was about the most unassuming superstar I’ve ever seen. I’m no Emmitt fan, but he was a team player all the way.
All the great running backs of my football watching lifetime have been anything but pros. When LaDainian broke the TD record last year, the first thing he did was run to his linemen and thank them afterwards. Prima donna my ass.
Back in the 50’s when Jim Brown was running, I don’t think you could afford to be a ‘prima donna’. You’re talking out the side of your ass to spark racial debate, I shouldn’t even respond to you.
But I hate stupid people, and your comment was flat out stupid.
Oh and Boney, as I said in the other post, you were absolutely right with Thurman and I feel like a dumbass that I forgot him.
The Jim Brown love is understandable. The thing is, everytime I watch him play, it seems like he’s running against midgets. I mean, he was probably the biggest player on the field and he played running back.
I guess that’s why I like Barry better. He was a little man in a game dominated by big men. It’s also why I’m partial to Iverson and isiah.
gmp, I never liked Thurman because he was on the Bills.. that’s the only reason. it was a stupid reason, and now that I look back on it I realize that I missed a great player simply by changing the channel because I didn’t like Jim Kelly and the Bills.
I see some of you be mentioning some one hit wonders out there, but no one has mentioned Tony Dorsett. Not in the top five but dude was real. Even Jim Brown said Landrey needed to release #33 off of the plantation and let him run.
After 77 other posts, I think it’s safe to veer off course a liitle when discussing this topic, and I want to say that the first thought I had when reading this thread was: What could Warren Moon have done playing for the Cowboys in the early 1990s? (I would even daydream about Moon and the Niners of the 80s, but I think he would have fit better in the ’80s Redskins scheme.. but as a Dallas fan I hate the Niners and Skins, so let’s just leave it right there…)
Hands down, I have never seen a prettier pass thrown than a Warren Moon deep ball. Behind that Dallas All-Time, All-World o-line of 1992-1997, Moon might have been the best QB ever. I know hypotheticals are meaningless, but I’m just saying….
And someone, much earlier, mentioned a discussion about all-time players, not just all-time RBs. I think the list of greatest players has to include stats but also transcend them. These are guys who just knew football.
1. Jim Brown (Man-tough, brutishly strong. Just better.)
2. Lawrence Taylor (No explanation necessary)
3. Johnny Unitas (Don’t sleep on Johnny U. I’d take him as a tough-ass winner over any other QB except maybe Elway.)
4. Reggie White (Has there ever been a more unblockable DL?)
5. Walter Payton (Jim Brown without the size… and size matters.)
6. Dick Butkus (Still the standard for MLBs)
7. Jerry Rice (Fuck Joe Montana)
8. Bruce Smith (A slight nod over Deacon Jones)
9. John Elway (How many other QBs probably could have been a Pro Bowl safety?)
10. Mike Singletary (Best player on the best defense ever)
Will B., everyone knows the best defense of all time was the 1976 Steelers. Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas were the two best QBs, so Elway can not appear on a list of greatest players ahead of Montana. To place Bruce Smith ahead of Bob Lilly and Joe Greene is another mistake. Mike Singletary was spectacular but placing him ahead of Ted Hendricks, Willie Lanier, Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, yet more mistakes.
Jerome Bettis is and always will be the best running back in the history of the nfl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There are alot of running backs on my list because they all have their own style. But if i had to rank them it would be like this
5. Walter Payton
4. Earl Campbell
3. Barry Sanders
2. Jim Brown
1. Bo Jackson
The reason i picked bo jackson is because of the amount of time he played and the amount of carries. Bo Jackson’s first season he only carried the ball 81 times and gained 568 yards, with 6.8 yards per carry. How many running backs do you know that can do that. And the main thing is that he didnt have a bad year, though he didnt have 2,000+ yards season, he was a dominate running back, and at his best carrying the ball 170 times for 975 yards. Come on now, most running backs, it takes them at least 200 attempts to get 800 yards.
But another i like is Barry Sanders, i mean if he would have stayed in the league one more year, the record would be his and noone wouldve heard about emmitt smith again. Seems like the greats always leave early and make us watch the washed up players like duece and ricky williams.
Come on! Emmit is the #1. He was a total package back. Leading rusher and super bowl in one year. Jim Brown left when he was young, to bad. Cowboys had o-line. Ever team has a o-line. Looking at highlights Barry sanders had some big holes to go throw MOST of the time. So, that does not mean much when they say Emmit had a o- line. Look at the Hightlights first contact second contact third contact then he would break a long run.
I find it naive to call a back like Barry Sanders or L.T. one of the greatest of all time. The only back that is 100% reliable is a power back, hands down. So when mentioning the greatest of all time, it isn’t just about numbers. Sure one of these “elusive backs” can get you 150+ yards one game. But they can also flop another game and end up getting dominated by defenses.
The best comparison in the NFL right now is lets say Adrian Peterson and then Brandon Jacobs. Peterson has had some amazing games, but on the other hand, Jacobs will contribute every game he starts in. Don’t get me wrong, backs like Barry Sanders are good, but are not reliable enough to call “the greatest of all time”
So, heres how I’d say the list should go. Notice how it starts are full power, then slightly goes more toward finesse.
1. Jim Brown
2. Ear Cambell
3. Emmitt Smith
4. Walter Payton
5. Paul Hornung