Football’s ever-evolving landscape makes it challenging to compare players across generations; nonetheless, some stand out amongst their peers.
DAZN has compiled a list of the Top 10 Running Backs Ever using yards per carry and other metrics, featuring legendary names like Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, and current star Adrian Peterson.
1. Jim Brown
Jim Brown wasn’t quite the long-term superstar seen among other running backs on this list, but his impactful play in eight out of nine pro seasons as Ohio State legend led the league in rushing yards was undeniable. Brown displayed speed, agility, and power that was unparalleled at that time.
Brown was one of the scariest players in an era characterized by formidable defenses. He was an unparalleled game-changer and is currently the all-time leader for career rushing yards and touchdowns.
He was known to run through any defender without ever looking fatigued on the field, rarely missing games due to injuries, and having the unique ability to shrug off hard hits without missing a beat in playback.
His record of 1,863 rushing yards set in 1963 remains the NFL standard – nearly one mile! And this incredible accomplishment was accomplished while carrying 23 times per game!
He amassed 106 rushing touchdowns and 11 receiving scores in his career and was recognized with two NFL championships and a first-team All-Pro selection.
Cleveland was his focus throughout much of his career, and he led them to several division championships. Additionally, he pioneered product endorsements and Hollywood acting roles.
Jerome Bettis may not boast one of the highest all-time rushing yard totals on this list, but when measured against his consistency and the teams he played on, Jerome Bettis ranks in the top five players ever. Additionally, he holds all-time rusher appearances in Super Bowl appearances (with three wins!), making him an emotional heart of the Pittsburgh Steelers team while simultaneously being one of their most prolific players and productive members of his generation.
2. Gale Sayers
Sayers set several NFL records during his short career, but his true grit distinguished him most. Following an injury that might have ended many jobs in 1968, Sayers returned more vital than ever to lead the league in rushing yards two seasons later and win the 1969 Pro Bowl. Sayers was also featured in the 1971 Made for TV movie “Brian’s Song, ” depicting their deep friendship.
Sayers was widely revered as the Kansas Comet due to his unique combination of speed and deception that had never before been seen in the NFL. He could make opponents look silly, and his ability to change directions effortlessly while dodging tacklers at full speed was truly astounding.
Gale Sayers made an immediate, impactful debut into the NFL scene in 1965 and made an instantaneous mark. He scored 22 touchdowns during his rookie campaign – still an NFL record! Additionally, he tied an NFL record by returning punts and kickoffs for touchdowns and having the highest kickoff return average ever recorded in football history.
Sayers was one of the premier running backs during his six-foot tall and 198-pound career; he excelled at finding holes and breaking down defenders while serving as an excellent receiver and pass catcher. He became a first-team All-Pro and earned four consecutive NFL Offensive Player of the Year awards – becoming the youngest recipient of this honor at 34. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
3. Walter Payton
Walter Payton was one of the greatest running backs ever. He earned three NFL Most Valuable Player awards while running for 16,726 yards during 13 years with the Chicago Bears – second on their all-time list behind only Jim Brown! Additionally, Payton caught numerous passes and scored over 15 touchdowns over his career.
He was one of the greatest all-around runners ever seen on an American gridiron football field, combining power, speed, elusiveness, and balance to devastate opposing defenses. He amassed over 1,000 yards rushing in 10 out of 13 seasons (and set a single-game rushing record of 275 against Minnesota in 1977). He was an effective receiver and return specialist, catching over 5,000 yards for nearly eight touchdowns throughout his career.
Payton was an outstanding leader both on and off the field, providing help and assistance to his teammates and helping young children in his community. His outstanding play earned him selection to nine Pro Bowl teams out of 13 seasons while winning him a Super Bowl ring in 1986. Furthermore, his community involvement earned him recognition through earning Walter Payton Man of the Year honors in his last year before retiring due to primary sclerosing cholangitis, one of several rare liver diseases he suffered from during retirement.
Author Jeff Pearlman recently released Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, which chronicles all aspects of Payton’s life and career. From childhood memories and his years at Jackson State to addiction to painkillers after retiring from football, Jeff Pearlman provides insight into every facet of Walter Payton’s story.
4. Marshawn Lynch
Marshawn Lynch – or Beast Mode as he was known throughout the NFL world – was one of the league’s greatest running backs. Over his 12-year career, he amassed numerous accolades, such as two NFL rushing titles and five Pro Bowl appearances; seven out of 12 seasons saw over 1,000 scrimmage yards. Lynch held all-time playoff running touchdown records (15). Furthermore, he tied for third all-time playoff rushing yards total (10413) with 10,413.
Lynch was known as one of the greatest running backs ever while playing for three franchises – Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks, and Oakland Raiders – though he became most well known while playing alongside Pete Carroll and John Schneider for Seattle Seahawks. They helped unleash his creativity and power; Lynch became one of the most celebrated NFL players with some of his iconic moments and runs.
One of the most memorable moments in NFL history came during a 2014 playoff game between New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks when Marshawn Lynch executed what is commonly known as “The Beast Quake,” an astounding 67-yard touchdown run that saw him power through New Orleans defense with ease to secure a historic win for Seattle.
This run was iconic in NFL history and should be honored with a statue at Canton. Even after retiring from the league, Lynch still plays an influential role in sports with his “Beast Mode” apparel line available through online retailer Fanatics and as part-owner of both Fan Controlled Football (FCF) team Beasts and Indoor Football League (IFL) team Bay Area Panthers.
5. LaDanian Tomlinson
An effective running game is at the center of all football success, and few have left an indelible mark like LaDanian Tomlinson did with San Diego Chargers legend LaDanian Tomlinson (known simply as L.T) has gone on a position like him. Tomlinson amassed more than 13,684 yards rushing during his 14-year NFL career while scoring 145 touchdowns, cementing him among history’s great running backs.
Running back requires more than elite talent and speed – hard work, determination, and an unbreakable will to win. The most effective running backs can control games while helping their teammates excel – such running backs have helped their teams win many championships over time – some even leading them to Super Bowl victories!
Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, and Terrell Davis have all been great running backs throughout their NFL careers; others include John Henry Johnson, Barry Sanders, and Marshall Faulk – to name only a few.
Though many running backs have earned induction into the Hall of Fame, DAZN has identified five outstanding running backs over time based on statistics and other criteria.
These legendary running backs include Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Gale Sayers, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, and Marshall Faulk. Though other deserving candidates may have been included on this list, these five are widely recognized as among the greatest of all time.