Friday, February 01, 2008

Who is the Greatest Running Back Ever?

On the heels of my post on the greatest quarterback of all-time, I've decided to argue for the greatest running back ever. I have my biases as a Detroit Lions fans (hint: Barry), but I figured I'd use a similar formula to pick the top ten running backs as I did to select the top quarterbacks.

I selected 25 of the greatest running backs based on the NFL's all-decade teams, the career rushing list and MVP listings. From this group, I compared them on the following categories: Career Rushing Yards, Receiving Yards, Rushing Touchdowns, Receiving Touchdowns, Carries, Yards/Carry, Rushing Yards/Game, Rushing Titles, NFL Championships, Pro Bowls, All-Pro Selections and MVP awards.

I believe these criteria reward those that had long careers and were able to put up big numbers, those that had shorter careers but dominated while they did play and those that excelled at both running and catching the ball. Without any further adieu, here is the top ten in descending order:

10. Franco Harris - Harris was one of the leaders of the dominant Steelers teams of the 70's. The only member of this list to have won four Super Bowls, Harris rushed for over 12,000 yards and was selected to nine Pro Bowls.

9. Eric Dickerson - In his first four years with the Los Angeles Rams, Dickerson rushed for nearly 7,000 yards and averaged close to 14 touchdowns a year. He set the single rushing record in 1984 with 2,105 and was the fastest player ever to reach 10,000 rushing yards.

8. LaDainian Tomlinson - The youngest player on this list, this 2001 draft pick is fast becoming the best all-around back the game has ever seen. A threat to find the end zone every time he touches the ball, Tomlinson has already been named All-Pro six times and holds the single season touchdown mark with 31.

7. O.J. Simpson - Back before he became an infamous criminal, the Juice ran all over NFL defenses as a smooth running back with the Buffalo Bills. Simpson was the first to run for over 2,000 yards in a season (going for 2,0003 in 1973) and averaged an impressive 4.7 yards a carry for his career.

6. Marshall Faulk - A stellar dual-threat runner/receiver for the Colts and Rams, Faulk could do everything. He scored 136 touchdowns (100 rushing; 36 receiving) and was the best pass catching back among this elite group by collecting close to 7,000 yards in the air, in addition to his 12,000 yards on the ground.

5. Marcus Allen - Probably best remembered for his spectacular run against Washington in Super Bowl XVIII, Allen ran for an impressive 123 rushing touchdowns for the Raiders and Chiefs. In addition, he was selected All-Pro five times and, most importantly, was a killer running-mate with Bo Jackson on Techmo Bowl.

4. Emmitt Smith - The NFL's all-time leader in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and carries, Emmitt is arguably the most durable back on this list. His illustrious career with the Cowboys and Cardinals earned him three Super Bowl rings, eight Pro Bowl invitations and four rushing titles.

3. Barry Sanders - Sanders was the most exciting and elusive back the NFL has ever seen. Over the course of his stellar ten-year career, Barry never failed to rush for less than 1,100 yards. He was selected to the All-Pro team each of his ten seasons and averaged five yards a carry for his career. Sanders won four rushing titles and his 15,269 rushing yards is the third best all-time.

2. Walter Payton - The league's top rusher when he retired, "Sweetness" captivated NFL fans everywhere with his stutter-step and punishing running style. He ran for 110 rushing touchdowns, was named All-Pro nine times, had 21,803 all-purpose yards and led the Bears to the 1985 NFL championship.

1. Jim Brown - Very few fans of my generation had the privilege of watching Jim Brown play, but the numbers say that this dude was awesome. 15,549 all-purpose yards. 5.2 yards a carry. 104.3 yards rushing a game. 126 touchdowns. All by the age of 29! Not to mention the fact that he won the rushing title 8 of his 9 years in the league, he also was named All-Pro every year he played. A league MVP three times, Brown also won an NFL championship with the Browns in 1964.

So those are my top ten running backs of all-time. Players also considered for this list were (in alphabetical order): Shaun Alexander, Jerome Bettis, Earl Campbell, Larry Csonka, Terrell Davis, Tony Dorsett, Eddie George, Priest Holmes, Edgerrin James, Jamal Lewis, Curtis Martin, John Riggins, Gale Sayers, Thurman Thomas and Ricky Watters.

1 comment:

joe said...

I would put Barry Sanders as #2 and move Franco Harris to #4 with Sweetness holding the #3 spot. Of course, this reflects the fact that I watched Franco as both a college and pro back very closely.
Sanders was just a phenom. I also would move Gayle Sayers up, except that his career was short.