LaDainian Tomlinson’s retirement got me to thinking I should do an all-time best running backs list. Then I got to thinking … I don’t want to.
Why? Because Emmitt Smith is the all-time leading rusher, that’s why. He gets high on all these lists because he was able to play so friggin’ long because he ran behind one of the greatest lines of all time in Dallas. Does that make him one of the best running backs of all time? I don’t think so. Obviously, he was very good but one of the best of all time? Nuh-uh.
To me, runningbacks should be judged on how dominant they were in their prime, like a two or three year window in which they were the absolute best. I wouldn’t judge other positions in football or other sports that way because durability is a huge factor. But with running backs, in my book, they get beat on so much that even the most durable back is going to get injured a lot and not have a very long career. I mean think about it, NFL running backs are some of the best athletes on the planet. And yet after five or six years, most of them are done. The best ones get to their late 20s/early 30s and retire.
So anyway, this is my list of best running backs in their prime because that’s really when we should be judging these great players:
1) Jim Brown. Obviously.
2) Barry Sanders. The most exciting back ever.
3) Walter Payton. Big, fast, brutal.
4) Marshall Faulk. I nearly put him higher, like second or third. When Faulk was with the Rams he was nearly unstoppable on every play, whether rushing or receiving. He completely embarrassed defenses whenever he touched the ball.
5) LaDainian Tomlinson. In 2006, he scored 31 touchdowns. That’s an unbelievable stat, most ever. And there was a five-year window when he was easily the best back in the NFL.
6) Marcus Allen. Smooth, graceful, fast.
7) Eric Dickerson. You know how you can judge how good a back is? See how often young backs are compared to them and people always compare young, athletic, big backs to Dickerson.
8) Earl Campbell. Brutal and fast.
9) John Riggins. I just wanted to put a big, tough, rumbling back on here and Larry Csonka shared too many carries with others over his career.
10) Curtis Martin. I really don’t care if you disagree with this, Martin was the king of the 8-to-10 yard carry. He didn’t give you a ton of huge, long touchdown runs but when he got the ball he moved it.