To celebrate the 79th birthday of Cleveland Browns legend Jim Brown, we decided to look at who is the best running back of NFL history. There are lots of great and decorated running backs in the game's history, but these are the top five, in my opinion.
1. Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns 1957-1965)
There is no running back in the game's history as more decorated than Jim Brown. He only played nine seasons, but he was the most dominant player of his era, and it's not even close. Brown was a nine-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro selection and four-time MVP. Brown is ranked ninth in NFL history with 12,312 yards in his career. Brown also played when teams only played 12-14 games a year. In short, there may never be a running back like Jim Brown ever again.
2. Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions 1989-1998)
Like Brown, Barry Sanders retired in his prime. He only played nine seasons, but those nine seasons showed total dominance. He ranks third all-time with 15,269 rushing yards. In his last season with Detroit, Sanders rushed for 1,491 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. If Sanders played as long as Emmitt Smith (14 years) and Walter Payton (12 years), Sanders would have shattered the rushing record and made it almost impossible for future running backs to break the record.
3. Walter Payton (Chicago Bears 1975-1987)
Payton ranks second all-time with 16,726 rushing yards. What's most impressive about Payton is Chicago's offensive line wasn't great for the majority of his playing days. Payton, like Smith, was also very fortunate with his health. He missed only one game and had 300-plus carries 10 times throughout his career. Payton was a nine-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro. He was also named to the 1970s and 1980s All-Decade team.
4. Emmitt Smith (Dallas Cowboys 1990-2002, Arizona Cardinals 2003-2004)
While Smith is the all-time leader with 18,355 rushing yards, he did play 14 seasons and had the luxury of staying healthy the majority of his career. Toward the end of his career, he wasn't great by any means. He just stuck around to get the record. But Smith was dominant for a great portion of his career. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler and led the league in rushing four times in his 15-year career. He was the 1993 NFL MVP and '93 Super Bowl MVP.
5. LaDainian Tomlinson (San Diego Chargers 2001-2009, New York Jets 2010-2011)
Tomlinson is definitely the best running back since Barry Sanders retired. He revolutionized the position and is a reason why receiving backs like LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Le'Veon Bell are highly coveted. Tomlinson never rushed for less than 1,110 yards per season. He also had nine-straight double digit touchdown seasons. He also had one of the most dominant seasons in NFL history when he scored 31 total touchdowns in 2006.
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