By: PaYTon WoOLSey
As the saying that I just made up goes, “not all yards are created equal”. And neither are all running backs. Many running backs rack up the numbers, but were they a product of a great system, or did they make the system great? When I consider who makes my All-Time list, I evaluate heavily on which back “transcended” the standard of the running back and helped the position into what it is today. Without further ado, my top 5… Ya filthy animals.
5. LaDainian Tomlinson
You’re damn right, read it again, punk. What else could you really want in a running back? He had the moves, the power, and quite possibly the best nose for the endzone ever. If totaling 13,687 rushing yards in 11 years isn’t enough (see Barry Sanders) to change your mind, allow me to hit you with another number– 145 rushing touchdowns, and 17 receiving touchdowns. But his most impressive and well-known stat is his single season touchdown record which still stands today at 28. If you disagree with this man’s greatness quit reading now, because you’re in for a rude awakening.
This was a tough spot for me due to aging Adrian Peterson’s ability to defy all odds of “Father Time”. But nearly 1,000 yards behind Dickerson alongside Peterson’s fumbling woes, he isn’t quite on Dickerson’s level.
Upright-running backs usually spell disaster– it’s just not a great way to take a hit. Dickerson seemed to be impossible for a defender to land a good hit. Highly athletic– big, fast, and the heart and soul of every offense he played on. Dickerson is one of those guys that is often forgot about, but he’s one of the elite few in the “13,000 rushing yards club”. He broke the mold for what a ‘bruiser back’ was. What else has he done, kids? Only rushed for 2,105 yards in a single season. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
3. Marshall Faulk
Ok, calm down. Listen here ol’ son, Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Jamaal Charles, Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, and Shaun Alexander all emulated the game of Marshall Faulk. Before him, name another great receiving running back. Name another back that single handedly changed the game more. You can’t. As I stated earlier, some backs are the product of the system, some make the system. Marshall Faulk made the most high-octane offense to ever grace a football field. “The greatest show on turf” is the mold of the modern offense. And what the modern offense needs in order to be deadly is a very good receiving running back.
Peyton Manning has called him “the smartest and best football player he’s ever played with.” Coming from a brain like Manning’s, you should take his word for it. But let’s get to the facts, fam. Let’s start off with his career rushing yards, 12,279. Not bad, but number 3? Lemme’ give you his receiving numbers– 6,875. Which makes a grand total of 19,154 yards. Nobody will ever be able to match that in 10 years of production. Nobody. Well…. besides the next guy.
2. Walter Payton
Ahhhh. Sweetness, rest his soul. He was the first to break Jim Brown’s (who, by the way, played in a time when D-Tackles were 260 lbs) All-Time rushing record. Brown was a freak of nature (in his time) in a weak era. Hell, it took Emmitt Smith 2 decades to beat his record– who, also was running behind the greatest line ever for that specific timeline. And I know he’s the Cowgirls’ Pope, but he’s not getting in my top 5 just because he had tenure.
With that riff-raff out of the way, let’s look at some Walter statistics. He only stands behind one man (Jerry Rice, Football’s greatest) in total yards from scrimmage with 21,508 yards. He has passing touchdowns, the athleticism, the moves before the moves existed, son and so on. The only issue you should have with Walter being number 2 is that he isn’t number 1. And that’s a good argument. I personally, would call Walter the best “overall” back. His greatness is entirely on a Magic Johnson level, my dudes. He had 16,726 rushing yards. But to every Magic, there is a Jordan.
1. Barry Sanders
1,100 yards + every single year. Had one 2,000 yard season. This man was incredibly talented. His juke moves are yet to be recreated by a modern back. It’s like trying to catch a minnow in a lake with tweezers. He could cut and turn on an absolute dime.
He had nobody for teammates, and it rarely mattered, at least on a stat sheet. All Barry wanted to do was win, but he was on the shit team of the Detroit Lions. Had he not walked away in his prime he would own every rushing record, ever. He never got a ring, but neither did Dan Marino.
There isn’t much I can say about Barry that would be best described in words. You have to watch him. 15,269 rushing yards in his 10 year career. He was the first small feature back. And he proved, they could do it. The stones that Barry laid for small backs are why we have the Marshall Faulk and Alvin Kamara archetypes. Before him, it was either slow-big guys or fast-big guys. Barry proved that small-speedy backs were the future and could take on a full time load by missing big hits instead of taking them. Little did he know his way of playing would be responsible for so many torn ACL’s, let alone broken ankles.
Let’s go over a list of my ‘best of the rest, backs’ who didn’t make the cut.
O.J. Simpson (yeah, yeah I get it dont @ me.)