Best RB All Time NFL

Written By: SimpleSlates

June 3, 2020


Throughout NFL history, the runningback position has been one of the very most important. Although in the sport today, it is played in a much more spread out fashion that allows you to be a bit more plug and play with the position. In today’s post, we thought it would be fun to pay tribute and look back at the top five runningbacks throughout NFL history.

For the purposes of this list we will be focusing on the players ability to run the football, and not so much their all-purpose ability, which would result in a very different list.



CLEVELAND BROWNS (1957 – 1965)

Big Jim Brown hits the list at number five. Brown was a punishing runner that managed to put up huge numbers despite only playing nine seasons and retiring before the age of thirty. Jim Brown would be even higher on our list if he played in an era with players more relative to himself physically. At 6’2’’ and 230lbs, Brown was as big as many of the defensive lineman in this era of football, which made it very easy for him to bully second and third level defenders. Physical advantage aside, Brown put up numbers, and set precedents at the position that make him very worthy of being on this list.



CHICAGO BEARS (1975 – 1987)

Walter Payton, nicknamed “Sweetness”, was the dominant runningback of the disco era. Payton possessed adequate power, and exceptional grace, which was a rare combination of talents for this period in NFL history. His talent was priceless for an offense that had little else going for it.

The Bears defense of this era always gets plenty of recognition, and rightfully so, but rarely is Payton’s ability to keep them fresh and rested mentioned in these conversations. Take a look at how far ahead of his time Payton looked when running the ball.


DETROIT LIONS (1989 – 1998)

Barry Sanders is considered by many to be the best runningback of all time. This is supported by the insane amount of yards he was able to achieve on the ground in a period of just ten seasons. Sanders also ran for over two thousand yards in his second to last season, so he was likely far from done.

Some may be wondering why he managed to be this low on our list, when most would have him at one or two. The fact is that while a great talent, Barry Sanders played a large portion of his career in a Run N Shoot offense, which means that unlike the four other runningbacks on this list, he rarely had to produce against a loaded box. Nevertheless, enjoy some of his highlights, they are rather beautiful.




Adrian Peterson is often overlooked because aside from the first few years of his career, he has been exceptional very quietly. He has done plenty enough however to be listed at number two for us. He most likely could have been number one had he not been sitting out for a period of time during the prime of his career due to ACL tears. He also sat for another shorter period due to a domestic issue. It was also not uncommon for Peterson to face nine man boxes throughout the early, more dominant part of his career. Had none of that existed or happened, he would be a clear number one in our opinion. Peterson had the total package in his prime, exceptional power, and amazing speed. He has since lost some of that burst, but still manages to produce quietly.




So many people will disagree with this, claiming he had the best line in NFL history. That might be one of the most skewed narratives possible. That line, while they played amazing together and Emmitt Smith helped them by being amazing in his own right, consisted of exactly zero first round selections. In fact there was only one second round selection, and two third round selections, and two of the five that were undrafted completely by the NFL and spent time in the USFL. Emmitt Smith does not get the credit he deserved. He was not exceptionally fast, overly shifty, or even very powerful. He had great vision, could find a hole when there was none, and knew when to lower his shoulder to fight for more yards. 

Smith played a very long time, and while many view that as a negative thing when looking at his production, it should be awe inspiring that he was able to produce at such a high level for so long. The position in today’s NFL is not expected to perform more than four solid years or so. Enjoy some of his career highlights below.


Thanks for checking out our list of the top five runningbacks of all time. Make sure to keep an eye on Twitter later today to tell us what you want us to write about on Friday.

As always make sure to follow on Twitter @SimpleSlates and like us on FaceBook @SimpleSlates for more sports posts and DFS content! 


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