Last week I published a feature of the Top Ten Running Backs of all-time. It was a tall task because of how many outstanding running backs there have been in professional football over the past century..
So I decided to look at “The Next Ten” with this feature. Who are the great running backs that fall No. 11 through 20 all-time?
It’s a list made up of one current player, a few who have recently walked away from the game, and a handful of guys that were super in the decade of the 1970s and 80s. Plus, there’s a little history with the list, as two throwbacks made it from the 1920s and 30s. This duo had a tremendous early impact on the game and helped jumpstart football in the eyes of fans across this country.
Harold Edward “Red” Grange, aka “The Galloping Ghost”, was one of the most important figures in putting professional football on the map in the 1920s. He was already a college football legend from the University of Illinois before signing with George Halas and the Chicago Bears. He signed a 19-game contract with Halas for $100,000. In those days, most players made less than $100.
Over a 67 day tour, Grange and the Bears traveled the country playing 19 games while trying to legitimize the game of football to the American public. In December of 1925, the Bears played in front of 70,000 fans at the New York Polo Grounds.
In the 1932 NFL Championship Game, Grange caught the winning touchdown pass thrown by Bronko Nagurski. The following year, he made game saving tackles, as the Bears went back to back.
Bettis was drafted in the first round by the Rams in 1993. Nicknamed “The Bus”, he was a true north-south runner that had tremendous power.
Bettis exploded on the scene as a rookie, rushing for 1,429 yards. He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year and made All-Pro that season. He was traded to the Steelers two years later and it’s in Pittsburgh where The Bus shined.
During his first six seasons as a Steeler, Bettis rushed for at least 1,000 yards, his best year coming in 1997 when Bettis rushed for 1,665 yards. He also helped Pittsburgh to a Super Bowl (XL) win. Bettis finished his career with 13,662 rushing yards.
Harris was a first round pick by the Steelers in 1972 and was one of the best players on one of the greatest teams of all-time – the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. They won four Super Bowls over six seasons.
Harris ran for 12,120 yards and scored 100 touchdowns. He was reliable and steady, rushing for at least 1,000 yards eight different times, but he never won a rushing title. In fact, his best season was 1975 when he rushed for 1,246 yards. Harris was the MVP of Super Bowl IX. He was also part of one of the most famous plays in sports history, “The Immaculate Reception.”
Ok I will admit it; I am partial to big, power backs. I love the guys who can leave a defender on the ground, and Riggins was one of the best bruisers of all time. Drafted in the first round by the New York Jets, he rushed for 944 yards in 12 games over his rookie year, missing the final two because of knee surgery. In 1975 he became the fourth Jet to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.
Riggins signed with Washington in 1976 and it’s in D.C. where this bruiser made his name. He started as a short yardage back and once again battled knee injuries, but in 1978 and ’79 he rushed for over 1,000 yards each year. 1982 was the strike shortened season and it was Washington that won the Super Bowl behind Super Bowl MVP, John Riggins. His 610 yards amounted to 43 percent of Washington's offense in the four playoff games. His four consecutive playoff games with over 100 yards was an NFL postseason record.
The next season Riggins rushed for 1,347 yards and scored a then-NFL record 24 touchdowns. The Redskins lost the Super Bowl to the Raiders.
Riggins finished his career with 11,352 rushing yards and 116 total touchdowns. Riggins rushed over 1,000 yards five times in his career and over 100 yards in 35 games, including a then-record six in post-season.
Riggins was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
The third round pick ran for at least 1,000 yards in his first ten seasons with the Patriots and Jets. The model of consistency, he rushed for over 1,400 yards 4 times and in 2004, at the age of 31, Martin had his best season with 1,697 yards. He finished fourth all time in rushing yards (14,101) and 10th in combined yards (17,421). He also started 119 straight games, which is remarkable for a running back.
Martin was inducted into Hall of Fame in 2012.
How well thought of was Nagurski? He was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.
Nagurksi was a Canadian born football player who starred at the University of Minnesota and in Chicago with the Bears. At 6-foot-2, 235-pounds, he was often one of the biggest players on the field regardless of position. He had a 19 ½ ring size (largest recorded NFL Championship ring size) and mythical brute strength. Maybe the most versatile player at all time, he played both sides of the ball at fullback, offensive tackle, defensive line and linebacker starred at offensive tackle and on the defensive line. He’s the only player in the history of pro football to be named All-Pro at three non-kicking positions.
There’s a legend that Nagurski made an incredible TD run against the Washington Redskins, knocking two linebackers in opposite directions, stomping a defensive back and crushing a safety, then bouncing off the goalposts and cracking Wrigley Field's brick wall. On returning to the huddle for the extra point try, he reportedly said: "That last guy hit me awfully hard."
Nagurski helped the Bears win two NFL Championships.
Can you imagine that Thomas slipped into the second round of the 1988 draft because of a knee injury? All he did with the Buffalo Bills was have a Hall of Fame career and lead the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
Buffalo ruled the AFC for half a decade behind quarterback Jim Kelly, wide receiver Andre Reed and this dynamic running back from Oklahoma State. Finishing his incredible career with 11,938 rushing yards and 16,279 total yards, Thomas is the only player in NFL history to lead the league in total yards from scrimmage for four consecutive seasons. He is one of only six running backs to have over 400 receptions and 10,000 yards rushing one of five running backs to have rushed for over 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons.
How great was he in the playoffs? Thomas set records with the most career points (126), touchdowns (21), and consecutive playoff games with a touchdown (9). Overall, he rushed for 1,442 yards and caught 76 passes for 672 yards in his 21 postseason games.
In seven seasons, Peterson has already rushed for 10,115 yards, including 2,097 yard in 2012 alone. He rushed for an NFL record 296 yards against San Diego his rookie season. That year, he won Rookie of the Year. Peterson also owns the NFL record for most 60+ yard touchdown runs in a career with a dozen. He won the NFL MVP in 2012.
Peterson, the first pick by Minnesota in 2007, has that rare combination of home run speed and brute strength and power.
On September 11, 2014, Peterson was indicted by a Montgomery County [Texas] grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. He has since been de-activated off the Minnesota Vikings roster and his playing status for this season and the future is currently unknown.
There’s no question that Peterson can become one of the all-time gridiron greats if he can get back on the field, but that’s a long ways off now.
Allen had a remarkable career for the Raiders (and Chiefs) where he accomplished just about everything. He is one of four players (the others being Roger Staubach, Desmond Howard and Jim Plunkett) who won the Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP. Allen was spectacular in Tampa for Super Bowl XVIII, where he rushed for a [then] record 191-yards and two touchdowns. One of those scores came on a 74-yard touchdown run where he reversed field in the backfield. It’s still one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history.
Allen finished his career with 12,243 rushing yards and 5,411 receiving yards and scored 145 times. His best season was 1985, when he posted 1,759 yards and won his only rushing title. Allen was the first player ever to gain more than 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards during his career.
Allen was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame in 2003.
Faulk will go down as one of the most dynamic and electric running backs to play the game. Explosive but able to kill a defense between the tackles, Faulk was also a deadly weapon in the passing game – maybe the best receiving back ever.
The San Diego State standout was amazing for two teams, the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams. The Colts took him No. 2 overall in the ’94 draft and he literally hit the ground running, rushing for 1,282 yards and hauling in 52 passes as a rookie. Along the way he scored a dozen touchdowns. That season was a sign up things to come. While with Indy, he racked up an NFL record four-consecutive 2,000 total yard seasons.
In 1999, he was traded to the Rams and joined Kurt Warner to create the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Together, they spearheaded one of the greatest offenses in the history of the NFL, and Faulk hit the ground running, recording a [then] NFL record 2,429 yards from scrimmage in his first season.
Faulk finished his career with 12,280 rushing yards, 6,875 receiving yards, and 136 touchdowns. He’s currently 9th in all-time rushing and finished with an incredible 767 receptions. He won one Super Bowl with St. Louis and was elected to the Hall of Fame.