Running back is the most physically demanding position in the NFL. Running backs that punish the defender and run right through them are not long for the NFL but they are always the most exciting. In addition to straight ahead, in your face runners, the elusive running backs were equally exciting to watch. The following ten runners were the most exciting to watch in their short time on the gridiron.
Jim Brown Cleveland Browns 1957-1965
Jim Brown will forever be recognized as the complete package as an NFL running back. No one ever dares to compare a current NFL running back to Jim Brown. He not only would run through players, Brown also had the speed to separate himself from defensive backs twenty yards down field. Brown ruled the NFL in the eight years he played running back in the NFL and defenses all over the NFL breathed a sigh of relief the day he retired.
Walter Payton Chicago Bears 1975-1987
Walter Payton lived up to his nickname “Sweetness” on and off the field. Walter Payton was not only one of the most elusive backs to ever play in the NFL, he also would never shy away from contact. The most prolific running back in history, until Emmitt Smith broke his record, Payton evoked panic when he broke through the line and beared down on a safety in the open field.
Earl Campbell Houston Oilers 1978-1985
Earl Campbell was simply devastating as an NFL running back. Campbell was fast but he was not running away from anyone when he broke loose out of the backfield. More than a few NFL defenders made feeble attempts to try to tackle those big legs that never stopped churning. Campbell was big and destructive inside but he had deceptive speed after first contact. Watching him run away from safeties and defensive backs was amazing.
Barry Sanders Detroit Lions 1989-1998
Barry Sanders was a pure speed running back in the NFL that made some of the most incredible ankle breaking moves ever performed by an NFL running back. Sanders was untouchable in the open field and some of his Detroit Lions teams just simply handed the game to Sanders and let him rattle off the yardage. Sanders may have lasted a few more years if he could have had a change of pace running back with him in Detroit. Sanders wasn’t a star running back in the NFL he was a super nova that burned out too quickly.
Marcus Allen Oakland Raiders & Kansas City Chiefs 1982-1997
Marcus Allen was an NFL running back with vision and improvisation. He never quit on a play in his life. Allen would hold the ball to balance and turn on a dime one direction to another, until he found open space. Allen was one of the most exciting NFL running backs catching the ball out of the backfield and one of the most elusive backs after the catch. Allen redefined the running back position.
Tony Dorsett Dallas Cowboys 1977-1987
Tony Dorsett was explosive out of the backfield. Dorsett had amazing speed and balance and if he was allowed to make it to the outside, he was gone. Dorsett was incredibly fast after breaking through the line, he appeared to pick up steam as soon as he saw daylight. Dorsett was the most exciting Dallas Cowboy running back in the
history of the franchise and that is quite a statement.
OJ Simpson Buffalo Bills 1969-1979
Whatever OJ Simpson did later in his life, he was still one of the most exciting NFL running backs of his time. Simpson had exceptional speed around the outside and his moves in the middle of the field were second to none. Simpson’s acceleration picked up once he made his way into the secondary and when he was one on one in the middle of the field he would always come out on top.
Bo Jackson Los Angeles Raiders 1987-1989
Bo Jackson’s career in the NFL was one of the most amazing in his short span on an NFL playing field. Jackson only played over the course of three seasons until his debilitating hip injury but he made the highlight reels every time he stepped on the field for the LA Raiders. Some say his most memorable moment was when he ran over Brian Bosworth but he dominated Seattle all by himself the entire game.
Eric Dickerson Los Angeles Rams 1983-1993
Eric Dickerson’s straight up and down running style was much like a gazelle high stepping over defenders and cruising into the secondary effortlessly. His long legs and aggressive cutting moves at the line of scrimmage
fooled more than a few defensive lineman.
Gayle Sayers Chicago Bears 1965-1971
NFL Legendary running back, Gayle Sayers was breaking ankles before the term was ever born. Sayers broke his share of ankles blasting out of the Chicago Bears backfield and although Sayers career was short, when he was in his prime he was unstoppable. Gayle Sayers could accelerate and make a cut on a dime, leaving defenders standing alone wondering what had just happened.
Honorable mentions: Hershel Walker Dallas Cowboys & NFC East 1986-1997 , Marshall Faulk St Louis Rams, Emmitt Smith Dallas Cowboys
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