Top 10 All-Time
Running Backs and Drills to Help You Become One
watching the show “Sports Century” on ESPN Classic with the kids. It’s a
great way to teach them about the history of the games they love to play and
the individuals, good and bad, that have been so special to all of us. One
question they always ask as we watch is: “Is So and So the greatest of all
time?” That’s always tough to answer, but since it is football season, this
seems like a nice chance for my list of the all-time greatest running backs.
I’ll also give you some of my favorite running back drills so that your kids
can make this list one day. So, with respect to oldies Red Grange, Jim
Thorpe and Bronco Nagurski, here we go:
Bears (1965-71), 6-0” 198
halfback out of Kansas is really an anomaly on this list of greats because
knee injuries limited him to five full seasons in the NFL and he only played
the full 14 game schedule 3 times. Of course, he was named All NFL during
each of those five seasons. Despite the short career, Gayle Sayers belongs
on this list based on his breakaway running, awesome moves and all-around
play as a receiver, runner and kick returner. His then rookie record of 22
touchdowns included 6 long TD’s in one game and his 5.0 yards-per-carry
average ties Jim Brown for the highest among all qualified backs.
Rams, Colts, Raiders, Falcons (1983-93), 6-3” 220
One of only 11
backs to ever gain more than 1,800 yards in a season, Dickerson accomplished
the feat 3 times including a record setting 2,105 in 1984. Eric rushed for
over 1,000 yards in each of his first 7 NFL seasons and made the Pro Bowl
team six times and retired as the #2 all-time leading ground gainer.
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Coach’s Corner, Continued
Cowboys (1977-88), 5-11” 192
Heisman Trophy winner from Pitt didn’t disappoint in the pros compiling a
whopping 12,739 yards rushing. The swift and shifty Dorsett started
brilliantly as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and didn’t slow down
with eight 1,000 yard seasons in his first nine years with the Cowboys
(missing only the strike shorted 1982 season). Tony also set a record that
will never be broken; a 99-yard touchdown scamper on Monday Night Football.
Cowboys, Cardinals (1990-2004), 5-10”, 216
all-time leading rusher in the NFL with 18,355 yards. Emmitt also has found
the endzone a remarkable 175 times which include an NFL record of 164 on the
ground. A model of consistency, Mr. Smith has logged a record eleven
consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and another 3 years over 900 yards. A
remarkable back, and no runner may ever pass his career totals, Emmitt Smith
places #7 due to his career 4.2 YPC average.
Oilers, Saints (1978-85) 5-11”, 232
wrecking ball in shoulder pads, Campbell was one of the most intimidating
runners in the history of the game. Pure power is the image Earl conjures
for those of us who saw him play. His memorable Monday Night performance
against the Dolphins for 199 yards and 4 TD’s showcased his talent and
ability to punish defenders like no other runner. Of course, injuries
eventually limited his totals, but he still ran for 9,407 yards with 5
seasons of 1,300+ yards and 74 TD’s.
Raiders (1987-90), 6-1” 225
member of this list that will not make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Bo
Jackson is the most exciting football player I’ve seen; he could score on
any play from anywhere. Playing football as a “hobby”, Bo was the most
famous modern two-sport athlete playing in the All-Star game and the Pro
Bowl the same year. Before an injury ended his career, the 1985 Heisman
winner racked up 2,782 in four part-time seasons including a break-out
Monday Night game against the Seahawks where he ran for a record 221 yards
and 2 TD’s on only 18 carries. His astounding 5.4 career YPC average
surpassed every other back in history.
Bills (1969-79), 6-1” 212
With 2,003 yards
in 1973, the Juice was the first back ever over that “impossible” mark and
he is the only runner to do it in a 14 game season. O.J. had 5 straight
1,000 yard seasons and set a then NFL record with 23 TD’s in 1975. He
retired with 11,236 yards rushing, a 4.7 YPC average and 14,368 net yards
from scrimmage. The five time Pro Bowler and Heisman winner was one of the
most electrifying players in the history of the game.
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Coach’s Corner, Continued
3 – Walter Payton, Bears (1975-87) 5-10” 200
retired with a record 16,726 rushing yards and 21,803 combined net yards.
Walter had 10 seasons with 1,000+ rushing yards, 110 rushing TD’s and 77
games with 100+ yards. Extremely durable, Payton missed one game in his
rookie season and then played the next 186 games in a row. With 9 Pro Bowl
selections, “Sweetness” was a player with incredible heart, power and
agility who will always be remembered as one of the greatest ever.
2 – Barry Sanders, Lions (1989-98), 5-8” 203
Sanders was the most fun to watch. He gained over 1,000 yards in every one
of his 10 NFL seasons to become the only player in history to accomplish
that feat, including a whopping 2,053 in 1997. Impossible to tackle, Barry
had incredible moves, agility and speed that nobody has seen before or
since. Over his career, Sanders averaged 5.0 yards per carry and, after a
season where he gained 1,491 yards, he retired just shy of the career
rushing mark with 15,269 yards.
1 – Jim Brown,
Browns (1957-65), 6-2” 232
was the total package and the prototype for all running backs; power, speed,
agility, durability and intelligence make him the best ever to play the
game. He retired at the top of his game with 12,312 rushing yard, 106
rushing TD’s and a record 5.2 yards per carry average. Never missing a game
in his career, Brown is the most complete back in history making the Pro
Bowl in all 9 seasons he played. Jim was truly one of a kind!
that you have my top 10 list, here are three drills to help develop the next
great running back:
To be faster, the best thing to do is imply to sprint.
Interval training, including running 100 yard and 40 yard dashes is a great
start. Running hills, especially uphill running should also help increase
Power: The strip drill is fun for players and will increase
their ability to run through traffic. Simply line up some teammates on both
sides of a tight 5 yards alley and have the RB run back and through the line
at full speed. His teammates should try and slow him down and strip the ball
Agility: The 3 Cone Drill is done at the NFL Scouting Combine
to test speed, explosion and changing directions. Three cones are placed on
the field forming an “L”. There are 5 yards between each cone. The player
starts at Cone 1, runs to Cone 2 and touches the line with his right hand
and runs back to Cone 1 and touches the line. Then, the player runs back to
Cone 2 and around the outside of it, weaves inside Cone 3 (figure 8) and
then cuts tightly around the outside of Cones 3 and 2 before finishing at
Cone 1 at a sprint.
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