The Best NFL Running Backs of All Time

Over 42.0K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Best NFL Running Backs of All Time
Voting Rules
Only running backs. Rank the players based on their career achievements in the NFL

This list of top NFL running backs of all time is ranked by football fans worldwide. Who are the best NFL running backs of all time? The goal is to determine the greatest running backs to ever play the game.

They are some of the fastest, most athletic sports stars in the game. These top athletes have been wowing fans across the country for years. Some of them currently play in the league, others are long-retired legends whose legacy will be remembered on and off the field for a long time. 

The list establishes individual rankings of specific running backs and helps answer the question, "Who is the best NFL running back in the world?" This list includes some legendary famous football players with a lot of rushing yards under their belt. Anyone can vote on the top running backs in history, which means these players are truly fan favorites.
Most divisive: LeSean McCoy
Ranked by
  • Walter Payton
    Chicago Bears
    20,891 votes

    Walter Payton, affectionately known as "Sweetness," embodied everything you'd want in an elite running back, showcasing a rare blend of power, agility, and durability. Throughout his storied career with the Chicago Bears, Payton dazzled fans and frustrated opponents with his ability to break tackles and slice through defenses like a hot knife through butter. As one of the most beloved figures in NFL history, Payton's legacy extends beyond the gridiron, leaving an indelible mark on the sport and serving as the gold standard for running backs that followed.

  • Barry Sanders
    Oklahoma State Cowboys football, Detroit Lions
    23,597 votes

    Barry Sanders' electrifying runs were more than just thrilling highlights; they were poetry in motion. A transcendent talent for the Detroit Lions, Sanders made an art form out of turning seemingly sure losses into breathtaking gains, evading would-be tacklers with a trademark combination of grace and explosiveness. Though his career was comparatively brief, Sanders' impact on the game can still be felt today, inspiring generations of running backs to emulate his elusive, awe-inspiring style.

  • Jim Brown
    Cleveland Browns, Syracuse Orange football
    18,042 votes

    Jim Brown was a force of nature in the backfield, possessing a rare blend of speed and strength that allowed him to dominate opposing defenses during his time with the Cleveland Browns. Widely considered one of the toughest runners in NFL history, Brown consistently churned out yardage by bulldozing through defenders and refusing to go down without a fight. With a tenacity unmatched by his contemporaries, Brown changed the perception of what a running back could be, setting a high bar for those who followed him.

  • Emmitt Smith
    Florida Gators football, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys
    17,129 votes

    Emmitt Smith epitomized excellence and consistency during his illustrious career with the Dallas Cowboys. As the backbone of their powerful offense, Smith showcased a unique blend of vision, patience, and toughness that made him virtually unstoppable between the tackles. His relentless pursuit of success not only earned him individual accolades but also helped solidify the Cowboys as one of the NFL's most storied franchises.

  • LaDainian Tomlinson
    TCU Horned Frogs football, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers
    14,060 votes

    LaDainian Tomlinson's versatility and dynamic playmaking abilities made him a nightmare for opposing defenses during his time with the San Diego Chargers. Equally adept at pounding the ball between the tackles as he was catching passes out of the backfield, Tomlinson's rare skill set allowed him to excel in any situation. His impact stretched far beyond the stat sheet, as his presence on the field made everyone around him better, elevating the Chargers to perennial contenders.

  • Marshall Faulk
    Indianapolis Colts, St. Louis Rams
    12,320 votes

    Marshall Faulk revolutionized the role of the modern NFL running back during his time with the Indianapolis Colts and the St. Louis Rams. A true dual-threat, Faulk thrived as both a punishing runner and a dangerous receiver, giving defensive coordinators nightmares as they struggled to contain him. Integral to the success of the "Greatest Show on Turf," Faulk's game-breaking abilities helped create one of the most potent offenses in league history.