All-Time NFL Rushing Yardage Leaders

Quarterback might be a sexier position on the football field, as the so-called "field generals" are usually the players who garner the most attention. But a good running game, usually paired with a good defense, is a formula many coaches have implemented with great success. A good running game wears down the opposition and takes time off the clock, which also keeps their offense off the field. The list below is the top ten NFL all-time rushing leaders based on total yardage:

Emmitt Smith

Emmitt Smith is the NFL's all-time leading rusher, surpassing the great Walter Payton a few years ago. Smith played for the Dallas Cowboys for most of his career, mainly on those glory years of the nineties when the team won three Super Bowls. In all, Smith played from 1990 to 2002 with Dallas, and played another two seasons with Arizona after that. Smith rushed for 18,355 yards and also 164 rushing TDs. His best season was 1995, when he rushed for a career high of 1773 yards and 25 TDs.

Walter Payton

Walter Payton played his entire career with the Chicago Bears, and was nicknamed "Sweetness" because he was such a sweet player. Payton rushed for 16,726 yards during his career with 110 touchdowns. His best season was 1977, when he rushed for a career high in yards with 1852 with 14 TDs (which tied a career high). Sadly, Payton passed away from a rare liver disease in 1999 at the age of 45.

Barry Sanders

Many people think Barry Sanders would have broken many records had he continued to play, or if he had played on a more prolific offense as Emmitt Smith did. But Sanders was relegated to being the starting running back for the Detroit Lions from 1989 to 1998. Still, he made the best of things, rushing for 15,269 yards, which ranks him third in NFL history. Sanders averaged 5.0 yards per carry for his career, and his best season was 1997, when he topped 2000 yards (2053), and also had 11 touchdowns rushing with another 3 TDs receiving.

Curtis Martin

Curtis Martin played for two teams, the Patriots and Jets, over a career that spanned from 1995 to 2005. Over that time, Martin rushed for 14,101 yards and 90 touchdowns. His best season came in 2004, when he rushed for a career high of 1697 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on the ground. Martin also had ten straight seasons of over 1000 yards rushing.

Jerome Bettis

Jerome Bettis , known as "The Bus," began his career with the Rams in 1993, and then became a star running back with the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom he played for from 1996 to 2005. Bettis rushed for 13,662 yards over his career, including a career high of 1665 with the Steelers in 1997. He also rushed for over 1000 yards eight times in his career, and led the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory before retiring after the 2005 season.

Eric Dickerson

Eric Dickerson was a fast and powerful running back, who played from 1983-1993 with the Rams, Colts, Raiders and Falcons. In all, Dickerson rushed for 13,259 yards, including a career high of 2105 in 1984, which is still an NFL record for a single season. Dickerson also rushed for 90 touchdowns, including a career high of 18 in his rookie season.

Tony Dorsett

Tony Dorsett played for most of his career with the Dallas Cowboys, from 1977 to 1987, and finished with Denver in 1988. Dorsett ranks seventh all-time in the NFL in rushing yards with 12,739, and his season high in yardage was 1646 yards in 1981. Dorsett also scored 77 rushing touchdowns, including a career high of 12 in his rookie season.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown is still considered by many to be the greatest pure running back of all-time, with a 5.2 yards per carry average for his career, which spanned from 1957 to 1965, all with the Cleveland Browns. In all, Brown rushed for 12,312 yards in his career, including a career high of 1863 yards in 1963. Brown's lowest total for yardage in one season was 942 yards in his rookie season, and that was with a 12-game schedule.

Marshall Faulk

Marshall Faulk was a great all-purpose running back for the Colts and Rams over a career that spanned from 1994-2005, racking up 12,279 yards on the ground and another 6875 yards as a receiver. Faulk also scored 136 total touchdowns, and his best season was 2001 with the Rams, when he rushed for a career high of 1382 yards with 12 rushing TDs and another 9 receiving TDs.

Marcus Allen

Marcus Allen had a long, successful career, mostly with the Raiders. Allen played for the Silver and Black from 1982 to 1992 and then played another five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Allen rushed for 12,243 yards over his career with 123 TDs on the ground. He had a career high of 1759 yards rushing with the Raiders in 1985 with 11 touchdowns, and added another 555 yards receiving that season as well.

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Comments 10 comments

Junior W 9 years ago

Being atop the all-time NFL rushing list is no easy feat and speaks well of Smith's durability, dedication and overall tenacity. But come on folks, when you're a passenger aboard a juggernaut like the Cowboys of the 90s, with weapons like Irvin, Aikman, a smothering defense and other high caliber options to choose from, just how much individual talent must be in demand in a situation like that? Bottom line: 4.4 yards per carry versus 5.0 yards per carry is a more telling statistic than some will admit. Nuff said.


David McGinley 7 years ago

YOU NEED TO UPDATE YOUR STATS! LT (CHARGERS) PASSED UP JIM BROWN !! GOOOOO CHARGERS!!!! CAN YOU SAY SUPERBOWL?


Jean Paul Valley 6 years ago

Vincent Edward (Bo) Jackson holds the "yards-per-carry" record for the NFL: 5.4

BO JACSON 5.4

Emmitt Smith 4.2

Walter Payton 4.4

Barry Sanders 5.0

Jim Brown 5.2


Bobby Bearfan 6 years ago

Jim Brown is still the best. He is the standard for which all others are measured by. He played only 12 games per season. His average of 5.2 yards per carry says it all. The only others that can compete are Saunders, Sayers, and maybe Dickerson. Even the great Walter Payton pales in comparison to Brown. His toughness is unparralelled. The guy never missed a game. Defenses were built just to stop him.


exchief 6 years ago

walter payton was just as durable as jim brown or more so ...jim.played 12,..while walter played 17 and he never missed a game either.walter played more games in a season and he played more seasons.


Jean Paul Valley 6 years ago

BO JACKSON IS THE BEST RUNNING BACK IN THE NFL.

Jim Brown is not the best; he is the second best.

BO JACKSON holds the yards per carry record for the NFL: He was batter in his four years than any other running back was in their four years


R.J.Wagner 6 years ago

Anyone who thinks Jim Brown is NOT the greatest running back in NFL history never saw him play... period.


Billy The Kid 6 years ago

Barry Sanders...I mean when you hear the name electrifying doesn't even do him justice. One of the greatest of all time. How much do you think sanders could have run for if he, not emmitt, were on the cowboys teams of the 90's??


JOHNTAINO 5 years ago

GENTELMEN, ALL THE MENTIONED RUNNING BACKS ARE GREAT HOWEVER WHEN LOOKING AT THE AMOUNT OF TIME EACH PLAYER PLAYED IN THE NFL JIM BROWN IS THE CLEAR CUT WINNER JUST LOOK AT THE AMOUNT OF YARDAGE EACH RUNNING BACK HAD AFTER COMPLETING NINE YEARS IN THE NFL WHICH IS ALL JIM BROWN PLAYED AND NONE OF THEM WOULD HAVE BROKEN HIS RECORD AND THATS A FACT.


JOHNTAINO 5 years ago

CORRECTION:AFTER FURTHER REWIEW BARRY SANDERS DID HAVE MORE YARDAGE IN NINE SEASON THEN JIM BROWN DID HOWEVER JIM BROWN ONLY PLAYED 12 GAMES PER SEASON THAT IN IT SELF IS OUTSTANDING.

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