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NFL Rushing Yardage Leaders By Year—1970s

Updated on April 1, 2013

Earl Campbell

Walter Payton

OJ Simpson


OJ Simpson led the NFL in rushing four times in the ‘70's, Earl Campbell did so twice at the end of the decade, and then it was a mixed bag otherwise. Here is a complete list of those rushing yardage leaders by year in the decade:

1979-Earl Campbell, Houston Oilers (1697)

If you saw Earl Campbell play football, consider yourself lucky. He was simply one of the greatest running backs ever, and had a great ability to break tackles. Campbell led the NFL in rushing three straight seasons, 1978-80. In 1979, Campbell carried 368 times for 1697 yards. He also led the NFL with 19 rushing TDs.

1978-Earl Campbell, Houston Oilers (1450)

1978 was Earl Campbell's rookie season, and he started his career with a bang by leading the NFL in rushing with 1450 yards on 302 carries. Campbell also had 13 rushing touchdowns.

1977-Walter Payton, Chicago Bears (1852)

Walter Payton was another spectacular running back, and he sadly passed away at a young age a few years ago. Payton led the NFL in all-time rushing yards for several years until Emmitt Smith surpassed him. In 1977, he led the NFL with 1852 rushing yards on 339 carries. Payton also had 14 TDs, which was an NFL best that year, and added 27 receptions for 269 yards and 2 more touchdowns as a receiver.

1976-OJ Simpson, Buffalo Bills (1503)

OJ Simpson was another running back who was simply a pleasure to watch on the field. It's quite a shame that we all remember him for his murder trial and not as much for his brilliant football career. In 1976, Simpson led the NFL in rushing for the fourth time in the decade, carrying 290 times for 1503 yards with 8 touchdowns. He added 22 catches for 259 yards and one more TD out of the backfield.

1975-OJ Simpson, Buffalo Bills (1817)

In what was maybe his best all-around season, Simpson had 329 carries for 1817 yards with 16 rushing TDs. The yards and TDs led the NFL, and Simpson added 28 catches for 426 yards and 7 more touchdowns as a receiver.

1974-Otis Armstrong, Denver Broncos (1407)

In just his first season as a full-time starting running back, Denver's Otis Armstrong led the league with 1407 rushing yards on 263 carries with 9 TDs, an average of 100.5 yards per game. He added 38 catches for another 405 yards with 3 more touchdowns out of the backfield.

1973-OJ Simpson, Buffalo Bills (2003)

Simpson broke the single-season rushing record in 1973, though it would later be broken again by Eric Dickerson. But in this season, he carried 332 times for a league-high 2003 yards with 12 touchdowns, which also was an NFL best that season.

1972-OJ Simpson, Buffalo Bills (1251)

In 1972, OJ Simpson was the NFL's best rusher with 1251 yards on 292 carries, his first time out of four seasons leading the NFL in rushing in the ‘70's. Simpson added 6 rushing TDs, and 27 catches for 198 yards out of the backfield.

1971-Floyd Little, Denver Broncos (1133)

Denver's Floyd Little was a steady running back who only had one 1000-yard season, and that was in 1971 when Little led the NFL in rushing with 1133 yards on 284 carries. He also added 6 TDs, as well as 26 catches for 255 yards.

1970-Larry Brown Jr., Washington Redskins (1125)

Larry Brown Jr. played his entire career in Washington, and while 1970 was not his best season statistically, it was the only one in which Brown led the NFL in rushing. That year, he carried 237 times for 1125 yards with 5 TDs, and added 37 catches for 341 yards and 2 more touchdowns as a receiver.


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