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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 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 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.
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 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 , 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 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 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 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 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 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.