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All-Time NFL Yards From Scrimmage Leaders

Updated on October 15, 2007

Many great NFL running backs are also great receivers, and pad their statistics with receiving yards and TDs as well as rushing yards and rushing TDs. In addition, some receivers carry the ball on reverse plays and accumulate rushing yards. The latter isn't as common, but here we take a look at combined rushing and receiving yards to list the top 10 players in yards from scrimmage in NFL history.

Jerry Rice

When you consider that Jerry Rice is the only wide receiver on this list, and that he is at the top of it, that's saying something. It's saying, pretty much, that Rice was not only the best receiver of all-time, he's one of the greatest NFL players of all-time, period. Rice leads all NFL players with 23,540 yards from scrimmage, but most of that is his 22,895 yards receiving over a career that spanned from 1985 to 2004 with the 49ers, Raiders and Seahawks. In 1995, Rice caught 122 passes for an NFL record 1848 yards with 15 TDs. Rice also scored 207 total touchdowns.

Emmitt Smith

Emmitt Smith, who played for Dallas and Arizona from 1990 to 2004, is the NFL's all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards on the ground, and also had 515 catches for 3224 yards out of the backfield. In all, Smith ranks number two all-time with 21,579 yards from scrimmage, and is the leading running back of all-time in this category. In 1995, Smith had 1773 yards rushing with 25 touchdowns, and added 62 catches for 375 yards that same season to give him a career high of 2148 yards from scrimmage.

Walter Payton

Walter Payton, nicknamed "Sweetness," played his entire career with the Bears, from 1975-1987. Payton was the NFL's all-time leading rusher until he was recently overtaken by Smith. But Payton's 21,264 yards from scrimmage rank him third in NFL history, with 16,726 yards rushing and another 4538 receiving. Payton also has 125 total TDs, and his best season overall was 1977 with 1852 rushing yards and another 269 receiving yards to give him 2121 yards from scrimmage.

Marshall Faulk

It's hard to believe RB Marshall Faulk only played for twelve seasons (with the Rams and Colts), but he did. In the process, Faulk became one of the greatest two-way backs ever, racking up 19,154 yards from scrimmage. He had 12,279 yards rushing with 100 TDs, and added 767 catches for 6875 yards and another 36 TDs as a receiver. In 2000, Faulk had 26 total touchdowns, but his biggest feat may have been in 1999, when he rushed for over 1000 yards (1381) and had over 1000 yards as a receiver (1048), giving him an NFL record for all-purpose yards in a season with 2429. Not coincidentally, that was the same year Faulk's Rams went to the Super Bowl.

Barry Sanders

Barry Sanders was a great running back for the Detroit Lions from 1989 to 1998, and though many believe he retired prematurely, Sanders had quite a career. In all, he had 18,190 yards from scrimmage, including 15,269 rushing yards and 99 TDs. Sanders added 352 catches for 2921 yards and another 10 TDs out of the backfield. His best season was 1997, when Sanders rushed for 2053 yards and added another 305 yards as a receiver.

Marcus Allen

Marcus Allen, like Faulk, was another great multi-purpose back, tallying 17,654 yards from scrimmage in a career that spanned from 1982 to 1997 with the Raiders and Chiefs. Allen rushed for 12,243 yards and added 587 catches for 5411 yards. He also scored 144 combined TDs. In 1985, Allen caught a career-high of 67 passes for 555 yards, and added 1759 rushing yards for a career high of 2314 yards from scrimmage.

Curtis Martin

Curtis Martin played for the Patriots and Jets from 1995 to 2005, and totaled 17,430 yards from scrimmage, which ranks him seventh in NFL history. Martin rushed for 14,101 yards and added another 3329 yards as a receiver, and also had a combined 100 touchdowns. In 2004, Martin had a career high in rushing yards with 1697, adding 245 yards out of the backfield to give him a total of 1942 yards from scrimmage, also a career high.

Thurman Thomas

Thurman Thomas was a key cog in those great Bills teams of the nineties that reached the Super Bowl four straight times, playing for them from 1988-1999 and then finishing his career with one season (2000) in Miami. Thomas had 16,532 yards from scrimmage in his career, with 12,074 yards rushing and another 4458 out of the backfield. His best season was 1992, when he rushed for 1487 yards and added another 626 yards as a receiver, giving Thomas a career high of 2113 all-purpose yards.

Tony Dorsett

Tony Dorsett played almost his entire career with Dallas (1977-1987) and played one final season with the Denver Broncos in 1988. Along the way, Dorsett piled up 16,293 yards from scrimmage, including 12,739 yards rushing and another 3554 as a receiver. His best season overall was 1981, with 1646 rushing yards and 325 more out of the backfield, giving Dorsett a career high of 1971 yards from scrimmage.

Tiki Barber

Tiki Barber played his entire career with the New York Giants, from 1997 to 2006, and like Sanders, retired somewhat in his prime. But Barber was another amazing all-purpose back, tallying 15,631 yards from scrimmage in his career. In 2005, he had a career high of 1860 rushing yards and added 530 yards out of the backfield for a total of 2390 yards from scrimmage, second in NFL history only to Faulk's 2429 in 1999.


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    • profile image

      chance47 5 years ago

      Here is the list for players, retired and active with a minimum of 7000 total yards from scrimmage as of end of 2011 season.

      . v

      Top average yards from scrimmage per season, all time RETIRED players:

      1 1,819 Barry Sanders 18,190 1989-1998

      2 1,646 Jim Brown 14,811 1957-1965

      3 1,636 Walter Payton 21,264 1975-1987

      4 1,596 Marshall Faulk 19,154 1994-2005

      5 1,585 Curtis Martin 17,430 1995-2005

      6 1,563 Tiki Barber 15,632 1997-2006

      7 1,489 Ricky Watters 14,891 1992-2001

      8 1,439 Emmitt Smith 21,579 1990-2004

      9 1,436 Billy Sims 7,178 1980-1984

      10 1,419 Edgerrin James 15,610 1999-2009

      11 1,408 Eddie George 12,668 1996-2004

      12 1,400 Eric Dickerson 15,396 1983-1993

      13 1,358 Tony Dorsett 16,293 1977-1988

      14 1,327 Clinton Portis 11,941 2002-2010

      15 1,315 Corey Dillon 13,154 1997-2006

      16 1,277 Earl Campbell 10,213 1978-1985

      17 1,276 Warrick Dunn 15,306 1997-2008

      18 1,272 Thurman Thomas 16,532 1988-2000

      19 1,270 Terrell Davis 8,887 1995-2001

      20 1,249 Jamal Lewis 12,486 2000-2009

      . v

      Top average yards from scrimmage per season, all time ACTIVE players:

      1 1,768 Chris Johnson 7,071 2008-2011

      2 1,678 LaDainian Tomlinson 18,456 2001-2011

      3 1,612 Adrian Peterson 8,061 2007-2011

      4 1,555 Maurice Jones-Drew 9,327 2006-2011

      5 1,512 Steven Jackson 12,096 2004-2011

      6 1,432 Frank Gore 10,022 2005-2011

      7 1,209 Larry Fitzgerald 9,670 2004-2011

      8 1,079 Andre Johnson 9,710 2003-2011

      9 1,064 Reggie Wayne 11,708 2001-2011

      10 1,058 Willis McGahee 8,464 2004-2011

    • profile image

      AL 6 years ago

      Elite RBs get 20-25 touches per game guaranteed. No WR in history has come close to averaging even 10 touches a game. So yes, if you're looking at a per season statistic, WRs are at a severe disadvantage. When looking at career stats, it gets evened out a bit by the fact that WRs have more longevity, but I think the fact that Rice is the only WR on this list, and is at the top of the list to boot, speaks for itself. Clearly, it's easier to make this list as an RB.

      One other point - NFL fan above talks about RB blocking assignments as though WRs never have to block anyone. Utterly false. All pro offenses require their receivers to block, and while it may not have typically been against linebacker, it was frequently a safety with more speed and momentum crashing into a smaller frame. And BTW Rice was one of the best in that role as well.

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      steve 7 years ago

      barry sandres breaks down to 1800 yards from scrimmage per season 18000 scrimmage yards in 10 seasons

    • profile image

      NFL Fan 7 years ago

      Sorry but the comment that Rice is at a disadvantage because he was a WR is wrong. Rice had an advantage because he wasn't getting hit 20+ times a game and wasn't required to block blitzing linebackers.

      In my opinion Rice was the greatest WR to ever step on a football field. Comparing him to RB's is ridiculous.

      As for the Jim Brown comment, he was an amazing runner. Take a look at the team talent. Brown joined a winning franchise with All Pro offensive linemen in an era where it was possible to stack talent. Payton played most of his career for a wretched Chicago franchise that had few All pro offensive linemen. Brown was a great talent that produced in a great situation. Payton was a great talent that produced in a bad situation.

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      ricardo301 7 years ago

      Seems you forgot Jim Brown on your little list of yards per season. He only averaged 1645.7 yds/season.

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      Liam 7 years ago

      This is interesting - break it down to average yard from scrimmage per season in the league and the list looks a lot different. Although Rice is at a disadvantage being a WR and what not.

      Average Yards From Scrimmage / Season

      1. Walter Payton - 1,636yds/season

      2. Marshall Faulk - 1,596yds/season

      3. Curtis Martin - 1,585yds/season

      4. Tiki Barber - 1,563yds/season

      5. Barry Sanders - 1,527yds/season

      6. Emmitt Smith - 1,439yds/season

      7. Tony Dorsett - 1,358yds/season

      8. Thurman Thomas - 1,272yds/season

      9. Jerry Rice - 1,117yds/season

      10. Marcus Allen - 1,038yds/season

    • allshookup profile image

      allshookup 9 years ago from The South, United States

      Seeing Jerry Rice in the 9ers red bring back good memories. You couldnt' beat him and Joe. Best 2 mintue offense I've ever seen. Course I'm prejudice. I think Joe is the best player since sliced bread. I miss them both. I wish Eli still had Tiki. Great hub.