Top 10 Running Backs Not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Updated)
These men were the workhorses for their franchise, but have yet to enter the halls of Canton. Today I rank the top running backs not in the Hall of Fame.
10. Freeman McNeil
He doesn't get the credit he deserves.
Freeman McNeil was a first round pick in 1981. Despite playing in all 16 games just once in his career, he was one of the best running backs in football for over a decade. In his first two seasons, he led the Jets to the playoffs. In 1982, he led the league in rushing. When he retired he was the Jets all-time leading rusher with 8,074 yards. He is one of a few running backs in NFL history to average four yards per carry in every season he played. In his 12 seasons, he was a three time pro bowler and All-Pro.
McNeil gets overlooked by Canton because for a majority of his pro career, the Jets were just an average team. If he would have been on a team like Miami or San Francisco, he would have won a couple Super Bowls and would have gotten into Canton a long time ago.
9. Curt Warner
People now remember him as the "other" Kurt Warner.
A first round pick in 1983, Curt Warner made an immediate impression on the offense. As a rookie, he led the AFC in rushing and helped the team to its first conference championship game appearance. After he tore his ACL in 1984, Warner bounced back to have three more 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Warner spent his final season with the Rams before retiring in 1990. He was a three time pro bowler and retired as the teams leading rusher.
The main reason he's not in Canton is he played in Seattle before they got national attention. If he had played with the Seattle team that won the Super Bowl in 2013, we'd be talking about him as one of the best backs ever.
8. James Brooks
He is one of the most forgotten running backs in league history.
After spending three seasons in San Diego, James Brooks signed with Cincinnati in 1984. He excelled at running, receiving, and kick returning. By the time he left the Bengals, he was the team’s all time leading rusher with 6,447 yards and is still among the Bengals top 15 all time leading receivers with 297 receptions for 3,012 yards. While he is not considered a big name runner in the NFL, he did make a big difference in the Bengals offense. He was a double threat with the run and the pass. Brooks spent his final season in Cleveland and Tampa Bay before retiring after 1992. In his 12 year career, he was a four time pro bowler.
Big reason he doesn't own a gold jacket is he played on team's whose idea of offense was throwing the ball. He didn't rack up big numbers and that will probably keep him out for the foreseeable future.
7. Eddie George
The workhorse of a running back was the backbone of the offense for his career.
A first round pick in 1996, Eddie George was an instant impact for the team. He won the offensive rookie of the year and never missed a game because of an injury. In their Super Bowl loss to St. Louis, George had 130 total yards and scored two touchdowns in the game. He is only the second NFL running back to rush for 10,000 yards while never missing a start and holds the second longest streak of regular season starts. In five of his eight seasons with the Titans, George carried the ball over 330 times. His career totals include 10,441 rushing yards, 268 receptions, 2,227 receiving yards, and 78 touchdowns. George spent his final season in Dallas before retiring after 2004. He was a four time pro bowler and two time All-Pro during his eight seasons in Tennessee.
The big reason he's not in Canton is his career rushing average. In his nine seasons, he averaged under four yards per carry. Also he struggled against elite defensive talent, most notably Ray Lewis, throughout his career.
6. Chuck Foreman
Other than Fran Tarkenton, "The Spin Doctor" was the Vikings offense in the 70's.
Chuck Foreman was a first round pick in 1973. He was a game changing running back that used his running and catching abilities to help Minnesota to three Super Bowl appearances in four years. He was a consensus choice as the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1973 when he rushed for 801 yards. He had 3 straight seasons rushing for 1,000 yards and scored a then NFC record 22 touchdowns in 14 games during 1975. In his career, he accounted for over 10,000 total yards and 73 total touchdowns.
Similar to Roger Craig, Foreman played for a team that wasn't highly concerned with running the football consistently. Had he played for a team with a strong commitment to the run, he could have put up big numbers.
5. Tiki Barber
He went from being a third down back, to being the team's starter.
A second round pick in 1997, Tiki Barber made his way into the starting lineup. By 2000, he gained a reputation for his exceptional cutback running, quick feet, and running vision. He also was an adept receiver out of the backfield. In 2004, he added upper-body strength which allowed him to break more tackles and become a more powerful runner. He improved his patience as a runner and learned to deliver blows to defenders instead of being on the receiving end of them. Due to his extra strength, he had his best seasons in the latter portion of his career. Barber retired after the 2006 season as a three time pro bowler and a 2005 All-Pro. He retired as the Giants all time leading rusher and leader in receptions.
The big thing keeping Tiki out of the Hall is his post football life. Whether its his criticism of Giants players or coaches, he always seemed to rub people the wrong way. He also struggled with fumbles for most of his career, finishing with 32 fumbles in 10 years.
4. Herschel Walker
He is remembered for "The Trade," but he was a heck of a running back.
After spending three years in the USFL, Herschel Walker was a fifth round pick in 1985. He came to the Cowboys as a fullback. During his first two years with the Cowboys, he shared duties with Tony Dorsett, becoming the first Heisman backfield tandem in NFL history. By 1988, he became a one-man offense, reaching his NFL career highs of 1,514 rushing yards and 505 receiving yards while playing seven positions on offense. He is the only player to gain 4,000 yards three different ways. He retired in 1997 as a two time pro bowler and two time All-Pro.
The big thing people think about when they think of Herschel Walker is the trade. At the peak of his talent in Dallas, he was traded to Minnesota for a total of five players and draft picks attached to those players. If he would have spent his whole career with the Cowboys offensive line of the 90's, he might have been remembered as one of the most talented running backs ever.
3. Ricky Watters
He has more career total yards than some of the men in the Hall of Fame.
A second round pick in 1991, Ricky Watters was brought in to replace Roger Craig. After being injured for most of his rookie year, he was the starter for the next three years and San Francisco's offense led the NFL in scoring and yardage each year. In 1994, Watters set an NFL postseason record with five rushing touchdowns in the game and scored three touchdowns in San Francisco's 49-26 victory in Super Bowl XXIX. Over the next seven years with Philadelphia and Seattle, Watters rushed for over 1,000 yards in all but one season. He retired after 2001 as a five time pro bowler, recorded over 14,000 total yards and 91 total touchdowns.
The big thing keeping Watters out of the Hall is his attitude. He gained notoriety in Philadelphia for his infamous line "For who? For what?" after his first game as an Eagle when he "short armed" a pass to avoid contact in a loss.
2. Otis Anderson
Due to playing for bad teams early in his career, people forget how talented he was.
After spending his first nine and a half seasons with the Cardinals, Ottis Anderson was traded to the Giants midway through the 1986 season. A more elusive runner with the Cardinals, OJ transformed into a power back in New York. Anderson revived his career in New York when he won the leagues comeback player of the year award in 1989 and led the Giants to a victory over the Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV. In 1990 he ran wild at the age of 34. Anderson put up 1,023 yards and led the Giants to their second Super Bowl in five years. His performance in Super Bowl XXV was unforgettable as he rumbled for 102 yards and a touchdown, and was named the game's MVP. Anderson retired after 1992 with over 10,000 career rushing yards and 86 touchdowns. he was a two time pro bowler, two time All-Pro, and two time Super Bowl champion.
The fact that he played on bad Cardinals teams for much of his career really hurt him in the long run. If the Cardinals had any other talent around Anderson, he might have been a first ballot Hall of Famer.
1. Roger Craig
A versatile back, Roger Craig proved to be the perfect fit at running back for Bill Walsh's west coast offense in San Francisco.
Used primarily as a fullback in his first two seasons, Craig stepped up as the teams running back in 1985. That season he became the first running back in NFL history to rush and receive for 1,000 yards in the same season. His high-knee running style made it difficult for defenders to bring him down. In his career, Craig amassed over 13,000 total yards and 73 touchdowns in 11 seasons.
His late fumble 1990 NFC Championship cost the team a chance at a three-peat. His final three seasons spent in Oakland and Minnesota plus the emergence of Ricky Watters made him an after thought pretty quickly.
Craig's ability to run with power and catch the ball out of the backfield made him the first in a new breed of running backs. Marshall Faulk may have taken it a at further, but the Hall needs to recognize the man who did it first.